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94th Tour de France - ProT

France, July 7-29, 2007

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Stage 12 - Friday, July 20: Montpellier - Castres, 178.5km

Live commentary by Shane Stokes and Bjorn Haake

Complete live report

Live coverage starts: 13:00 CEST
Estimated finish: 17:15 CEST

Bonjour again on the Cyclingnews live coverage of the 2007 Tour de France, where even the so-called transitional stages are causing havoc and yesterday's flattest stage of the Tour have arguably eliminated Christophe Moreau from the overall picture. Today the riders will face several category 4 climbs on their way from Montpellier to Castres over 178.5 kilometres. It likely will not be a sprint finish as a group is expected to have a go. Yesterday was the sprinters last chance but except for Robbie Hunter all the green jersey contenders and stage win hopefuls missed out. Hushovd and Zabel were stuck in the Moreau group three minutes back and Boonen, while skillfully avoiding the crash in the last bend before the line yesterday, got held up without the chance to sprint for points.

13:05 CEST    3.5km/175km to go
The départ réel was given at 12:58 and there was an attack immediately. No surprise that Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) took of, trying to climb up the mountain's jersey ladder again. Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) was also right there with the move.

13:09 CEST   
The first mountain will come after 27 kilometres and we'll expect that a group has been formed by then. Hopefully for Rasmussen it won't contain anybody who threatens his yellow or polka dot jersey. He is also facing the heat for his two missed doping tests in June, prompting a press conference by Tour Director Christian Prudhomme this morning. Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown attended and you can read here what Prudhomme had to say.

13:11 CEST    10.5km/168km to go
There are now eight riders in the front that have decided to take off early. They currently have a lead of 25 seconds.

13:13 CEST   
Prudhomme has said that he is angry about the timing of the news, asking why it has come out during the Tour. Rasmussen was allowed ride the Danish national championships on July 1st, despite the missed tests.

Alberto Ongarato (Milram)
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

13:15 CEST   
Axel Merckx (T-Mobile), Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner), Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), Juan Manuel Gárate (Quickstep-Innergetic), Félix Rafael Cárdenas (Barloworld) and Daniel Navarro (Astana) There is also one Grabsch or other in the break, but we don't which of the two brothers currently. They are hard to hold apart, only separated by 13 seconds in the overall. The Chavanels are easier - Sylvain for the breaks and the mountains, Sébastien for the sprints.

13:16 CEST    15.5km/163km to go
Every rider remaining in the Tour has started today's stage, but now Alberto Ongarato (Milram) has abandoned the Tour 2007. He crashed not long into the race and cannot continue.

13:22 CEST    18.5km/160km to go
The break is caught. Too early for them to get a head start.

13:22 CEST   
We had an excellent email from CN reader John Hay Jr, in which he tried to assess how the two remaining time trials could influence the race. Many accept that Michael Rasmussen is likely to lose time on those two stages, Saturday's 54 km TT in Albi and then the 55.5 km test from Cognac to Angoulême the day before the race finishes.

That's 109.5 km of time trials so there is plenty of scope for a reshuffling.

John wrote:

I did a bit of checking on how the current contenders fared in last year's two Individual Time Trials. Last year's ITT's were 52 km and 54 km rides. Combining the results (and,trust me, there may be error in my adding and subtracting hours and minutes, but it's relatively close), here's some of our current contenders' combined 2006 TdF ITT times, starting with the fastest and showing the deficits from there.

Each 2007 contender's current place in the GC is in ( ):

(2) Andreas Klöden, 2h 11'52"
(13) Oscar Pereiro, 2h14'48" - 2'56" behind Klöden's time
(4) Cadel Evans, 2h14'58" - 3'06"
(18) Denis Menchov, 2h15'44" -3'52"
(6) Carlos Sastre, 2h16'11" -4'19"
(14) Christophe Moreau, 2h17'01" -6'19"
(9) Levi Leipheimer, 2h21'35" -9'43"
(10) Mikel Astarloza, 2h21'52" -10'00"
(1) Michael Rasmussen, 2h24'48" -12'56"

13:24 CEST   
Rasmussen can be expected to improve thanks to the yellow jersey (as long as the pressure of the race lead plus today's news doesn't get to him) but 12'56 is a lot of time to lose in two time trials.

13:26 CEST   
The race today is heading west, out of Montpellier, then leaves the coast line. The riders may not appreciate that, since it means a lot of ups and downs and little rises. The coastal route would have offered better views and been easier on the battered bodies. Rasmussen may want to take the opportunity to solidify his polka dot lead, or he may save his energy for the mountains and the overall title. Either way, he won't be looking forward to tomorrow's time trial.

13:31 CEST   
Andreas Klöden (Astana) reports on his web site that he is feeling better and the two days after the Alps were good for him. His biggest hope is to survive the day without a crash. He's had enough bad luck in the Tours, having had to abandon twice due to injuries. He doesn't want to repeat it.

13:32 CEST   
We will see in a few moments if German TV decides to show another cooking show instead of cycling. And then we hope they show us how to cook the food for winners.

13:34 CEST    26.5km/152km to go
We are only a couple of kilometres away from the first mountain points, but despite a few attempts nobody has been granted a ticket to ride in front of the peloton. Maybe after the cat 4 Cantagal climb we'll see a split.

13:37 CEST   
And there's more from John:

How they fared without completing: A few of this year's contenders started last year's Tour but weren't around for the first or second individual time trial. Some didn't ride in last year's Tour. Here's how they've fared in TdF ITT situations in the past:

(2) Alejandro Valverde: finished 5th in the 2006 Prologue, 4.92" behind Thor Hushovd's winning time. Valverde crashed out of the 2006 Tour before reaching the first ITT. He abandoned before the 2005 TdF ITT, too.

(3) Iban Mayo: 5'36.80" behind the stage winner for 82nd place in the first 2006 ITT. Mayo abandoned the Tour before the second ITT. He is a past podium finisher, however.

(5) Alberto Contador: did not race in the 2006 TdF, but finished 48th in the 2005 prologue, 1'57 behind the winner. He finished the 2005 ITT 48th, 6'12" behind the stage winner Lance Armstrong.

(19) Alexandre Vinokourov - did not race in the 2006 TdF, but in previous Tours, his time trial finishes are consistently in the top ten. Here's where Vino can make up significant time in 2007.

Lurkers who could factor: Some of the GC lurkers and long shots like Frank Schleck, Chris Horner, and Yaroslav Popovych have good times in past TdF ITT's, but not the kind of times that could move them from their current placements into contention...unless they literally fly while others falter.

X-Factors: Have any of the current top contenders vastly improved their time trialing since last year? Levi Leipheimer, supposedly; but his prologue time was mediocre. Christophe Moreau, supposedly; but he dropped lots of time today. Cadel Evans? Who else? Also, consider: the first Individual Time Trial comes on Saturday, after these flat transition stages and prior to the punishing Pyrenees. The second ITT comes the day before Paris, after the riders have had a few more flat transition stages. After the Pyrenees, some will be very motivated for the second ITT; some will be crestfallen.

13:38 CEST   
The area right the riders pass is not that exciting right now, but it'll change once the first climb is passed. The field will cross the Hérault river, then head due west, past the Lac du Salagou towards the Montagne Noire, not to be confused with the Black Forest in southern Germany.

13:40 CEST    31.5km/147km to go
Over the first climb it is the ever aggressive Philippe Gilbert of Française Des Jeux who took the maximum points ahead of Scot David Millar (Saunier Duval-Prodir), who is also having a great Tour and has been in several breaks. Third over the top is Staf Scheirlinckx (Cofidis), who was in the winning break on stage 10.

Philippe Gilbert (Française Des Jeux)
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

13:41 CEST   

John concludes by stating that he believes Andreas Klöden will benefit best from the time trials and will take over the race lead. He says Evans is also in the running.

Of the others, these are his predictions:

"Alberto Contador's a wild card, but his ITT times indicate he could move from 5th place into the top three. Will this Discovery Channel team member be permitted to contend for the Yellow Jersey along with team leader Levi Leipheimer, or will his prowess be sacrificed to assist Leipheimer onto the podium? Or, will Levi serve Alberto? What will team director Johan Bruyneel do? These are the Days of our Lives...

The ITT's will prove a challenge for current Yellow Jersey wearer Michael Rasmussen. I know he thinks he's still a contender, but history says the Dane can't compete in the ITT's with the company he's currently keeping. To be fair, his ITT last year was simply disastrous, including a wreck.

Levi Leipheimer, too, needs to prove his mettle with these upcoming ITT's. He's finished well enough, but not like with championship-winning exploits. If ever you've sensed the moment, Levi, this may be it!

Alejandro Valverde? Inconclusive; consider it a wash. Let's just hope he actually finishes the Tour this time.

Iban Mayo? Less than stellar; a wash at best. If he's not leading coming out of the Pyrenees, his second ITT will be critical.

Oscar Pereiro? This poor guy is getting no respect, even though he placed 2nd in the 2006 TdF. But his ITT finishes indicate he will improve his chances before Paris.

Alexandre Vinokourov? Vino may well cruise to the top five times in both ITT's, putting him back into the mix. If Vino does very well on Saturday, he'll be motivated to climb like a wild hibanchie in the Pyrenees. If he does well there, he'll smoke the last ITT and glide into Paris."

Thanks John - a lot of analysis there. What's certain is that there's a lot of interesting developments to come in the remaining stages. Like 2006, this is a very open Tour.

13:45 CEST    32km/146.5km to go
There is a break of seven riders clear...stand by.

Current situation

  • Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-Fondital), Laurent Lefèvre (Bouygues Telecom), Staf Scheirlinckx (Cofidis), Manuel Beltrán (Liquigas), Matteo Tosatto (Quickstep-Innergetic), David Millar (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and Moisés Dueñas (Agritubel)
  • Peloton at ?

13:50 CEST    37km/141.5km to go
The riders who are clear are: Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-Fondital), Laurent Lefèvre (Bouygues Telecom), Staf Scheirlinckx (Cofidis), Manuel Beltrán (Liquigas), Matteo Tosatto (Quickstep-Innergetic), David Millar (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and Moisés Dueñas (Agritubel).

Millar was disappointed to miss out yesterday, saying: "It was sad, because we tried to be in the breakaway group from the very beginning and when we finally made it, the side winds and the fight for the overall made no easy ride for us. I tried very hard for almost 15 kilometres to reel in the four escapees. It looked like a true time-trial. As to the sun allergy on my legs, it seems to be getting better. Tomorrow, I'll fight it out for a stage win."

So he's been as good as his word, getting into another move.

13:51 CEST    38.5km/140km to go
The next climb coming up is the cat 4 Mas-Rouet, after the peloton leaves Clermont l'Herault and right where the Lac de Salagou is. It comes after 58 kilometres of racing, so the riders can enjoy another 20 kilometres of rather flat riding, although they may disagree. The road is already having slight inclines.

13:52 CEST   
His team-mate Juan Cobo is getting over a crash. Yesterday was tough as a result.

"At first I wasn't having a good time. My tailbone hurt a lot. However, towards the end I began to feel better, which was a relief if you take into account that we still have nine stages ahead. We were planning to have some x-rays done in hospital, but I don't think it'll be necessary. If they revealed that something's wrong, I wouldn't drop out anyway."

Juan José Cobo (Saunier Duval-Prodir)
Photo ©: Christine Grein
> (Click for larger image)

14:03 CEST   
Christian Prudhomme was mightily ticked off during the press conference about the news of the Danish federation kicking Rasmussen out of the national team. He questioned the timing, saying that the national federation had all the information about the missed test as of June 29. They even conducted a blood test on June 30th and he was cleared by the Danish federation to ride in the national championships on July 1. Rasmussen went to the director's car during the neutral rollout and had a quick discussion with Prudhomme, indicating that he missed the tests (unintentionally) and that's it.

14:04 CEST   
The break has just been reeled in. 43.4 kilometres have been covered in the first hour of racing.

14:05 CEST   
Eric Boyer, directeur sportif of Cofidis, had similar words. He knows that there is power struggle between the UCI and ASO, but thought that UCI is intentionally trying to hurt the Tour de France.

14:12 CEST   
The riders are now heading towards the day's second climb, the fourth category Mas Rouet. The summit is 58 kilometres after the start of the stage.

France's Pierrick Fédrigo (Bouygues Telecom).
Photo ©: Régis Garnier
> (Click for larger image)

14:21 CEST   
There are two riders clear: Amets Txurruca (Euskaltel Euskadi) and Perrick Fédrigo (Bouygues Telecom).

14:23 CEST   
They attacked a couple of kilometres ago. A chase group containing riders such as Tadej Valjavec (Lampre Fondital) tried to get across to them but was caught by the bunch.

Current situation

  • Pierrick Fédrigo (Bouygues Telecom) and Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
  • Peloton at 0.45
The smiling leader...
Photo ©: JF Quenet
(Click for larger image)

14:34 CEST   
John Gadret (Ag2r Prévoyance), Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel - Euskadi), Christophe Le Mével (Crédit Agricole), Thomas Voeckler (Bougues Telecom), Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel) and Juan Manuel Garate (Quick.Step - Innergetic) tried to get across but no joy for them; they were caught.

The two leaders are pulling away from the peloton.

14:37 CEST    66.5km/112km to go
What is a sprinter doing in a break? Sometimes there is no choice, as T-Mobile's Bernhard Eisel revealed to Cyclingnews' clean-shaven Brecht Decaluwé. "I don't want to be in a break, but I am afraid it's going to be me. I will get dropped on the final cat 2 climb for sure, but we want to have someone from out team in a break."

14:40 CEST    70km/108.5km to go
The gap has soared; Fédrigo and Txurruka (try saying that when drunk!) are really 4'46.

14:42 CEST   
The field is happy to let them go and the riders are free-wheeling at 15 to 20 km/h. A nice afternoon in the French campagne.

14:45 CEST   
Last year, Fédrigo won the 14th stage to Gap. He outsprinted Salvatore Commesso to the line. The Italian was bitterly disappointed, as his last victory was in the Trofeo Matteotti in July 2002.

"Everyday I work for the others," said Commesso, in a memorable quote, "and for the one time that it is my day, I'm only able to lose. What can I do to win? Kill my opponents?"

14:46 CEST   
The peloton is going through the forested area close before the third climb of the day, the Buis pass. They pass the fascinating view of the Cirque Mourèze, which is stunningly set atop some rocks.

14:47 CEST    74.5km/104km to go
While the peloton leisurely passes underneath a bridge, the two leaders have hit the climb and are pedalling along with a lead that keeps extending, to now 6 and 1/2 minute.

14:48 CEST   
The top of the climb is coming up. It is Txurruka who is ahead, but they don't sprint. Right after the KOM they hit a dark tunnel and are now gliding downwards.

14:51 CEST   
The peloton is still in Bédarieux, in the Parc Naturel Régional du Haut Languedoc. There is a beautiful old aqueduct , with 36 arcs to its credit, spanning the canal du Midi.

14:53 CEST   
The peloton is spread out over the street. It's mostly Quick.Step on the front, but it's not like they are going all out. If they could back pedal up a hill, they would right now.

14:54 CEST    78.5km/100km to go
The two leaders in the front pass the 100 kilometre to go mark. They are the only ones working hard right now, but it's a move that likely will not succeed. A Twosome is not a big enough group.

14:55 CEST   
The spectators are out on the climb to cheer the peloton on. It's not as crowded as in the high mountains, but the Tour always gives the excuse to the locals to quit work early.

14:57 CEST   
Bernard Hinault said before the start that he didn't understand that German TV pulled the plug and didn't think it was a good decision.

14:59 CEST    81.5km/97km to go
The sprint at Herepian is taken by Pierrick Fédrigo. The two nicely share the prizes.

15:00 CEST   
Marcus Burghardt (T-Mobile) is the first of the main field over the climb of the Buis Pass and gets the remaining point.

15:01 CEST   
There are a lot more spectators on the down hill than on the uphill. Must be closer to the work place.

15:03 CEST    84.5km/94km to go
The lead has gone out to over nine minutes. Moreau is at the back of the field. The peloton is still back pedalling and many hands go up in the air, indicating to their managers they need a bottle or two.

15:05 CEST   
The two leaders have done 39 kilometres in the second hour of racing, which drops the overall average to 41.2 km/h. Moreau talks to Sylvain Chavanel, while George Hincapie flashes by with some bottles and advise.

Marcus Burghardt (T-Mobile)
Photo ©: Andrea Hübner
(Click for larger image)

15:08 CEST   
The field passes over the l'Orb river, using another old bridge, but it has only 5 arcs. We are definitely in a prettier area than when the stage started.

Burghardt is ahead of the field by a couple of minutes. He didn't like all the natural breaking and has also taken the third place in the 'sprint'

Current situation

  • Pierrick Fédrigo (Bouygues Telecom) and Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
  • Marcus Burghardt (T-Mobile) at 6.45
  • Peloton at 9.12

15:14 CEST   
Le Château St. Michel is overlooking the area. Good thing the field doesn't have to go up here. Not only is it steep, but you would need a VTT (vélo tout terrain or Mountain bike) to reach the top. That would be good for the yellow jersey, as Rasmussen is the former MTB world champion (1999).

15:20 CEST   
Update on the German TV soap opera: No cooking show today, instead ARD shows a soap opera. Hopefully one of the Teutonic readers can us update on the name of the show. Eurosport is still showing the Tour anyway and as we reported in our news, SAT1 has taken over from ARD and ZDF

15:20 CEST   
Michael Rasmussen may be just one missed test away from a ban (current rules say that three missed tests in 18 months are considered a positive test result) but he didn't appear too perturbed this morning.

"I do admit that I committed an error, and I received a warning from the UCI," Rasmussen said. However he told reporters that he had nothing to hide. "I am very calm and relaxed. It is a minor deal. A lot of riders receive warnings for not giving updated information. I am one of many."

15:21 CEST    97.5km/81km to go
The field has accelerated a bit. The natural break is over and with the lead over 11 minutes it was time to decrease the gap. Current gap is 10'49"

15:27 CEST   
To help out the reporters that have no GPS, the race organisers have marked an alternate route each stage to get the press from start to finish on non-race routes. Cyclingnews' GPS survived the break-in and rarely gets lost. Only in Marseille did the Audi A4 have trouble deliver Gregor Brown and Brecht Decaluwé to the start, although they did make it on time in the end.

15:28 CEST   
Ventoso looks a bit banged up form the crash yesterday. He has a Band-Aid on the left elbow and a heavier bandage on the left knee. The Tour is not for wimps!

15:32 CEST    104.5km/74km to go
So Bernhard Eisel's fear of ending in the break didn't come true. But maybe he should have been? Now it's poor Marcus Burghardt who has to chase. He is slowly eating into the lead of the front, but it may be a little too slow to reach them before the field does, who has picked up speed as well. At least he can enjoy the countryside, which is really pretty. They are in the foothills and to the right they see the slopes with vineyards.

15:33 CEST   
Liquigas has taken over the front. They weren't happy yesterday with getting 3rd and 4th instead of 1st and 10th

15:33 CEST   
Neither of the two breakaway riders are going to cause Michael Rasmussen or the other overall contenders to lose much sleep.

Amets Txurruka is the best placed overall in 35th, but he is 22'37 back. He is also sixth in the best young rider competition, 19'29 behind Paris-Nice winner Alberto Contador.

Fédrigo is 113th overall, 1 hour 21'36" behind the yellow jersey.

Murilo Fischer (Liquigas)
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

15:35 CEST    101km/77.5km to go
The last intermediate sprint of the day was taken again by Fédrigo in front of Txurruka and Burghardt, who is still behind by some good five minutes.

15:39 CEST    109.5km/69km to go
The field is at the feed zone, which is located right after the sprint. Good thing they didn't have to go all out to sprint for the points and the musettes. It is dangerous enough at the lower speeds already. The lead is down to nine minutes.

15:44 CEST   
Thanks for the readers who have responded. ARD is showing "Sturm der Liebe" or "Storm of love". Sounds like a bad trade-off. If you don't get SAT 1 or Eurosport or even if you do get it, we suggest you stay with our blimp live from France and we'll bring you the ultimate storm of cycling.

15:46 CEST   
The finish today is at Castres. It is 80 kilometres from Toulouse and features a Goya museum in the ancient bishop's palace.

The town took off in the 9th century, and became a big textile centre in the 13th century.

A census in 1999 put the population at 43,451.

15:47 CEST   
Burghardt is now passing an old, white car form the 50's, with L'Equipe written over it. The times they are a-changing and bicycles and cars have seen a significant upgrade.

15:49 CEST   
Rosseler, Barredo, Steegmans and Vasseur were rolling along, with some still sorting out what food to keep and what to give away out of the musettes that they took on in the feed zone.

15:53 CEST    117.5km/61km to go
Burghardt is only 30 seconds ahead of the field now. At least he got his food earlier than they did. Stef Clement (Bouygues Telecom) looks pretty scraped up. He crashed a few moments ago.

15:55 CEST   
Liquigas has still the whole team up front and they have now gobbled up the "Storm of Marcus" on the front. Relentless soap operas. Liquigas hopes for Pozzato today. He has predicted to Cyclingnews his previous stage win and said he is eyeing stage 12 as well.

15:56 CEST   
Writing on the team website, Milram's Marcel Sieberg is shrugging off his injuries from Thursday. A crash in front of him in the finale caused him to smash into the barriers, but he came away relatively lucky. He is now decorated with a few new cuts and hurt his knee. "What I notice most are my ribs, he said, "but I'll be ok."

15:59 CEST   
Sadly enough David Zabriskie of CSC could not start today. He was troubled with tendonitis in the left knee since the beginning of the race and just "didn't find his legs", as spokesperson Brian Nygaard put it. He finished outside the time limit yesterday, more than 30 minutes behind the winner, Robert Hunter, the first South African to win a stage in the Tour. Zabriskie travelled back to his home in Spain yesterday.

16:05 CEST    123.5km/55km to go
The two leaders are climbing the second cat Col de la Jeante. Txurruka leads for now. He's a Euskatel-Euskadi rider and they normally like the uphills.

This is approximately 12 kilometres long. The gap is 5'08. After the top it's quite lumpy for 18 kilometres or so, then drops down more quickly.

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne)
Photo ©: Cyclingnews.com
(Click for larger image)

16:06 CEST    123.5km/55km to go
Fred Rodriguez (Predictor-Lotto) is hanging at the back of the field on the climb. So are Menchov and Valverde, but it is fortunately very slow right now and it is still Liquigas pulling.

16:10 CEST   
A family has opted to not stand on the side of the road, but on the meadow about 10 metres above the road. They have their camping chairs out and enjoyed the afternoon and now got up to watch the field whizz by from atop. No pushing up there, as the vertical 10 metre drop is not in their repertoire.

16:10 CEST   
Rasmussen is quite easy to pick out. While the Saunier Duval Prodir riders are also in yellow, their jerseys are of a paler colour and also have white on it.

The Dane was back around mid-pack but put in an effort to move up on the climb. He did so pretty quickly. He may want to sprint for the points; there's eight up for grabs for third over the top. Rasmussen started the day 19 points ahead of Colombian Mauricio Soler (Barloworld) with Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) a further nine points down.

16:12 CEST   
Francisco José Ventoso (Saunier Duval-Prodir) is at the doctor again. His injuries from yesterday look pretty bad. In addition to the bandage just underneath the knee he has his left hand also bandaged up and Dr. Gerard Porte is giving out some new gaze.

16:13 CEST   
If either Soler or Popovych want to challenge for the KOM jersey, their best chance is to make the most of their positions in the general classification. They are 17th and 20th overall, respectively, and are 6'49 and 8'16 back.

That clearly gives them a lot more leeway to go in early attacks than Rasmussen; as yellow jersey, nobody will let him go willingly.

16:16 CEST   
Ventoso has been dropped on the climb.

16:17 CEST   
The peloton has 5km to the summit now.

Burghardt is also being dropped, paying the price for his efforts.

16:18 CEST   
It is quite windy now, judging by the movement of the trees. A Caisse d'Epargne rider is on the front now and Astana and Saunier Duval are moving up.

Current situation

  • Pierrick Fédrigo (Bouygues Telecom) and Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
  • Peloton at 5.17

16:25 CEST   
Txurruka is stronger on the uphill and spends most of the time on the front

16:30 CEST   
Txurruka indeed crosses the top in front of Fédrigo

16:34 CEST   
The field comes up to the top and a fierce sprint develops between several riders, including Barloworld's Soler, who wears the mountain leader's jersey. But he is ranked second behind Rasmussen, who has the yellow. Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) wins the sprint and gets 16 points. David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and Thomas Dekker (Rabobank) follow, before Mauricio Soler (Barloworld) hits the line. He will get 10 points, losing a net pof six to 'Popo'. It means he still has a three-point lead over the Ukrainian

16:35 CEST   
Crash just before the top of the climb! Wegmann and Mercado are down. But it doesn't look too bad.

16:36 CEST   
Both riders have resumed the race. Crashing on uphill. Please!

16:49 CEST   
Oops, our blimp almost crashed into the forest due to the high winds, that are now mostly tailwind for the peloton, who has reduced the gap to three minutes.

16:53 CEST   
Rasmussen sits about eighth in line, with riders from his Rabobank team just behind the Lampre Fondital guys in the front. They are still chasing the two leaders who, with 31 kilometres remaining, were 3 minutes ahead.

All the favourites are in the peloton.

Lampre want to try to set up their sprinter Daniele Bennati for the gallop. He’s been going well this season, but his best placings thus far in the Tour are third on stage six, and sixth on stage seven. He hasn't yet got the win he is chasing.

16:56 CEST    152.3km/26.2km to go
Bear with us, dear readers - there is a phantom in the system and our live coverage has been a little affected by gremlins.

The leaders are 2'29 clear. They have a chance, but the bunch is hoofing it along now.

16:57 CEST    153.5km/25km to go
The have just passed the 25km to go sign. Txurruka is on the front, pushing hard. 2'17 back, three Lampre riders are rotating in the pace line.

16:59 CEST   
Puncture for Nicolas Jalabert! He's stopped and may have a hard time getting back on. His brother Laurent is on a motorbike doing commentary for French TV...he'll have to stop himself from pacing his younger bro back on. Family loyalties have to be left aside at moments like these, after all.

17:05 CEST    160.2km/18.3km to go
1'44 for the two leaders. Fédrigo pushes a big gear on the front. Lampre have the bunch completely lined out on this gradual downhill.

17:07 CEST   
We want to recap the climb of La Jeante, a cat 2 that gave points to the top 6. It was the duo up front who crossed the top first, with Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi) ahead of Pierrick Fédrigo (Bouygues Telecom). Then there was a sprint for third, with Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) edging out David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and Thomas Dekker (Rabobank). Mauricio Soler (Barloworld), who is wearing the mountain leader's jersey au lieu of Michael Rasmussen in yellow, got sixth, but had a net loss of three points to 'Popo', who is one place behind the Discovery Channel rider in the mountains classification.

Current situation

  • Pierrick Fédrigo (Bouygues Telecom) and Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
  • Peloton at 1.16

17:08 CEST   
This morning, 42 riders underwent UCI health checks. Nobody was above the permitted hematocrit level.

17:09 CEST    165km/13.5km to go
Jalabert (Laurent, not Nicolas - he's a bit out of breath right now) says that the current 1'14 gap will not be enough for the two leaders. We are inclined to agree with that.

17:11 CEST   
Française des Jeux now hits the front; the team are most likely riding for Sébastien Chavanel, Sylvain's brother.

17:11 CEST    167.5km/11km to go
Now the leaders are just one minute ahead. This gap is falling quickly.

17:11 CEST   
The peloton passes Boissezon, with its old town sitting majestically atop the valley below. It is by its own standards a "village des artists", and the riders pass some nice paintings of cyclists to give some objective credit to the claim.

17:13 CEST   
Cancellara has been dropped just before the peloton goes under the 10km to go banner; that's surprising. He was second yesterday.

17:16 CEST    171.5km/7km to go
Some more riders are falling off the back as the peloton races on towards Castres and what it hopes will be a recapturing of the two leaders. That's looking likely as the gap is just 43" now.

Now Quick.Step - Innergetic are on the front. They want a stage win for Boonen, who is in the green jersey of points leader.

17:17 CEST    172.5km/6km to go
Lampre and FDJ riders are also helping. The gap is 40". Txurruka is suffering a lot on Fédrigo's wheel; the Frenchman seems the stronger of the two on the flat. He's also got a pretty smooth pedalling style on the bike.

17:18 CEST   
An update to the mountains classification - the difference is actually six points, not three, as the points are doubled for the last climb of the day for HC and cat 1 and 2 climbs. So 'Popo' gained twice as many points over Soler and is now only three points behind Soler.

17:18 CEST    173.5km/5km to go
Now Credit Agricole send a couple of riders to the front. Thor Hushovd would like to equal last year's tally and take two stage wins in this race.

17:19 CEST    174km/4.5km to go
The two leaders are doing a good job; they still have 30 seconds. They are likely to be caught, but they are making the peloton work for it.

17:19 CEST    174.5km/4km to go
They are going under the 4k to banner.

17:20 CEST    175.2km/3.3km to go
The riders on the front of the peloton are really burying themselves now; more speed, more speed! 19 seconds..

17:21 CEST   
The peloton go under the 3km to go banner..they should be able to see them.

17:21 CEST   
Fabian Cancellara has put on a black vest and is just resting for tomorrow. He is not, however, a Man in Black, his CSC outfit clearly visible.

17:21 CEST    176.5km/2km to go
Two clicks left and the leaders are fully committed, looking for every bit of speed. Five seconds...

Current situation

  • Pierrick Fédrigo (Bouygues Telecom) and Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
  • Peloton at 0.10

17:22 CEST   
Quick.Step lead, with Boonen fifth wheel... He's easy to spot in the maillot vert

17:22 CEST   
Hushovd and Dean are poised to strike...

17:22 CEST   
The two are caught; good effort.

17:23 CEST    177.5km/1km to go
They are under the kite now...1000 metres to go

17:23 CEST   
Steegmans and Boonen are near the front. Zabel is on Boonen's wheel; he needs points.

17:23 CEST   
Steegmans winds it up..

17:23 CEST   
Here comes Boonen...

17:24 CEST   
Boonen gets it! Zabel was coming up on his right and seemed to have the pace, but Tommy B. hung on...

17:26 CEST   
Hunter gets third. So the 1,2,3 over the line were the three riders fighting for the green jersey. Bennati gets fourth, with Hushovd and Kirchen next across the line.

17:26 CEST   
Kashechkin was tenth in the sprint..that's unexpected!

17:26 CEST   
Boonen looks well chuffed with himself. Stage win number four for the team, and the second in three days.

17:27 CEST   
Zabel was poised on his wheel and then moved right and went to come by. However he didn't have the horsepower to get by the Belgian, who now looks increasingly likely to take green to Paris.

The competition isn't over yet, of course, but Boonen is growing in confidence.

17:30 CEST   
That's the last bunch sprint we'll see for several days. Tomorrow is the first long individual time trial, and then the riders have three mountain stages (plus a rest day thrown in there for good measure).

The next flat stage is on Thursday, the 188.5km stage to Castelsarrasin.

17:32 CEST   
Zabel could get up to Boonen's chainset, but no closer. He's missing the Watts he had at his peak. That's allowed; he's 37, after all.

17:33 CEST   
There's no change in the overall. The GC contenders had a relatively peaceful day and are content to resume their battle in tomorrow's time trial. Michael Rasmussen is likely to lose yellow but he will hope to limit his losses and get it back in the mountains.

17:36 CEST   
That completes our live coverage of today's stage. Once again, thanks for reading! We'll have results, reports and quotes galore a little later so surf back on over. Till then, au revoir!

Provisional results

1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quickstep-Innergetic
2 Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram
3 Robert Hunter (RSA) Barloworld
4 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre-Fondital
5 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole
6 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) T-Mobile
7 Sébastien Chavanel (Fra) Française Des Jeux
8 Nicolas Jalabert (Fra) Agritubel
9 Robert Förster (Ger) Gerolsteiner
10 Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz) Astana

General classification

1 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank                                         
2 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne                           2.35
3 Iban Mayo Diez (Spa) Saunier Duval - Prodir                                  2.39
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) Predictor - Lotto                                          2.41
5 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team            3.08
6 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Team CSC                                          3.39
7 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana                                                  3.50
8 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team                     3.53
9 Kim Kirchen (Lux) T-Mobile Team                                              5.06
10 Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi                         5.20

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