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Photo ©: Bettini

95th Tour de France - GT

France, July 5-27, 2008

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Stage 15 - Sunday, July 20: Embrun - Prato Nevoso, 183km

Complete live report

Live commentary by Shane Stokes

This stage was to have been a 216-kilometre epic from yesterdays' finish town of Digne les Bains. Because of rock falls on the Col de Larche the start has been moved to the ancient town of Embrun, shortening the stage by 33 kilometres.

The stage starts climbing almost immediately up to the vertiginously high Col Agnel at 2744 metres, which surprisingly is not the highest point of his year's Tour. It does mark a first for 2008 though, as the Tour has up until now been entirely contested in France and this is a border crossing into Italy.

The stage descends into the Italian province of Cuneo, part of the Piemonte region, crossing the rather sinister sounding third category Colle del Morte to an uphill finish at the ski resort of Prato Nevoso. The 11.4-kilometre ascent to the finish should provide a platform for the overall contenders to take time out of one another before the second rest day.

This is the first visit of the Tour to both towns, but Pratonevoso has been a stage finish in the Giro d'Italia. The most recent occasion was in 2000, when Stefano Garzelli (then Mercatone Uno, now Acqua e Sapone) put pressure on race leader Francesco Casagrande (Vini Caldirola) with stage victory. Garzelli went on to take the pink jersey two days later in the mountain time trial to Sestrieres.

12:56 CEST   
Good afternoon and welcome to the live coverage from stage 15 of this year's Tour de France. After a series of transition stages where the sprinters had a chance to shine, the race returns to the high mountains today for the first of three stages in the Alps.

This is a crucial part of the race, and will do much to determine who goes on to win this race.

13:00 CEST   
The 183 kilometre stage heads into Italy and will reveal much about CSC's plans to overthrown Cadel Evans. Will the team be able to show as much horsepower as on stage 10 to Hautacam, when it effectively ended the GC hopes of Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre)? If so, it could well put Evans under pressure. His Silence Lotto team is nowhere near as strong as the CSC squad and so he will have to ride very astutely in the days ahead.

For Evans, the best scenario would be to deliver a knock-out punch in the Alps, putting serious time into his GC rivals. That would require him to be more dominant in the mountains than he has been in the past. Alternatively, it might actually be advantageous for Frank Schleck to take over yellow by a small margin. This would force CSC to take over the pace-setting and, with Evans being a clearly better time trialist, would enable the Australian to bide his time and then give it full gas in the race against the clock.

13:03 CEST   
Heading into the stage, Evans has a one second lead over Schleck. Christian Vande Velde is an excellent third, just 38 seconds back.

This was how things looked this morning:

General classification after stage 14:
1 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto 59.01.55 2 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC - Saxo Bank 0.01 3 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Team Garmin-Chipotle p/b H30 0.38 4 Bernhard Kohl (Aut) Gerolsteiner 0.46 5 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 0.57 6 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Team CSC - Saxo Bank 1.28 7 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Team Columbia 1.56 8 Vladimir Efimkin (Rus) AG2R La Mondiale 2.32 9 Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 3.51 10 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas 4.18 11 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 4.26 12 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 4.41 13 Tadej Valjavec (Slo) AG2R La Mondiale 5.23 14 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre 5.37 15 Oscar Pereiro Sio (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 6.01

13:06 CEST   
Realistically, those in the top eight are in with a shout of the final victory. However, stranger things have happened in the Tour and one strong day could bring more riders back into contention. Never say never, especially with three big days in the mountains ahead.

13:16 CEST   
The riders are racing, minus the quadruple stage victor Mark Cavendish. He was dropped close to the finish yesterday and, feeling considerable fatigue in advance of three tough Alpine stages, decided not to start today.

Cavendish is still just 23 years of age and wants to focus on his next target; winning Olympic gold in the Madison with Bradley Wiggins.

13:18 CEST    14km/169km to go
Three riders went clear after some 12 kilometres of racing: Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel Euskadi), Jose Luis Arrieta (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Danny Pate (Garmin Chipotle).

13:19 CEST   
Prior to that move, many others tried to get clear but with no success.

13:22 CEST   
We are getting reports that there is snow on the first climb, the Hors Catégorie Col Agnel. This is 2744 metres high and so that's probably not too surprising. Fortunately, there is no threat to the race's passage over it.

13:25 CEST   
Simon Gerrans (Credit Agricole) got across at km 16. So we have four leaders now.

13:27 CEST    19km/164km to go
The quartet is 2'16 ahead now.

There are two intermediate sprints today, at Guillestre (14.5km) and Rossana (114.5km).

13:30 CEST   
The riders have a very tough day ahead; the weather is wet and grim looking.

13:32 CEST   
Martinez took the earlier sprint in Guillestre (km 14.5) ahead of Arrieta and Pate.

13:34 CEST    24km/159km to go
The four breakaway riders are working hard to build their lead. Meanwhile, the peloton is taking things handy. The riders are spread across the road and clearly not giving it socks as yet. They've a long day in the saddle and will bide their time.

Egoi Martínez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Danny Pate (Garmin Chipotle - H30), José Luis Arrieta (AG2R La Mondiale) and Simon Gerrans (Crédit Agricole) are 4'08 clear now.

13:37 CEST   
Arrieta rode for Miguel Indurain, having joined Banesto in 1993. He's been around a while; the Spaniard is 37 years of age.

13:38 CEST   
Evans' Silence Lotto team are on the front, but the fact that Robbie McEwen is in the front line on this climb shows that they are taking things handy. He's a great sprinter, but not much of a climber (as is usually the case for those with fast-twitch fibres).

13:38 CEST    28km/155km to go
Robert Hunter has a flat tyre.

The leaders are now 5'35 ahead. Gerrans leads, with Arrieta on his wheel. They are all soaked through.

13:42 CEST   
Writing on his site www.robbiehunter.net, the sprinter had this to say about the Barloworld withdrawal from the sport:

I know everybody has heard that Barloworld is pulling out of sponsoring the team but its not as drastic as it may seem. The team, in essence, is going to continue and will just ride under a different name. It will be the exact same situation as High Road and Slipstream were before. There was funding for a team but there was no actual main sponsor that had naming rights on the clothing, so after the Tour the team will be named something totally different. However the riders and management all all other things concerned remain the same.

Only the name of Barloworld and its brands will be removed from all team goods.

Yes, it's sad that one event can have such a catastrophic effect on the team but it is life I guess. Would have been nice if they stuck around though, cause I've yet to see a person say "hey I'm not renting an AVIS car cause Mr Dueñas took some medical stuff he shouldn't have". My stupid two cents worth.

It was the same back when Phonak was in the cycling. They went through so many troubled times but in the end the Phonak became the second biggest supplier of hearing aids in the world.

Anyways, for what it's worth, it has been good riding under the Barloworld name for 2 seasons. I had one amazing Tour last year and this one not finished yet.

No matter what the team becomes or is called, in the end cycling will continue as it's an amazing sport.And I've still got a few years in me as well.

13:45 CEST   
This morning, the points classification looked like this:

Points classification:

1 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank                                219 pts
2 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole                               172
3 Erik Zabel (Ger) Team Milram                                     167
4 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team Columbia                               156
5 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Team Columbia                                  144
6 Leonardo Duque (Col) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone           137
7 Robert Hunter (RSA) Barloworld                                   110
8 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Silence - Lotto                              105
9 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne                98
10 Romain Feillu (Fra) Agritubel                                    94

Cavendish has pulled out and so the other riders will move up in the ranking. Watch out for Kim Kirchen to try to take some points in the mountains, and the final time trial. He's a bit far back now, though.

Current race situation

  • Egoi Martínez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Danny Pate (Garmin Chipotle - H30), José Luis Arrieta (AG2R La Mondiale) and Simon Gerrans (Crédit Agricole)
  • Peloton at 6.27

13:54 CEST    As for the mountains competition, that's bound to change today:

Mountains classification:

1 Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner                                 60 pts
2 Bernhard Kohl (Aut) Gerolsteiner                                  59
3 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC - Saxo Bank                          46
4 Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne                      31
5 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto                                 30
6 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas                                    30
7 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone          27
8 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Bouygues Telecom                            27
9 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank                                      24
10 Vladimir Efimkin (Rus) AG2R La Mondiale                          24

13:58 CEST    38.3km/144.7km to go
The break is now a considerable 10'13 ahead. Oscar Freire (Rabobank) sits at the back of the peloton, clad from head to toe in green. He had a fine stage win yesterday and while he's unlikely to pick up any points today, the same also applies for his main rivals.

14:01 CEST   
Pate has been doing his first Tour de France this year. He's riding well, leading the break on this climb.

14:04 CEST   
It's currently 13 degrees, and expected to be nine at the top of the climb. That might keep the snow away; perhaps the reports were incorrect, or else it was an overnight snowfall.

14:07 CEST   
The spectators are well wrapped up on this climb. Some have been able to drive up here so will keep warm and dry until the riders pass.

14:09 CEST   
Philippe Gilbert said before the start that the team will have some dry clothing for him at the top of the climb, in order to ensure he and the other riders on the team stay warm.

14:10 CEST   
Carlos Sastre sits next to Oscar Freire, the two Spaniards having a chat. Both are amongst the friendliest riders in the peloton, at least as far as journalists are concerned.

14:14 CEST    43.8km/139.2km to go
The break is 12'44 clear now. Martinez leads. It's getting brighter and the sun is coming out.

Sébastien Chavanel has had to stop...his rain jacket has tangled in his rear mech.

14:17 CEST   
The Lampre team now lead the bunch...the pace looks a little faster now. The climb is steepening. It tops out 58 kilometres after the start, then there is a long descent to the feedzone and the first sprint.

14:19 CEST   
Pate now leads the break, pedaling briskly. Gerrans rolls through.

14:21 CEST   
More Lampre riders are on the front; the race is heading into Italy, perhaps Cunego fancies his chances of going for the stage?

14:21 CEST   
His Tour has been somewhat disappointing thus far, and so he'll hope for a better showing in the Alps.

14:23 CEST   
The peloton is going through a mountain village...the road is steep here..

14:26 CEST   
Gregor Brown spoke to some riders at the start:

Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) talked about his thoughts of the stage ahead. "It gets harder and harder. I saw the forecast, there will be some storms, but after the rain should pass. I will try to stay safe on what could be dangerous descents. It is going to be hard, but it can also be hot if it is a very hot day.

"Chicchi and I, and the others who have been working hard for the sprints, will take it easy. We hope our young guys can come up with something good - they have nothing to lose.

"I will try to help Vincenzo Nibali to take the Col Agnel in the first position. After that, we will get in the gruppetto and stay in the time limit."

14:28 CEST   
The top of the climb is 125 kilometres from the finish and so it's unlikely that any of the race favourites will try anything. This climb will act to soften up the legs of those who are feeling under pressure today.

14:32 CEST    52.3km/130.7km to go
The spectators are ringing bells at the riders, encouraging them.

Arrieta leads the break. They are 13'43 ahead.

14:36 CEST   
Martinez pushes the pace on the front. Pate sits at the back, just behind Gerrans.

14:37 CEST   
Pate is under a bit of pressure, but will be strong once over the summit.

14:38 CEST   
Arrieta now leads. Back in the bunch, the Silence Lotto team of Cadel Evans are on the front.

14:45 CEST   
Pate is suffering on Gerrans' wheel.

Meanwhile, down the mountain, Bernhard Eisel (Columbia) is dropped.

14:45 CEST   
The leaders are now just two kilometres from the summit.

McEwen is dropped from the bunch.

14:46 CEST   
Lots of action in the back. Christophe Brandt is getting dropped. Not good news for Silence Lotto. Martin Müller (Team Milram) has a flat but gets a quick change. And Sven Krauss (Gerolsteiner), the rider who had such a spectacular crash a couple of days ago, is also struggling.

14:46 CEST   
Stijn Devolder has been dropped, and looks very sluggish. He must be ill...he's a better rider than this suggests.

14:47 CEST    56.4km/126.6km to go
The leaders are just over a kilometre and a half from the summit. Pate gets some encouragement from American supporters by the side of the road.

14:48 CEST   
Jimmy Casper goes south, another sprinter being dropped. The Autobus will start soon.

14:51 CEST   
The leaders are .7km from the top. Pate is drifting back but only by a couple of bike lengths. He'll be fine.

14:51 CEST    57.5km/125.5km to go
He gets a rain jacket from the team car, plus some words of encouragement.

He's looking better now.

14:53 CEST   
They are 300 metres from the top...Arrieta leads, Martinez second, then Pate and Gerrans.

Devolder has abandoned the race. That's a shame.

14:54 CEST   
Pate gets a musette at the top. Martinez went over the top first, then Arrieta, Gerrans and Pate.

15:01 CEST   
Many riders are being dropped, including the maillot blanc of Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas).

15:02 CEST   
The peloton is still very big, so Nibali is clearly on a bad day...

15:02 CEST    65.6km/117.4km to go
The four leaders are speeding down this descent, holding a lead of 12'23.

15:04 CEST   
Yaroslav Popovych (Silence Lotto) is at the front of the peloton. So too Bernhard Kohl (Gerolsteiner), who will go for the mountains points. It's quite possible he will take over in that jersey today.

15:09 CEST   
Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom) crossed the summit in fifth place, ahead of Kohl, Rémy Di Gregorio (Française des Jeux), Popovych, John Lee Augustin (Barloworld) and Frank Schleck (CSC Saxo Bank).

15:13 CEST   
Gregor Brown spoke to Yaroslav Popovych before the start. He said then he wasn't sure how he would fare, but was hoping for good legs.

"If I am going like I have been going in the past days then it will not be a good day for me," he said. "We will weigh up the situation and hope for not much of a war because there are still two mountain stages. I hope that we will stay together for the Col Agnel and fight the wars on the Prato Nevoso.

"About the chance of rain, that will be good for Evans. He goes fine in the descents. We should not be forced to risk it on the descents. I will try to stick with him and then do my work on Prato Nevoso."

Christophe Le Mevel (Crédit Agricole) also gave his thoughts. "It will be a difficult day. I hope it gets better after the Col Agnel. It is all here, it is my GPS system. (he points to the stage profile stuck on his stem).

"I want to go for an escape today. If I don't get into an escape then my chances are really slim today. I will do the best I can for the team."

15:17 CEST    79.7km/103.3km to go
It's raining again and, judging by the way the riders are heading down this descent, it's pretty dangerous. Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom) has attacked the peloton. The main bunch is 11'29 back, and so he doesn't have much of a chance to get across. He's probably hoping to be joined by a group of riders.

15:19 CEST   
French champion Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel) hangs off the back of the peloton. Unlike many of the others, he doesn't have a rain jacket and is thus almost certainly feeling the cold right now.

Nicolas Vogondy wants everyone to see his French champ jersey, so rides without a rain jacket
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

15:20 CEST   
Ricardo from Portugal hopes for Barloworld's Froome and Augustyn to stay up there with the leaders. In fact Augustyn went over the top of the Col Agnel in ninth spot, receiving six points for his effort. And while in Portugal people without cable TV have some trouble following the race, Ricardo spent the time musing about other favourites who could have a breakthrough ride today. After some reflecting he comes up with the name of Denis Menchov, whom he rates equal to Evans in the mountains and the time trial.

15:24 CEST   
Timothy Wyant writes to give his reaction to Robert Hunter's Barloworld musings.

"Robbie Hunter's comments show how completely out of touch he is with the corporate world," he says. "Companies write big checks to sponsor teams because they want the values displayed in competition to demonstrate their corporate ideals in society. I still remember when Roberto Heras was caught after the Vuelta and Liberty Seguros dropped its sponsorship. In a statement, they said (I paraphrase) "We are an insurance company and people have to be able to trust us." Can we trust Barloworld? Wake up peloton, you're drugging yourselves out of jobs!"

15:28 CEST   
20 year old Dutch reader Samuel van Steen wrote in with a question:

"Do you think that, when Schleck attacks, Evans will chase him? This will be good for Menchov for he can attack when Evans gets tired. However, I really don't think Evans will take any initiative."

Menchov is being mentioned by many as a possible winner of the race. He chose to ride the Giro this year in order to better prepare for the Tour de France...the Russian tends to go better in his second Grand Tour of the year. Previously he did the Tour-Vuelta double, winning two editions of the Tour of Spain, but now is rejigging the formula to see if he can find Tour winning form.

Samuel's suggestion is possible, as Menchov will seek to benefit from any rivalry between Evans and Schleck.

Pereiro has had a bad crash...

15:28 CEST   
He fell hard on the descent. We will keep you posted.

15:30 CEST   
Voeckler is still ahead, sandwiched between the leaders and the bunch.

15:31 CEST   
All the riders from the Caisse d'Epargne team stopped. His crash was very bad, but we understand that he is now moving. His race may well be over.

15:34 CEST    94.6km/88.4km to go
Voeckler is 13'30 back, with the peloton at 14'24.

We think that Pereiro struck a guard rail along the side of the road, just before a hairpin, and was catapulted sideways and down to the road below. That's quite a drop. As we stated, we understand he is moving so it's not as serious as it first seemed.

The peloton is taking it easy, shocked by what happened.

15:38 CEST   
Gregor Brown spoke a couple more riders before the start.

Stuart O'Grady (CSC-Saxo Bank): "The weather was another aspect we had not planned on but that is bike racing - you have to be flexible for any sort of conditions."

He was asked if CSC would be strong? "Whatever the weather, it does not matter. We got a plan and we are just going to try to stick to it.

"I think I will get over the first climb if it is going easy. There will be plenty of time to come back on the descent. I have to get to the top of the Col Agnel within reaching distance, get back on and then do my work later."

Gregor also asked if he had any fears on descents after his bad fall last year. "I will be alright. Touch wood!"

George Hincapie (Columbia): "I could be a pretty epic stage. The weather is bad but it is the same for everybody, you just have to get through it and not let it affect you too much.

"We will keep Kim Kirchen in front and in good position on the Col Agnel. As long as he is there until the end...

"If he feels good he can attack, but before that there is no sense in doing anything. He just needs to try to get a little time back and he will be in good position for the time trial."

15:40 CEST    101.6km/81.4km to go
Voeckler has been caught by the peloton, which slowed considerably after Pereiro's crash. The bunch is 15'53" behind the four leaders.

Pereiro has, apparently, a broken collarbone. If that's the extent of his injuries, he's a very lucky rider. His race is over, we presume.

15:42 CEST   
Up front, Gerrans leads, then Pate takes over. The American is a former world under 23 time trial champion.

Silence Lotto leads the peloton.

15:46 CEST   
Update: Pereiro has a broken shoulder and femur, but never lost consciousness.

Riders near the front of the peloton include the Silence Lotto team-mates of Cadel Evans, Damiano Cunego (Lampre) and Stuart O'Grady (CSC Saxo Bank).

15:57 CEST    115.2km/67.8km to go
Lampre and Silence-Lotto drive things along, trying to reduce what is a very considerable lead of 17'10". This break has a strong chance of staying clear.

Oscar Pereiro crashed heavily but suffered less injuries than initially feared.
Photo ©: Isabelle Duchesne
(Click for larger image)

16:05 CEST   
Hedwig Kröner spoke to Jonathan Vaughters and Mikel Astarloza before the start.

Garmin Chipotle manager Vaughters said then that he expected an aggressive early part to the race. "I think it is going to be a very fast start, with the first climb right out of town. The race is basically going to explode on the first climb. It will partly come back together on the descent, but there will be groups already. CSC will start to attack. In order to counter that Christian [Vande Velde] and Cadel [Evans] will have have to be allies in a way. On the final climb, all the team leaders are going to be isolated except for CSC - it is the only team that will have more than one person in the group on the final climb.

Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) will be happy that Egoi Martinez got into the move, going by his pre-stage comments:

"It is going to be hard because we will be a bloc from the start. I hope there will be an escape with some of our riders in it and maybe one of them will win the stage or be in the front to help us [Astarloza and Sam Sánchez] as classification riders on the final climb. So that we can try to make up time on our riders.

"I don't know if it will be CSC who will attack today. It might be other teams. One thing for sure, there are going to be a lot of attacks because tomorrow is a rest day. It will be a nice stage to watch on TV."

16:08 CEST   
Mike Dawson writes in to say that he disagrees with Barloworld pulling out after one positive. "There are many of us who follow cycling who admire and appreciate all of the sponsors for their intelligence and courage in sticking with cycling as we take the world-wide lead in ridding sports of illegal drugs.

"Would I trust Barloworld's products? Of course I would! But I wouldn't buy them now since they've decided to bail out of their cycling sponsorship."

16:13 CEST    127km/56km to go
If the break does stay away, it may be due in part to the crash of Pereiro. The peloton rolled slowly after that, due in part to the shock of the accident and also because the Caisse d'Epargne team had stopped.

It is now 15'45 back; that's considerable, even if the break does have to tackle a category one climb at the end of the stage.

16:19 CEST   
None of those up front pose any threat the yellow jersey of Cadel Evans. This was their overall placing this morning:

64 Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi            53.16
76 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Crédit Agricole                         1.06.53
98 José Luis Arrieta Lujambio (Spa) AG2R La Mondiale           1.22.08
110 Danny Pate (USA) Team Garmin-Chipotle p/b H30              1.34.29

Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC) comes to the front
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

16:20 CEST    132.1km/50.9km to go
Stuart O'Grady leads the main bunch. The gap is now 14'52".

16:26 CEST   
Wow... The riders went around a large roundabout, using both sides of the road, as per usual. However, although it seems to be fairly dry, about 15 riders (if not more) fell on both sides, at the same time.

Christian Vande Velde, David Millar (Garmin Chipotle), Damiano Cunego (Lampre) and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) are amongst the fallers. We believe all are up again and moving.

There must have been oil on the ground. They went down like skittles.

16:27 CEST   
The peloton eased back for a while after that, and this again will further boost the break's chances of staying clear.

16:36 CEST    145km/38km to go
The four leaders press on, holding an advantage of 14'26. Robert Hunter is covered in road dirt, having fallen earlier. He's otherwise fine.

16:40 CEST   
Michael Dow writes in on the Barloworld debate: "I disagree with Mike Dawson," he said. "Zero tolerance is the only way to try to catch drug cheats, and I applaud Barloworld for doing the right thing. If it were MY millions of sponsorship dollars, I'd be out of there in a flash as well."

Also writing from Canada is Dave Arnott. His thoughts are as follows: "I'm sure Barloworld has given great weight to the fact that they are amongst an elite few corporate entities that are supporting the fight against dopes.

"They have obviously chosen to abandon their support in the face of perceived adversity. Pity!"

16:46 CEST    151km/32km to go
By the way, the previous intermediate sprint in Rossana (km 114.5) went to Gerrans, ahead of Pate and Arrieta.

The third category Colle del Morte is coming up soon, 26km from the finish. In other words, that's in six kilometres time. If Pate is going to try to win the stage (and has the gas), he might try something here. He's unlikely to beat the others on the big climb, and so his best chance is to get clear, open a gap and hope those behind start squabbling.

16:49 CEST   
Pate is a strong time trialist and so those skills would help in getting clear. However, that's easier said than done, of course. At this point in the Tour, riders may not have a lot left in the legs.

16:49 CEST   
Stuart O'Grady is riding very well, leading the peloton for many kilometres. It's clear that CSC will try something today.

16:52 CEST   
The leaders are on the Colle del Morte. Martinez leads.

16:52 CEST    156km/27km to go
Pate takes over at the front, then Gerrans comes through. They are 1.2km from the top.

16:53 CEST   
The peloton is a long way back, 14'28 down. The riders are pedal ling in a flat valley, heading towards the hills.

16:53 CEST   
Pate sits on the wheels, his jersey unzipped and fluttering in the wind.

16:54 CEST   
O'Grady STILL leads the bunch! Wow..

16:55 CEST   
The four leaders approach the top of the climb. Arrieta accelerates, stretching it out. He gets the prime, ahead of Martinez, Gerrans and Pate.

17:02 CEST   
Ok, we opened a can of worms with the Barloworld comments from Robert Hunter. Actually, this topic is both interesting and important because sponsorship withdrawals are a side-effect of doping scandals. When riders realise this, they might be less likely to threaten their team-mates' futures by doping. Or maybe not...thinking of the bigger picture has clearly been a difficult for some in this Tour.

John Henderson writes in to add his two cent's worth. "I agree with Mr. Dawson's comments generally, but I believe that it does a disservice to cycling in general to say that you won't support a sponsor based on its choice to pull its sponsorship. Different sponsors have different levels of bad publicity that can be tolerated.

"The team has had a lot of bad press for them this past week - in the one race that has the interest casual sports fans and not just cycling fans. Obviously, I wish that Barloworld had not decided to pull out, but we do ourselves no favours by saying that we will no longer support a company because of their decision. We should appreciate their money and support these past few years."

"You may recall that some people even criticized the US Postal Service and T-Mobile for pulling out after many years of sponsorship. That's crazy! We, as fans, cannot be perceived as all-or-nothings zealots. We must welcome as many sponsors as we can get at this time. That's the only way we'll get through with the sport we love intact."

Okay, we'll leave it at that for now...feel free to communicate your thoughts by writing to our letters page (letters@cyclingnews.com)!

17:06 CEST    166km/17km to go
We have been asked how Vande Velde is after the crash. Well, it seems that all the riders who crashed were not badly hurt. We haven't heard of anything to contradict that, anyway. We'll keep you posted as to how the US GC hope fares...

O'Grady cracks on the Colle del Morte. His team-mate Arvesen leads.

McEwen cracks.

17:07 CEST    167km/16km to go
The break is 12'50 clear. Popovych is just behind Arvesen. He's having a better day today than so far in this race. Evans is eleventh wheel.

17:08 CEST   
So, one of those in the break is going to take the stage. Who will it be? We suspect one of the Spaniards, given their climbing abilities, but time will tell.

Vande Velde crashed earlier, but is in the bunch, ready to defend his third place overall
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
(Click for larger image)

17:08 CEST   
The gap is 12'44 at the top of the climb. Arvesen lead over the top.

17:09 CEST   
The four leaders pass under the 15km to go banner.

17:12 CEST    169.5km/13.5km to go
Bad news for the peloton. Cancellara takes over the lead. Seven CSC riders are on the front. Six are trying to follow the Swiss' riders wheel. Not an easy task.

17:15 CEST    171.5km/11.5km to go
Arrieta leads, Gerrans takes over. 11'24 is the gap, and one of these four will be the victor of stage 15.

17:17 CEST   
CSC are really putting the hammer down. Arvesen is giving it loads, with Cancellara on his wheel.

17:18 CEST   
Now Cancellara takes over.. Voigt is on his wheel. We are looking out for Vande Velde...where is he?

17:19 CEST   
The leaders go under the 10km to go banner. They are 10'43 ahead.

17:19 CEST   
They are on the final climb; when will the attacks start?

17:20 CEST   
Pate is missing turns now, appearing to be under pressure on the climb.

Current race situation

  • Egoi Martínez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Danny Pate (Garmin Chipotle - H30), José Luis Arrieta (AG2R La Mondiale) and Simon Gerrans (Crédit Agricole)
  • Peloton at 10.13

17:22 CEST   
Jens Voigt now takes over, ramping up the speed. Evans is fifth wheel, behind a grimacing Sastre. Popovych is on his wheel, with Valverde next in line.

Freire is dropped.

17:22 CEST    174.5km/8.5km to go
This is going to get veeeeery interesting soon!

17:23 CEST   
Kohl is now behind a concentrated Evans...by which we mean he's focussed, not stronger than usual and needing water :)

17:23 CEST    174.9km/8.1km to go
Frank Schleck is further back, not sitting on the CSC train.

17:24 CEST   
Lang is getting dropped; bye bye mountains jersey?

17:24 CEST    175.1km/7.9km to go
Schumacher is with him.

Up front, Martinez attacks!

17:24 CEST   
Arrieta is dropped. Pate gets up to Martinez, but the Spaniard goes again.

17:25 CEST   
Pate is losing ground, with Gerrans a few bike lengths behind him.

17:25 CEST    175.6km/7.4km to go
Pate gets back up to him!

17:26 CEST   
Gerrans is also coming back, slowly..

17:27 CEST    175.7km/7.3km to go
Andy Schleck now leads behind! The front group is much, much smaller than before... We think Vande Velde is still there. So too Menchov, Evans, Frank Schleck, Kohl, Valverde, and others..

17:28 CEST   
Sastre is there too. Yes, Vande Velde is right up there...

17:29 CEST   
The Evans group eases back slightly. Sastre has attacked! Kohl chases, then Menchov, Evans and the others.

Sastre is caught.

17:29 CEST    176.8km/6.2km to go
Sastre goes again! Now Menchov goes...

17:30 CEST   
Evans joins the others, as do Valverde and Frank Schleck.

17:30 CEST   
Kohl, Vande Velde and Kreuziger get back up. Eight in the Evans group...

17:31 CEST   
Up front, Martinez continues to lead with Pate locked to his wheel. Gerrans is a few lengths adrift.

17:31 CEST   
Andy Schleck has rejoined the Evans group.

17:31 CEST   
Vande Velde takes a drink, then chucks away his bottle.

17:32 CEST   
Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) got back up to the group, and attacked. There's no sign of Kim Kirchen (Columbia).

17:33 CEST    177.7km/5.3km to go
Gerrans gets back up to Martinez and Pate.

Sanchez still leads the Evans group. Sastre leads the chase.

17:33 CEST   
The three leaders pass under the 5km to go banner, holding a lead of 7'39.

17:34 CEST   
Andy Schleck is actually leading the Evans group...Sastre is in slight difficulty.

17:35 CEST   
Sanchez has been caught and is at the back of the group.

17:35 CEST    178.6km/4.4km to go
Cunego is off the back and being paced by a team-mate. Nibali and Kirchen are also in this group.

Pate leads the group up front.

17:36 CEST   
Valverde now leads the Evans group. Kohl is next. Andy Schleck now takes the lead.

17:37 CEST   
Further up the mountain, Martinez brings Pate and Gerrans under the 4km to go banner. Pate does up his jersey; can he win?

17:37 CEST   
Vande Velde sits on Evans wheel. He's really performed well in this Tour, and remains in third place overall.

Current race situation

  • Egoi Martínez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Danny Pate (Garmin Chipotle - H30) and Simon Gerrans (Crédit Agricole)
  • José Luis Arrieta (AG2R La Mondiale) at 0.40
  • Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Christian Vande Velde (Garmin Chipotle - H30), Bernhard Kohl (Gerolsteiner), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Carlos Sastre, Fränk Schleck and Andy Schleck (CSC-Saxo Bank), Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas), Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) at 7.19
  • Group including Damiano Cunego (Lampre) at 8.09

17:39 CEST   
Andy Schleck continues to drive the pace of this group. Valverde, Kohl, Kreuziger are next in line.

Pate drives the pace in the break. He puts in a little dig, putting Gerrans in difficulty. The Australian gets back up. Arrieta is 40" back now.

17:39 CEST    179.8km/3.2km to go
Martinez goes! But Pate covers him.

Further back, Menchov attacks! However he falls on a corner..wow....

17:40 CEST   
His wheel slipped out, going from first in the group to last. That's hard luck. Andy Schleck and Kreuziger are at the head of the Evans group. It looks like they might be waiting for Menchov. If so, that's very sporting.

17:41 CEST   
Menchov gets back on. He and Sastre are at the back of the group.

Andy Schleck is back on the front.

17:41 CEST    180.4km/2.6km to go
Cunego is getting dropped from the chase group.

Up front, Pate leads. Martinez and Gerrans sit on. Great ride by the Tour debutant.

17:42 CEST   
Menchov has moved up the group. Will he go again?

17:42 CEST    180.7km/2.3km to go
Andy Schleck is a picture of determination. He's put Sanchez out the back.

17:43 CEST   
Vande Velde continues to sit on Evans wheel.

Andy Schleck attacks! He's really strong today.

17:43 CEST   
Kreuziger marks him.

Pate leads the break under the 2km to go banner.

17:43 CEST   
Schleck dragged Kreuziger clear. Menchov got up and then passed them, but the others are on his wheel.

17:44 CEST   
Frank Schleck now moves to the front. Kohl goes! Menchov cruises up to him, looking really strong.

17:44 CEST   
Evans is dropped!

17:44 CEST   
He is clawing his way back up. Menchov is attacking. Still all together, but the Russian appears to be the strongest.

17:45 CEST    181.7km/1.3km to go
Kirchen is leading the chase group, 1'42 behind Evans' group.

17:46 CEST   
Andy Schleck attacks! He's flying... Frank Schleck gets back up to him, but Evans is on his wheel.

Up front, the three are still together going under the kite.

17:47 CEST    182km/1km to go
Sastre attacks the Evans group! He is going clear with Kohl and Menchov.

17:48 CEST   
Menchov leads from Sastre and Kohl. Evans is back with Kreuziger, Frank Schleck, Vande Velde.

17:48 CEST   
Up front, Pate leads...the three are all together.

17:49 CEST   
Evans is back with the two Schlecks, Vande Velde and Kreuziger.

Kohl leads Menchov and Sastre, with Valverde trying to get across to this group. Evans is losing time.

17:49 CEST   
Kohl and Menchov are setting the pace, Sastre sits on.

17:49 CEST   
Sprint up front...Gerrans is the strongest by far!

17:50 CEST   
Tour de France stage win for Gerrans...Martinez is next, then Pate...

17:50 CEST   
Well done to the Australian. Pate will be disappointed, he looked very strong.

17:50 CEST   
Valverde has joined Kohl, Menchov and Sastre.

17:51 CEST   
Sanchez leads Kreuziger, Evans, Vande Velde and Frank Schleck.

17:52 CEST   
Valverde is now leading the Menchov group. Evans is driving the chase as they go under the kite. They are over 30 seconds back, we think.

Kohl attacks!

17:52 CEST   
Menchov has been dropped! Kohl is leading Sastre, with Valverde on his wheel.

17:53 CEST   
Kohl is trying to take yellow...can he get enough time?

17:53 CEST   
Sastre is on his wheel, Valverde is dropped... What a Tour!

17:54 CEST   
Kohl started today 46 seconds behind Evans...

17:54 CEST   
Kohl is over the line, with Sastre on his wheel and Valverde a little further back.

Evans is being dropped by the chase group.

17:55 CEST   
Schleck comes in with Vande Velde on his wheel... We think Evans has lost the lead..

17:55 CEST   
Wow...what a stage...

Kirchen comes in alone, having lost time.

Schleck is trying to find out if he is in yellow...

17:56 CEST   
Ok, we think it is Schleck...he crossed the line nine seconds ahead of Evans...

17:57 CEST   
Cunego finishes 6'47 behind Gerrans.

Schleck is in yellow....

17:58 CEST   
Schleck lead overall, seven seconds ahead of Kohl and a further second up on Evans. Menchov and Vande Velde are fourth and fifth, 38" and 39" back respectively...

17:59 CEST   
A cleaner Tour? It's certainly a very different style of racing to the past. Riders are grimacing, grinding, blowing up...it's exciting to watch and, it must be said, more credible.

17:59 CEST   
Sastre is sixth overall, 49" back, with Kirchen 2'48" back in seventh. So there's five riders within 49" of yellow...it's still wide open..

18:00 CEST   
Kohl is very disappointed at the finish, lying slumped over his bike. He's very strong, though, and could yet take yellow in this race.

He was third in the 2006 Dauphine and is confirming that talent now.

18:02 CEST   
It's by no means all over for Evans. He's now out of yellow, and therefore won't have media pressure, or the burden of being watched as closely by his rivals. Could this be a blessing in disguise? Perhaps..

18:03 CEST   
He's a better time trialist than Schleck and Kohl, so if he can limit his losses to them (and to Menchov, of course), then he could yet win this race.

18:12 CEST   
Frank Schleck receives the yellow jersey! The second Luxemburger in this year's Tour, after Kirchen

18:35 CEST   
Kohl finally has the polka dot jersey. Even though he missed yellow by just seven seconds.

What an exiting stage it was today. We now take a breather. Tomorrow is the second rest day. But Tuesday we go back onto the French roads, with more action from the Alps.

Hope you can join us again at the Cyclingnews live coverage.

See you Tuesday!

Provisional results

1 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Crédit Agricole                       4.50.44 (37.56 km/h)
2 Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi           0.03
3 Danny Pate (USA) Team Garmin-Chipotle p/b H30                0.10
4 José Luis Arrieta Lujambio (Spa) AG2R La Mondiale            0.55
5 Bernhard Kohl (Aut) Gerolsteiner                             4.03
6 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Team CSC - Saxo Bank                  
7 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne           4.12
8 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank                                 4.23
9 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC - Saxo Bank                     4.41
10 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Team Garmin-Chipotle p/b H30    4.43
11 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas                              4.46
12 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi           4.50
13 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto                               
General classification after stage 15
1 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC - Saxo Bank                 63.57.21
2 Bernhard Kohl (Aut) Gerolsteiner                             0.07
3 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto                            0.08
4 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank                                 0.38
5 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Team Garmin-Chipotle p/b H30     0.39
6 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Team CSC - Saxo Bank              0.49
7 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Team Columbia                              2.48
8 Vladimir Efimkin (Rus) AG2R La Mondiale                      3.36
9 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne           4.11
10 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi           4.34

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