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94th Tour de France - ProT

France, July 7-29, 2007

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Stage 17 - Thursday, July 26: Pau - Castelsarrasin, 188.5km

Live commentary by Shane Stokes and Bjorn Haake

Complete live report

Live coverage starts: 13:15 CEST
Estimated finish: 17:15 CEST

Bonjour et Bienvenue at our Cyclingnews live coverage of the Tour de France. Today the riders may be less concerned with the stage 17 route from Pau to Castelsarrasin over 188.5 kilometres, but with digesting the news about Michael Rasmussen, who has been sacked by his team last night. So there will be no yellow jersey in today's race. And plenty of talk, no doubt. If the race starts in earnest then it will be a very hard day, with several cat 3 and 4 rises in the beginning. If not, it may become a protest ride like we saw in 1998 to Aix-les-Bains.

13:19 CEST    12km/176.5km to go
No problems, the race has started as planned and we already had the usual flurry of attacks in the beginning. Currently, a group of 8 is away, about 45 seconds ahead of the peloton, about 12km into it.

13:26 CEST   
The current situation in the overall looks as follows:

1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team    76.18.25
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) Predictor - Lotto                                      1.53
3 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team                 2.49
4 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Team CSC                                      6.02
5 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi                         6.29
6 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne                      10.18
7 Kim Kirchen (Lux) T-Mobile Team                                         11.36
8 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team              12.50
9 Mauricio Soler (Col) Barloworld                                         13.31
10 Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi                    13.42

13:28 CEST   
Contador has also extended his lead in the young rider classification to 13'31" over Soler

13:34 CEST   
The 8-man lead group has extended the advantage to 1'20".

In the mountains classification Soler has now a lead of 206 to 128 points against Contador. He is therefore the new KOM winner of this year's Tour, barring accident or another dope scandal, of course.

Tosatto's Tour triumph
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

13:38 CEST    27km/161.5km to go
On quick glance there should be 46 more mountain points till Paris. The first ones of today's stage have been gobbled up by the following riders: Matteo Tosatto (Quickstep-Innergetic), Jens Voigt (Team CSC), Markus Fothen (Gerolsteiner) and Daniele Righi (Lampre-Fondital)

13:48 CEST   
Marc Madiot, DS for Française Des Jeux, was asked his reaction before the start. His answer was simple "One cheater less."

13:49 CEST    37km/151.5km to go
37 kilometres into the race the lead is up to 2 minutes.

13:56 CEST   
Bram de Groot talked before the start: "Yes, we made the decision to start today. I hope this decision will be respected by the public and I hope we will be respected."

13:59 CEST   
de Groot said he didn't really know what was happening with Rasmussen. The decision was made by the sponsor, but he felt it was unfair to boo him on the podium.
He admitted that it is hard to concentrate on the race. "We worked hard for the jersey. There was always someone working. We were close to each other. But now this happened."

Bram De Groot (Rabobank)
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

14:02 CEST   
Team-mate Grischa Niermann: We need to continue to get to Paris. I don't know what he did in June. I haven't seen him or trained with him in June, so I cannot say anything about this.
We made the decision together which is why we start with seven riders today, nit with three and four going home. We have a great sponsors and we continue for them.

14:03 CEST   
So yes, the Rabobank team did start and according to hln.com all Rabo riders were subjected to an additional doping control this morning.

14:09 CEST   
Michael Rasmussen has given reporters his reaction to his exclusion from the race. He has pleaded his innocence, despite his succession of missed tests and the fact that team manager Theo de Rooy said last night that the Dane had admitted lying to the team.

"I'm shattered. I'm on the verge of tears," said Rasmussen today, quoted in the Danish tabloid BT. "I was not in Italy. Not at all. That's the story of one man who believes he recognised me. There is no hint of evidence."

He was referring to former professional Davide Cassani, who said he saw Rasmussen training in the Italian Dolomites on June 13th and 14th. Cassani said that he is "100% certain" that it was Rasmussen. This was at a time when the rider had told the team and the UCI that he was in Mexico.

"My career is ruined," he told Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad. "I have no idea what I should do or where I will go. This is an enormous blow for me, and also for all the guys from the Rabo team. They're devastated."

The UCI are understood to be considering starting disciplinary proceedings against the rider.

Grischa Niermann
Photo ©: Bert Geerts
(Click for larger image)

14:09 CEST   
The two riders out of the Rabobank team are Michael Rasmussen (duh) and Oscar Freire, who didn't start stage 7. The other seven will continue, even though in an initial reaction Michael Boogerd had declared he didn't want to continue. But the riders had discussions amongst themselves and decided it was best to start the stage and continue to Paris. In the mean time the lead of the front group has dropped to 1'45".

14:15 CEST   

14:23 CEST   
The leaders are: Martin Elmiger (Ag2r – Prévoyance), Daniele Bennati, Daniele Righi (Lampre Fondital), Markus Fothen (Schumacher), Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas), Matteo Tosatto (Quick.Step Innergetic), Jens Voigt (CSC) and David Millar (Saunier Duval – Prodir).

14:24 CEST    62.5km/126km to go
They are 1'40" clear.

14:26 CEST   
On the third category Côte de Baleix, 23 kilometres after the start, Tosatto took the four points ahead of Voigt, Fothen and Righi. The peloton was 1'10" back at this stage.

14:32 CEST   
Next on the menu was the intermediate sprint at Rabastens-de-Bigorre (km 44.5) Quinziato took the six points and six seconds here, ahead of Millar and former Swiss national champ Elmiger.

This will suit green jersey Tom Boonen just fine; it means he doesn't have to sprint at this early point of the stage.

Speaking to Eurosport just before the start of the stage, he gave his view about the Rasmussen situation.

"I think it is logical. I don't know what has really happened - I heard that the Rabobank team got some new information and that is what they are basing their decision on, but don't know exactly what that information is as yet.

"This is something that has been hanging for a long time, putting pressure on Rasmussen. If the team takes a decision like that, it didn't have another choice."

14:34 CEST   
The leaders had 2'15" just before that intermediate sprint, but by the time they passed the top of the fourth category Côte de Villecomtal, this was down to 1'30". 2006 white jersey wearer Fothen went over the top ahead of Tosatto and Elmiger.

14:37 CEST   
This climb was followed in rapid succession by two fourth category climbs, the Côte de Miélan (km 55) and the Sainte-Dode-aux-Croix (km 63.5). The order over the first was Fothen, Tosatto and Elmiger, while Millar took the prime on the second of these ascents. Righi and Bennati were next.

14:38 CEST   
At the top of that last climb, the group was still 1'30" clear.

14:41 CEST   
Millar was also first on the Côte de Theux (km 72.5). Righi and Fothen were second and third.

The gap had gone up to 1’50" at this point.

14:43 CEST    78.5km/110km to go
Upon learning the news that Alexandre Vinokourov had tested positive, a dejected Millar said that he would try to win a stage to show it is possible to do so clean. He's in this break today and will hope it works out.

Caisse d'Epargne is leading the chase.

14:48 CEST   
Jens Voigt is really pushing it...the break needs to build this gap. So far it hasn't ballooned.

14:54 CEST   
In relation to Rasmussen's protestation of innocence, this appears to have been disputed by the team:

"When Rasmussen was confronted with this information he confirmed to Theo de Rooy [team manager] he was at that moment in Italy," said Rabobank press officer Jacob Bergsma last night. "That was the reason De Rooy decided to get him out of the Tour and the team."

15:00 CEST   
Denis Menchov (Rabobank) has pulled out of the race. He's just climbed into the team car. His morale is probably broken, having spent the past few days riding himself into the ground for Rasmussen.

15:03 CEST    91.5km/97km to go
This group is not really pulling away. The gap now is 2'28".

15:07 CEST   
Millar has been suffering a skin allergy in this race. He's got layers of cream on his legs to protect it; it gives him a really bizarre look, though..his limbs look like purple marble.

15:11 CEST    97.5km/91km to go
The break remains 2'35" clear. Caisse d'Epargne is driving it now. Alejandro Valverde is 6th overall but he's got very little chance of moving up as he is almost four minutes behind fifth-placed Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel Euskadi).

15:21 CEST   
Going back to the beginning of the stage, Xavier Florencio (Bouygues Telecom) attacked straight after the start. He was joined by Mickaël Delage (Française des Jeux) but the two were hauled back. The current move went away soon afterwards, then a group of eleven chasers tried but failed to bridge.

They were Nicolas Portal (Caisse d’Epargne), Chris Horner (Predictor Lotto), Simon Gerrans (Ag2r Prévoyance), Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel Euskadi), Paolo Bossoni (Lampre Fondital), Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner), Jérôme Pineau, Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom), Lilian Jégou (Française des Jeux), Benoit Vaugrenard (Française Des Jeux) and Carlos Barredo (Quick.Step – Innergetic).

The peloton brought these back at km 11 but didn’t manage to reel in the leading eight.

15:22 CEST    106.5km/82km to go
With approximately two hours left to race, the gap is now 2'56".

15:26 CEST   
German champion Fabian Wegmann has pulled over on the left for a natural break. As he is sorting things a bottle hits him. It does look like it is one of his team-mates who is having a bit of fun with his fellow Gerolsteiner.

15:34 CEST    114.8km/73.7km to go
Race leader Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel) rides along in the peloton. He's in the white jersey rather than the maillot jaune due to the race organisers' decision not to have a yellow jersey in the race today.

15:36 CEST    117.3km/71.2km to go
The break is now pulling away; the pace appears to have settled down. It's now five minutes.

15:42 CEST   
Cadel Evans and his Predictor Lotto team-mate Chris Horner talk in the bunch. They have doubtlessly pondered if Evans can beat Contador in the final time trial, taking enough time to grab yellow.

Saturday's TT is a flat 55.5 kilometre test. Evans was 1'04" quicker than Contador in the 54 kilometre Albi TT, but that was hillier. The flat parcours should suit the Australian a bit better but, on the other hand, the yellow jersey should give the Spaniard a psychological boost. If Evans is on a great day it could be possible, but he'll really need to do a super ride.

15:43 CEST    122.5km/66km to go
The peloton has definitely slowed. Some of the Caisse d'Epargne riders are at the back of the bunch now, while Discovery roll through on the front.

The break is 5'52" ahead now, so that's looking better for them than before.

15:47 CEST   
Some Rabobank riders are hanging at the back. Thomas Dekker and Juan Antonio Flecha, for example. How hard must it e for those guys to get motivated, after all their hard for the last couple of weeks has been effectively wasted.

15:49 CEST   
The peloton is heading through the French country side with its rolling hills. Fields are on both sides of the road, mostly already harvested, so the farmers can relax as the Tour zooms by.

Christophe Moreau was humble
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

15:50 CEST    127.5km/61km to go
Moreau is at the back, talking to a fellow Ag2r rider, who has multiple bottles in his pockets. The domestiques are the masters of stacking up bottles!

Current situation

  • Group of 8: Martin Elmiger (Ag2r – Prévoyance), Daniele Bennati, Daniele Righi (Lampre Fondital), Markus Fothen (Schumacher), Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas), Matteo Tosatto (Quick.Step Innergetic), Jens Voigt (CSC) and David Millar (Saunier Duval – Prodir).
  • Peloton at 6.00

15:59 CEST    133km/55.5km to go
The lead is increasing to over 7 minutes. With only 55 kilometres left it does look like a bunch sprint becomes more and more unlikely. Jens Voigt gets a saddle change on the fly. It really is amazing how the mechanics change things while hanging out the window at 40 or 50 km/h.

16:04 CEST   
The field passes the Château de Bartas. But what's more interesting is the field next door, where about 30 tractors are parked in a way to form a giant bicycle. It is clearly visible from the blimp. What would be the Tour be without all the artists and creative people?

16:06 CEST    137.5km/51km to go
The lead extends to 8 minutes. So the break will likely stay away and the decisive move may come at km 169.5, when the last climb of the gives a chance to break up the rhythm.

16:10 CEST   
Cadel Evans thought the motorbike with the photographer was a little too close to him and squirts a bit of water. That causes some space. Or maybe it's just the high temperatures that made Cadel feel for the photographer in his gear, including the big black helmet, that doesn't look like it's allowing for much ventilation.

Prudhomme and Clerc
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
(Click for larger image)

16:16 CEST    144.5km/44km to go
Fabian Cancellara is at the doc's car of Gerard Porte, as the peloton passes a village that displays yet another piece of cycling art, made out of a couple of big hay balls. It is about one km before the sprint for the lead group.

16:19 CEST    146.5km/42km to go
Not surprisingly the 8 front runners do not contest the sprint. It is Voigt who 'takes' it, in front of Bennati.

16:21 CEST   
It turns out that the photo finish of the 'sprint' was actually won by Bennati, in front of Voigt and Elmiger.

16:25 CEST   
A couple of electric workers that are doing some repairs on one of the electric poles are high up in the air on the machinery. They take a time out 20 metres high to watch the peloton ride by underneath them.

16:27 CEST   
The peloton is just now passing Solomiac, past its eglise, which there are plenty of in France. This is the village where the sprint was, but the three places that pay points and seconds have already been gobbled up.

16:29 CEST    154.5km/34km to go
Prudhomme spoke to the press this morning and Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown was there. Here is his what he reports from France.

Sunflowers turned their backs
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

16:31 CEST   
The field switches departments again. We are now entering Tarn et Garonne. The Garonne flows onto Bordeaux and into the Atlantic. The peloton, where the Discoveries are busy exchanging bottles, passes a Sunflower field, which is to their left.

Current situation

  • Group of 8: Martin Elmiger (Ag2r – Prévoyance), Daniele Bennati, Daniele Righi (Lampre Fondital), Markus Fothen (Gerolsteiner), Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas), Matteo Tosatto (Quick.Step Innergetic), Jens Voigt (CSC) and David Millar (Saunier Duval – Prodir).
  • Peloton at 8.00

16:37 CEST   
The break's chances are very high and Lampre is looking really good, as they have two guys in the break. But we will have to wait for the Montagnère climb to see how the 16 legs are doing.

16:39 CEST   
The riders are on one of the typical French straight roads. Good thing the break has 8 minutes and is not visible. Those straight roads are often the end of a break, as the field gets extra motivation when they can see the guys ahead. This road is on the right of some rail road tracks, which are equally straight.

16:41 CEST    163.5km/25km to go
We are passing Beaumont de Lomagne, with its Eglise Notre Dame de l'Assomption in the centre. The market square is actually covered with a giant roof.
And Jens Voigt flats! Right before the 25 to go sign.

16:42 CEST   
The wheel change is very quick, and Jens is off again. There is a little problem with his breaks though.

16:43 CEST   
The team mechanic fixes that on the fly again. Voigt is already in the team cars again.

16:44 CEST   
He is easily moving through the cars of the breakaway companions. The break will also slow down a bit. You don't mess with the big German!

16:45 CEST   
Leipheimer empties a bottle on his head. Have we mentioned it is hot today?
Contador is riding right in front of him.

16:46 CEST   
Markus Fothen passes Jens Voigt. Yes, Jens is back in the break.

16:47 CEST   
Voigt is eating after his little mishap. With the climb coming up it is good to have every ounce of energy.

16:48 CEST   
The road looks still it is straight for about another few hundred miles, but the break has only about 20 km to go. The gap is still just under 8 minutes.

16:49 CEST    168.5km/20km to go
The climb is starting. They should reach the top in about one kilometre

16:50 CEST   
The peloton is still led by Discovery as the sprinters have given up. We are back to the Armstrong times!

16:50 CEST   
Millar was the first to attack on the climb!

16:50 CEST   
Voigt counters, but can't get away

16:51 CEST   
Voigt goes again, but now Fothen goes

16:52 CEST   
Righi is dropped, but the others are together again. Bennati on Fothen's wheel.

16:53 CEST   
Voigt checks back, then goes on the left and surprises everyone. He takes the points in front of Bennati and Fothen

16:54 CEST   
Things come back together and then Bennati, Fothen and Elmiger jump away. Voigt accelerates and Millar can't hold his wheel; the big German gets across to make it four up front.

16:55 CEST   
Righi is dropped and so is Quinziato. Millar and Tossato are riding together, but are also dropped off the front

16:55 CEST    173.5km/15km to go
That move went with about 18 kilometres to go. Millar and Tosatto can't get across.

16:56 CEST   
So at this point there are four leaders. Bennati is a very quick sprinter so the other three won't want to bring him to the line. However he seems strong today, so they might have a job to drop him.

Swiss rider Martin Elmiger,
Photo ©: Shane Stokes
(Click for larger image)

16:57 CEST   
The peloton is 7'50" back, with Discovery continuing to lead.

16:59 CEST   
Discovery has slowed down a bit. Instead of being single filed on the front the main field is Discovery on the right, and a few CSC riders to their left.

Current situation

  • Jens Voigt (CSC), Markus Fothen (Gerolsteiner), Martin Elmiger (Ag2r – Prévoyance) and Daniele Bennati (Lampre Fondital)
  • Matteo Tosatto (Quick.Step Innergetic) and David Millar (Saunier Duval – Prodir)
  • Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas)
  • Daniele Righi (Lampre Fondital)
  • Peloton at 8.00

17:05 CEST   
The break passes the Garonne over some nice bridges. But they don't look, just taking their turns.

17:06 CEST   
Voigt spends a lot of time in the front, but generally everybody pulls through nicely.

17:07 CEST   
Voigt was also in the break on the tenth stage to Marseille, which took place eight days ago. He finished fifth that day and doesn't want to miss out again.

The CSC rider has won two Tour stages in the past; he beat Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) last year to take stage 13, then beat Bradley McGee to win stage 16 of the 2001 race.

17:07 CEST   
The victory will go to Voigt, Fothen, Bennati or Elmiger. They already have 1'20

17:08 CEST   
The second group with Righi and Quinziato is 2'15 back. The front four pass the 5km to go sign.

17:09 CEST    184km/4.5km to go
They are inside the final five kilometres of racing and have a 9'44" lead over the main bunch. Fothen was in the white jersey last year but finally lost out to Damiano Cunego.

17:09 CEST    183.5km/5km to go
The speed is incredibly high. When will that stop and the tactics take over?

17:09 CEST    184.5km/4km to go
Now! Voigt attacks with 4km to go

17:10 CEST    185.5km/3km to go
Voigt's move was covered by Bennati and the other two come back up to them.

17:11 CEST   
Still four riders going for the win. Bennati is very quick, but he is also very strong at this point. They need to take turns.

17:11 CEST   
Bennati is on the front, looking back. Fothen moves up, then Elmiger. Bennati is on the back, but goes through.

17:12 CEST   
He takes some water, chucks away the bottle and generally looks quite confident.

17:12 CEST   
Elmiger is on the front, then Bennati, Fothen and Voigt. The latter is playing it canny, wait for his chance.

17:12 CEST    187.1km/1.4km to go
Fothen goes! He has a gap going under the kite.

17:13 CEST   
Elmiger tried to close it but Bennati does it. They have about 700 m to go.

17:13 CEST   
Bennati is left on the front. They are all across the road, rolling..

17:14 CEST   
Elmiger tries to jump but they mark him. He's on the front, then Bennati, Voigt and Fothen.

17:14 CEST   
Fothen goes! But Bennati is right onto his wheel...

17:14 CEST   
No problem for the Italian...he makes it look very easy to take his first Tour win. Very impressive.

17:16 CEST   
Voigt tried to cover Bennati when he jumped but didn't have the legs. The Italian got up to Fothen very quickly and then flew past, consigning the Gerolsteiner rider to second. Voigt was then passed by Elmiger just before the line.

17:17 CEST   
Millar and Tosatto come in for fifth. Millar leads, Tosatto jumps but Millar gets him easily. Fifth place for the Scot, who will most likely keep his powder dry tomorrow in advance of Saturday's time trial.

17:19 CEST   
Seventh place goes to Quinziato ahead of Righi. They don't sprint. Righi was happy enough that his team-mate won.

17:22 CEST   
The peloton is still riding and Discovery Channel are ramping up the pace to deter any possible attacks.

17:22 CEST   
Boonen, Hunter and Zabel will sprint as the points jersey is still not decided.

17:23 CEST   
In contrast to previous days, the Rabobank riders are sitting at the very back of the field. Their morale must be pretty low.

Quick.Step are on the front and wind it up..three riders and then Boonen, with Hunter and then Zabel behind him.

17:26 CEST   
Boonen gets it ahead of Sébastien Chavanel (Française des Jeux), Robert Hunter (Barloworld), Robert Förster (Gerolsteiner) and Zabel. So that pads his lead somewhat.

17:27 CEST   
So no change in the overall standings today.Boonen moves one stage and a few points closer to green in Paris, and looked quite confident out there.

17:28 CEST   
Tomorrow Alberto Contador will get to wear the first Tour maillot jaune of his career, several months after winning Paris-Nice.

17:28 CEST   
That's the first win by Lampre-Fondital in this year's Tour.

17:31 CEST   
So hard luck for Voigt, who misses out again after another long day in the break. He might try again before the end of the Tour, depending on how much gas he has left.

17:33 CEST   
Clarification: Contador will get a yellow jersey this evening, but tomorrow's stage will be the first chance for him to ride with it.

17:33 CEST   
He gets it now, looking quite happy with himself.

17:35 CEST   
Juan Mauricio Soler will get the mountains jersey and Boonen earns himself another green. Contador also gets white.

So that completes our coverage on the day after the night before. It's been a dramatic 24 hours in the Tour de France, but we hope that things settle down between here and Paris. Thanks for reading, and come back later for more from the Tour!

Provisional standings

1 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre-Fondital
2 Markus Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner
3 Martin Elmiger (Swi) Ag2r Prévoyance
4 Jens Voigt (Ger) Team CSC
5 David Millar (GBr) Saunier Duval-Prodir            2.42
6 Matteo Tosatto (Ita) Quickstep-Innergetic
7 Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Liquigas                    3.20
8 Daniele Righi (Ita) Lampre-Fondital
9 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quickstep-Innergetic              9.37
10 Sébastien Chavanel (Fra) Française Des Jeux
11 Robert Hunter (RSA) Barloworld
12 Robert Förster (Ger) Gerolsteiner
13 Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram

1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team    
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) Predictor - Lotto                                      1.53
3 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team                 2.49
4 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Team CSC                                      6.02
5 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi                         6.29
6 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne                      10.18
7 Kim Kirchen (Lux) T-Mobile Team                                         11.36
8 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team              12.50
9 Mauricio Soler (Col) Barloworld                                         13.31
10 Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi                    13.42

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