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95th Tour de France - GT

France, July 5-27, 2008

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Stage 9 - Sunday, July 13: Toulouse - Bagnères de Bigorre, 224km

Complete live report

Live commentary by Shane Stokes

This is where the Tour really begins as the roads head upwards into the high passes of the Pyrenees. Leaving the city of Toulouse, the course heads south and east over a number of small hills, until it reaches Luchon where the climbing really starts. The two first category Cols de Peyresourde and Aspin are not the toughest climbs of the Tour, but both are tough enough to punish anyone who isn't on top form. The descent to the finish though, should mean that any gaps between the contenders will be small.

Bagnères-de-Bigorre features on the Tour route on a regular basis, sitting as it does at the foot of the infamous Col du Tourmalet, which the race tackles tomorrow, but has only been a start or finish town nine times before. Recently, the town has tended to feature as a start town, rather than a finish. The last time was that incredible day in 2003 when Lance Armstrong took stage victory at Luz-Ardiden. He stormed away to win alone after being brought down by a spectator's bag at the foot of the final climb, the incident leading to the "did Ullrich wait" debate that kept internet chat rooms buzzing for years afterwards.

11:36 CEST   
Good morning Cyclingnews readers, welcome to what should be an exciting ninth stage of the Tour de France! We are heading into the Pyrenees today, with the high mountains certain to give more of an insight into who are the riders in top form in this year's race.

While we've already had an individual time trial and the summit finish of Super Besse, the next two days will entice the big guns to play their cards and try to gain time on each other. The first week of the race is ending; time to start thinning out the list of contenders!

11:49 CEST    20km/204km to go
There was already a flurry of activities, right from the start. A first escape group contained David Moncoutié (Cofidis), Freddy Bichot (Agritubel), Stef Clement (Bouygues Telecom), Björn Schröder (Team Milram), David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval-Scott) and Giampaolo Cheula (Barloworld). But they were caught after 14 kilometres.

An Euskaltel rider also didn't get to far, so for the moment the peloton is complete.

12:00 CEST    32km/192km to go
Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas), Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) and Nicolas Jalabert (Agritubel) are clear, having attacked at km 22. They have quickly opened a gap, gaining 1'20 on the peloton in ten kilometres.

12:02 CEST   
Breakaways are often given a bit more leeway in the mountains, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the big riders are often focussing on each other and gaining time in the fight for yellow, rather than necessarily thinking of the stage win. In addition to that, the best climbers can rapidly close gaps towards the end of the stage. Even if a break has a lead of several minutes starting these big climbs, it doesn't mean they will stay clear.

12:04 CEST   
Of course, those up the road won't be thinking that way. They know that they are clocking up valuable TV time for their sponsors, and will also keep their fingers crossed that they will be given enough leeway to build a big buffer before the fireworks start behind.

12:08 CEST   
The first bonus sprint took place 29.5 kilometres after the start in Toulouse. Aleksandr Kuschynski took the six points there, leading Nicolas Jalabert and Sebastian Lang across the prime line.

12:11 CEST    40km/184km to go
At the last time check, the bunch was 1'40 back. Many riders were taking the opportunity to water the roadside plants (or mark their territory, depending on how you look at things), so that will help the trio up front gain time.

12:19 CEST   
The gap has shot up over the last few kilometres, due largely to the go-slow in the bunch. The leaders now have 5'40 on the peloton.

42 kilometres into the stage comes the fourth-category Côte de Saint-Pey, then four kilometres later the similarly-ranked Sainte Quitterie ascent. Lang was the first to the top of the former.

He is one of the riders whose data is displayed here - click on Live Rider Data and Positioning at the top right of this page, and see what effort he's putting out right now.

12:21 CEST    45km/179km to go
None of the three riders in the break had KOM points before the start of the stage. However, with a lead of 7'30, they are going to change that for sure...

12:22 CEST   
Kuschynski and Jalabert were second and third on the Côte de Saint-Pey.

12:27 CEST   
Lang was once again first to the top, taking the maximum points at the summit of the Cote de St-Quitterie. Jalabert was next, ahead of Kuschynski. The trio's efforts had seen them cover 45.7 km/h in the first hour of racing. The peloton was a considerable 9'50 behind at this point.

Sebastian Lang was faster than the other two over the climbs so far
Photo ©: Elmar Krings
(Click for larger image)

12:30 CEST    50km/174km to go
The roads are relatively flat now, with the next categorised climb 41 kilometres away. This is the Cote de Mane, another fourth category hill. The day's feed station and second intermediate sprint then follow before the fourth category Col de Buret, coming 113.5 km into the race.

12:43 CEST    59km/165km to go
Things will get tougher in the second half of the stage. The riders scale the third category Col de Ares (123.5km), then the first cat duo of the Col du Peyresourde (166.5km) and the Col d'Aspin (198km). The latter comes 26 fast, downhill kilometres from the end, making a good ride on those slopes very important.

It'll be possible for some riders to make up time on the descent but any large time gaps may well persist until the finish.

Right now, the three leaders are 14'20 ahead.

12:56 CEST   
Lang was best-placed of the trio overall this morning, but the Columbia team of race leader Kim Kirchen will not be too worried. He was 79th overall, 22'21 back. His odds of taking yellow are pretty slim, to say the least.

12:58 CEST    69km/155km to go
The Euskaltel team have moved to the front of the peloton and the gap has dropped slightly. Lang, Kuschynski and Jalabert are 13'40 ahead.

13:08 CEST   
Manuel from Germany writes to ask how many points are up for grabs on the various climbs of the Tour. He's keen to see if Lang could possibly take over from David de la Fuente (Saunier Duval) as the mountains leader.

Well, the points are as follows:

Hors Catégorie:


Category 1:


Category 2:


Category 3:


Category 4:


13:13 CEST   
Lang has already picked up three points on each of the two climbs crossed thus far. If he managed to do the same on the remaining climbs (two category four, one category three and two category one ascents) today, he'd have a total of 46.

De la Fuente started the stage with 34 points, seven ahead of Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone) and Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom). So, yes, it's mathematically possible for Lang to end the day in the polka dot jersey. That would however depend on two things; the Gerolsteiner rider scoring high points on each of the day's climbs, and also De la Fuente or the other two failing to add anything significant to their totals.

13:16 CEST    82km/142km to go
There's no guarantee the break will stay away for all those climbs; the gap has dropped to 11'20 now due to the efforts of the Euskaltel riders.

13:25 CEST    89km/135km to go
The trio are now on the Côte de Mane, holding an advantage of 10'30 over the main field.

13:27 CEST   
Looking at Lang's SRM data (again, it's accessible at the top right hand corner of this page), he's right now putting out over 500 watts on the climb and has a heart-rate of over 170 bpm.

13:28 CEST   
This will then drop after the summit, of course.

13:32 CEST   
Lang was again first over the summit, taking top points ahead of Jalabert and Kuschynski. There's a slight descent but the profile generally continues uphill along lumpy roads.

13:41 CEST    99km/125km to go
With nearly 100 kilometres covered, the gap is 10'50. The leaders are plugging away on open roads, with blue skies overhead. They can see the mountains ahead of them. Euskaltel continues to lead the chase, stretching things out. The team is motivated to do something today as it's likely it will have a very big support in the Pyrenees.

Nicolas Jalabert is in the break. His brother Laurent, retired from racing, is checking him out on the motorbike for French TV
Photo ©: Régis Garnier
(Click for larger image)

13:54 CEST   
The three leaders are working well together, and have passed through the feed zone. The skies are clouding over a little, with the temperatures in the mid-teens.

14:04 CEST   
Crash in the peloton! Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) goes down hard. It looks as if this was not a feed zone crash, but happened right after it.

14:06 CEST   
He is quickly back up and riding, though. No major damage, there.

Cadel Evans crashes, too, just moments later!

14:07 CEST   
The entire Silence team drops back, while Euskaltel is still pulling on the front.

Evans' jersey is torn on the back. His shorts are also ripped on the left, over his thighs. He is bleeding on his left elbow, too.

14:13 CEST   
Ok, the entire team Silence has brought Evans back. He did indeed crash in the same incident as Verdugo. He changed bikes a little later.

14:15 CEST   
Apart from some scrapes and torn clothing, Evans doesn't appear too badly hurt. What was noticeable was the smoothness of his pedaling - in contrast to the rest of the Silence Lotto team who were helping him back, he appeared to be gliding on the bike. We conclude therefore that he's in very good form... Today - and particularly tomorrow's - stage will show if this is indeed the case.

14:18 CEST   
Race leader Kim Kirchen sits approximately 15 riders back in the peloton. He had the race lead in the Tour de Suisse and is once again in yellow. He's having a great season thus far and will hope to ride well in the high mountains. Evans and Valverde remain on most lists as race favourites, but Kirchen must also be considered a chance for a top three placing in Paris.

What about the overall victory? Cyclingnews asked his team-mate Thomas Lövkvist several days ago if this could be the case. "Anything is possible," he replied.

14:21 CEST    123km/101km to go
The leaders are on the climb of the Col des Ares, nearing the summit. They are 10'53 ahead of the peloton. Mountains leader David de la Fuente is moving up here, getting ready for the sprint to the top. As this is a third category climb there will be a point up for grabs there.

Lang again leads over the top, with Kuschynski second and mini-Ja Ja third.

14:24 CEST   
Alexandre Botcharov (Crédit Agricole) accelerates out of the peloton. Attack? No, he's stopping to say hello to a group of people (his family, perhaps, judging by the Russian flag they are holding) who are by the side of the road.

Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) had a bad encounter with the asphalt
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

14:28 CEST   
Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé spoke to Sylvain Chavanel at today's start in Toulouse. "I suffered a lot in the last few days," said the Cofidis rider. "My legs were hurting but now I am getting better. I am really keen on being in the attack today or tomorrow."

14:39 CEST   
Chris from the UK got in touch with his thoughts: "I'm expecting Kreuziger to join up with Kuschynski,and Sam Sanchez to attack on the descent. What do you think of Kreuziger's chances for a podium finish?"

Well, we watched him win the Tour de Suisse and he was certainly very impressive there. He's been riding strongly in the Tour de France thus far, and started the day 20th overall. His climbing and time trialing suggest a podium finish is possible, but we are inclined to think that he may be a little young this year, as he's 22.

That said, second in the Tour de Romandie and first in the Tour de Suisse point to a major talent. Sticking our necks out, let's say that a top ten overall this year is possible, and would be a very good debut in the race.

14:40 CEST   
Heinrich Haussler (Gerolsteiner) told Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown before the start about his plans. "It depends on the way the bunch is going to ride: if they attack or let a group go that is down on the GC. I hope the weather stays good and it does not rain."

Did he hope to get into an escape? "Yes, if we get a good group together, with guys that are well enough back in the GC. Otherwise I will just get into the gruppetto and try to save energy."

14:42 CEST    140.4km/83.6km to go
Roman Feillu (Agritubel) and Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) had gone clear at the top of the last climb but were recaptured soon afterwards. The peloton is exactly ten minutes back now.

14:45 CEST   
Robbie McEwen went back to the doctor's car for a chat. He didn't appear too distressed, so perhaps he's got stomach trouble or an ache somewhere.

Meanwhile Silence Lotto team-mate Cadel Evans also drops back to the doctor. He's having his wounds looked at.

14:46 CEST   
It doesn't look too serious - the doctor is putting liquid on the cuts. He also checks out his shoulder.

14:48 CEST   
Evans will certainly need a new jersey...it's pretty shredded around the right shoulder.

Euskaltel continues its long lonely slog at the front of the peloton. They are not really making much inroads into the break, which remains ten minutes clear.

14:48 CEST   
Evans returns to the peloton and sets about moving back up the bunch.

14:49 CEST   
One of the pre-race favourites, Carlos Sastre (CSC-Saxo Bank), analysed the stage ahead. "It is an important day," he told Gregor Brown. "It is the first day in the mountains and a big expectation for everyone because it is a big chance compared to the last days – we are now into the real mountains. You will be able to see how the other riders are today. Riding through the mountains you can check if your competitors are good or not."

The Spaniard was not worried about his team missing a break royale. "It is always important for the team to have strong riders who can make the escape. If you have a team-mate in the front, you can always call him back to have him with you."

Valverde also went to Dr. Gerard Porte, just moments after Evans. But he smiled, unlike the Aussie
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

14:52 CEST   
The Columbia team of race leader Kim Kirchen sit behind the orange train the bunch. It's a big day for them today; if he can defend his lead in the Pyrenees, that will boost his confidence.

Gerard Porte is a busy doctor today; Alejandro Valverde drops back. His right leg is bandaged, presumably due to his crash on stage five, and he is getting something sprayed on it.

He doesn't look uncomfortable, and rides back into the peloton.

14:56 CEST   
Carlos Sastre also wants to ride well today. He started the stage 12th overall, 1'34 back, and knows he must start moving up the GC.

He's pedaling smoothly in the bunch, using distinctly non-round chainrings. We guess they are the same ones that team-mate Bobby Julich uses, but are not certain.

14:58 CEST    152.5km/71.5km to go
Australian Simon Gerrans (Crédit Agricole) was excited before the start. He told Gregor Brown "I am looking forward to getting into the mountains – it is a new part of the mountains [the high mountains - ed.]. We should see different guys up at the front and we should see a real shake-up on GC."

Gerrans also revealed the team's tactics. "We will try to put a man in the breakaway, as we have tried every day – we have not succeeded yet. If an escape goes we should see Columbia controlling it and if they don't that will put pressure on the other teams."

Gerrans also had a prediction for the riders in a potential break. "Climbers. We have half the team climbers and half of it is sprinters. I am stuck in between the two, but I will try to get into the move today. We have a fair way to go before we get the mountains. After about four kilometres you have some category four climbs. I have done the last couple of Tours and I have done the Peyresourde and Aspin in the Tour and in other races."

The Aussie looks to the second half of the week. "I am aiming for the days following the rest day. It would suit me fine if I lose 30 minutes today or tomorrow."

15:01 CEST   
Bernhard Eisel also chatted to Cyclingnews at the start, telling Brecht Decaluwé that he was expecting a tough race.

"For me, this is going to be a survival day. Luckily with Columbia, we have all the equipment that is needed…we have all the clothing for hiking! We should make it today, but it will be hard.

"Yesterday was okay but the day before, I was crying on my bike…it was so difficult," he added.

15:01 CEST    153.6km/70.4km to go
The three leaders have started the Col de Peyresourde. The peloton is 9'48 back, and is bunching up.

15:10 CEST    156.8km/67.2km to go
The autobus is getting ready to drive; Eisel, Mark Cavendish (Team Columbia) and McEwen have all been dropped. Another sprinter, Jimmy Casper (Agritubel) is also living on borrowed time..

15:11 CEST   
Funny...a roadside speed detector kindly informs the leaders that they are travelling at 16 km/h. Lang leads, and appears to be the strongest. He has done most of the work thus far.

Current race situation

  • Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas), Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) and Nicolas Jalabert (Agritubel)
  • Peloton at 8.43

15:12 CEST   
The peloton has split on the climb, with the heavier riders heading south. Feillu is also deciding he has had enough and eases back.

15:17 CEST    159km/65km to go
Stuart O'Grady (CSC-Saxo Bank) and Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom) are also dropping back. The peloton is still led by Euskaltel and Rabobank. Valverde is very attentive at the front. Kirchen is about 30 riders back. A sign of weakness?

15:19 CEST   
Haussler is desperately trying to hang on to the back of the bunch. Kirchen is moving up now, showing he is ready.

With seven km to the top, Jalabert loses contact. His upper body is weaving left and right as he struggles to catch back on, but he manages. For now.

15:21 CEST   
The gap is dropping quickly now, as Kurt-Asle Arvesen (CSC-Saxo Bank) is riding solo. Not off the front and not off the front group. And not in the autobus. Simply solo. Not a good sign, with still more than 60 kilometres to go. Hopefully he will find a group. Maybe the Liquigas guys, with Pozzato?

15:24 CEST   
A giant heart build on a field, with a 31 inside. Is that a birthday sign?

Jalabert probably doesn't know when his birthday is right now. He is in the rouge, as they say in French. He is getting dropped again from Lang and Kuschynski.

Some fans run along side the leaders. Lang turns his head and checks that they keep a safe distance to him. The enthusiasm is appreciated, but it shouldn't get crazy, with fans accidentally taking out riders. Just ask Aurélien Passeron (Saunier Duval-Scott), who had to abandon the race after being taken out by woman.

15:26 CEST   
Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) is getting dropped. The Frenchman will not add more points to his polka dot tally today. Fabian Cancellara (CSC-Saxo Bank) also dangles off the back of the group.

Lang is now putting a few metres to Kuschynski.

Current race situation

  • Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner)
  • Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas)
  • Nicolas Jalabert (Agritubel)
  • Peloton at 6.34

15:29 CEST   
Lang is by himself now. But he is now only six minutes ahead of the first big group, which is still losing riders. Right now, Danny Pate (Garmin Chipotle - H30) has had enough, while Marco Marzano (Lampre) is actually coming back, after getting dropped earlier. Sometimes, a rider will only find his rhythm a little later on the climb. It may be better to go your own pace first.

15:32 CEST   
Bad news for Kirchen. His precious domestique George Hincapie is also dropping back.

Xavier Florencio (Bouygues Telecom), Cyril Dessel and Leonardo Duque (Cofidis) are going backwards.

Lang is two kilometres from the top. Across the the right he sees the switchbacks lined with people, leading to the top.

15:32 CEST   
Erik Zabel (Team Milram) loses contact, He has team-mate Marco Velo with him.

15:35 CEST   
Lang checks back. Kuschynski is around half a minute behind. Jalabert more than a minute. it would be good for Lang to have one more rider for the descent.

Thomas Lövkvist (Columbia) also goes out the back, while Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel) is yoyoing at the back.

Surprise! Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel-Euskadi) is also off the back! He was fifth last year and in 2003. And eighth 2006.

Lang passes the one-km to the top sign.

15:36 CEST   
De La Fuente goes after a Cofidis rider who wants to steal his mountain points.

15:37 CEST   
The Cofidis is Maxime Monfort (Cofidis). De La Fuente is out of the saddle, sitting behind the Belgian. Monfort will have to drag De La Fuente to the line. But De La Fuente looks like he is suffering big time and barely hanging on.

15:40 CEST   
Lang crests the top. 15 points for him. Kuschynski passes the top 34 secs later. Lang drinks a bit of water. How do we know? Half of it drops out of his mouth. It looks pretty clear, so we assume it is just plain old water.

Lang takes the descent at full speed. The upper part is not too technical. Or at least Lang makes it look it is not.

15:42 CEST   
There are a lot of people out. They see the peloton at the one-km to the top sign. Kirchen still sits a bit far back, but looks OK. They pass a Basque flag. Those are common around here, as Spain isn't very far. And of course some Basque provinces are also in Spain, though they don't have any clashes like in Spain.

15:43 CEST    172km/52km to go
De La Fuente takes fourth on the climb, ahead of Monfort. Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne) attacks and takes the next points.

15:47 CEST   
The order over the top was:

1, Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner)
2, Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas)
3, Nicolas Jalabert (Agritubel)
4, David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval-Scott)
5, Maxime Monfort (Cofidis)
6, Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d'Epargne)
7, Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
8, Matteo Carrara (Quick Step)

15:48 CEST    177.5km/46.5km to go
Lang is within twelve points of De La Fuente's mountains jersey.... He is now 45" ahead of former breakaway companion Kuschynski, and 5'24 up on the peloton.

15:49 CEST   
The riders are really thundering down this descent...it's fast, with flowing corners.

Current race situation

  • Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner)
  • Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas) at 0.45
  • Nicolas Jalabert (Agritubel) at ?
  • David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval-Scott) and Maxime Monfort (Cofidis) at ?
  • Peloton at 5.30

15:54 CEST   
Bill Carmody writes in, giving the thumbs up to one of the US riders.

"I sure like Christian Vande Velde’s confidence," he said. "One week into the race, he’s only 44 seconds out. Is it too early to make anything of this?

"Does he have a chance to stay with the contenders in the mountains? Does he have any legitimate shot at the GC?"

Vande Velde has certainly been riding very well and looks to be in very good condition. His directeur sportif Johnny Weltz told Cyclingnews at the end of stage six that he believed he was in the form of his career, and we think so too. Weltz said that he was hopeful of a top-15 place overall.

Can Vande Velde match these expectations, or even exceed them? Well, we'd like to see him do well...these next two stages will give us a better insight into how he is handling the high mountains.

15:56 CEST    184km/40km to go
Lang has been descending very well and he increases his lead over the bunch to 5'50. He's now on the day's final climb, the first category Col d'Aspin. If he can go over the summit with a minute or two of a lead, he's got a long, fast downhill in towards the finish.

Current race situation

  • Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner)
  • Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas) at 2.00
  • Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d'Epargne), David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval-Scott), Nicolas Jalabert (Agritubel) and Maxime Monfort (Cofidis) at 4.57
  • Peloton at 5.47

16:00 CEST   
Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) is towards the front of the bunch. He's close to yellow; will he wilt on the big mountain, as is expected by many, or will he continue to surprise with his good form?

Bernhard Kohl is on his wheel; he's been climbing well today.

16:04 CEST   
Lang has a chance to win this stage; he's only 10 kilometres from the top of the climb and has a 5'54 lead over the peloton, so if he keeps riding strongly...

Sánchez, De La Fuente and Monfort are in no-man's land in between. Jalabert has been dropped.

16:05 CEST   
Monfort was the others to pull harder, realising that they have to pull further ahead of the peloton before the fireworks start. He had a few words with Sanchez, things between them looking strained.

Euskaltel continue to ride behind.

16:08 CEST    34km/190km to go
Jalabert has been caught by the peloton. Schumacher and Kohl continue to sit in second and third place. They are not hindering the chase, but discouraging the others.

Schumacher attacks! He wants the yellow jersey, and is prepared to risk Lang's victory. Maybe he feels his team-mate is far enough ahead.

He is joined by several others, with the bunch close behind.

16:09 CEST    190.4km/33.6km to go
Riccò attacks! Piepoli is on his wheel. We can't see Kirchen..he looked uncomfortable earlier, has he cracked?

16:09 CEST   
Kirchen is in the second half of the peloton all right, so he has missed this move..

16:10 CEST   
Piepoli and Riccò are leading the small group off the front, with Kohl right up there too.

Evans has also been dropped! He is also in the Kirchen group.

16:11 CEST   
A Caisse d'Epargne rider attacks...the others come back to him. The Kirchen/Evans group has rejoined, it seems...

16:12 CEST   
The pressure is really on now. David Millar is under pressure... We will keep an eye out for team-mate Vande Velde.

There's a lot of jumping around right now..very nervous racing.

16:13 CEST   
Kreuziger (Liquigas) is very prominent, clearly feeling good.. Frank Schleck and Evans are further back in the group.

Current race situation

  • Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner)
  • Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas) at 2.50
  • Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d'Epargne), David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval-Scott) and Maxime Monfort (Cofidis) at 3.35
  • Peloton at 4.08

16:14 CEST    192.2km/31.8km to go
Lang is 3'56 ahead of the Evans group. Has Schumacher's acceleration hurt his chances of staying away?

16:16 CEST   
Millar is on the back of this group, looking like a ghost due to the covering on his legs. He gets a very bad sun allergy and needs to take measures to avoid this.

Lang concentrates on the task at hand: getting to the top of the climb with as much of his lead as is possible. He descends well, so could hold on.

Sandy Casar has attacked the bunch...he's pulling away...

16:18 CEST    193km/31km to go
Bear with us, it's quite fragmented right now. Sanchez, De La Fuente, Monfort are still the closest chasers. A little further back, Riccò and Piepoli are putting the pressure on again.

De La Fuente gets dropped from the chase group..

16:19 CEST   
Riccò goes! Wow...he's flying... He's moving like Pantani, attacking with his hands on the drops.

16:21 CEST   
He has a big lead on the others now, and has caught Sanchez and Monfort. He goes straight by, but Monfort holds his wheel for now.

Schumacher has been dropped. The rush of blood to his head several kilometres ago clearly came from his legs, where he needed it most..

16:22 CEST    194.7km/29.3km to go
Riccò is clear, alone, chasing Lang. He's approximately two minutes back.

16:23 CEST   
The peloton is largely together, with Caisse d'Epargne on the front.

Oh...Lang is now just 1'37 ahead of Riccò... He could yet get caught!

16:25 CEST   
Riccò has destroyed the field. He is far, far ahead of the rest, and moving at a different speed. The Pantani comparisons are obvious.

Current race situation

  • Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner)
  • Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott) at 0.57
  • Peloton at 2.10

16:27 CEST    196km/28km to go
Valverde is sitting behind four team-mates, looking a little strained. Well, that's normal - this is a tough climb.

Lang looks like he has cracked..he looks back and can probably see Riccò tearing up to him. The Italian is just 30", while the peloton is now 1'46 back.

16:29 CEST    197km/27km to go
Schumacher is slipping further back now, while ahead Riccò is seconds away from catching Lang. It's just 1.3 kilometres to the top..the Gerolsteiner rider will be doing his utmost to stay clear until the descent, but it's unlikely.

Kirchen is at the back of the main group, looking rough.

Riccò catches Lang and goes right by...stage win number two for the Saunier Duval rider?

16:31 CEST   
Riccò continues to pull clear of Lang. He's now 1'20 ahead of the peloton..can the others get him back on the descent? We suspect not.

Lang must be looking good for the mountains jersey this evening.

16:32 CEST    198km/26km to go
Riccò started the day 3'52 off the race lead. He won't get the yellow today but his protestations about not being a yellow jersey candidate look a little deceptive now..

16:34 CEST   
Lang goes over the top 34 seconds back, with Kohl attacking the next riders back to ensure De La Fuente doesn't take third. The Spaniard gets fourth.

16:36 CEST   
Riccò is blazing his way down the descent, heading for a likely stage win. He's inside the final 20 kilometres now and cornering well.

16:40 CEST    206km/18km to go
Kreuziger and Lang are chasing behind. Well, we should say that Kreuziger is chasing..Lang is a bit stuffed after his long day out front.

We suspect that he may not have got the mountains jersey...he's close to De La Fuente, but the Spaniard may have held on.

16:42 CEST    207.5km/16.5km to go
Kreuziger and Lang are 1'06 back, with the large yellow jersey group just behind. Kirchen is still there, near the back.

Correction: we think the Liquigas rider may have been Nibali.

16:45 CEST    209km/15km to go
Riccò drinks from his bottle and then chucks it by the side of the road, getting back on the drops and whipping the pedals around.

Pereiro is chasing at the head of the bunch. There's about 35 riders here, maybe more..

16:45 CEST   
They are 1'21 back as they pass under the 15 kilometres to go banner. Barring accident, Riccò looks set to win.

16:47 CEST   
Evans has been quiet today; we'll aim to find out after the stage if he was affected by that crash earlier, or if his legs were slow in adapting to the high mountains.

16:48 CEST    214km/10km to go
Ten kilometres to go for Riccò, who is 1'20 clear and shows no signs of slowing down. The descent is a little flatter from this point in, though.

16:50 CEST   
Rabobank and Liquigas lead the chase behind. However the bunch has sat up!

A Euskaltel rider attacks, and is joined by Casar.

The peloton is splintering slightly..this is very disorganised.

16:52 CEST    216.5km/7.5km to go
Riccò remains 1'22 ahead of the yellow jersey group. They are not going to get him back.

The Euskaltel rider clear with Casar is Astarloza. Vladimir Efimkin (Ag2r La Mondiale) bridges across and then pushes on ahead.

16:54 CEST    219km/5km to go
This yellow jersey group is in one long line, gradually dragging back Casar and Astarloza.

Riccò looks strong, and is 1'13 ahead. He is being encouraged by the many spectators by the side of the road, and is completely committed to the task.

Current race situation

  • Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott)
  • Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R La Mondiale) at 1.07
  • Peloton at 1.12

16:57 CEST    222km/2km to go
Riccò can smell the finish. He's switching from one side of the road to the other, taking the shortest line.

Lampre are riding on the front. Kirchen has come back up; he's likely to go for the sprint, in order to improve his chances in the green jersey competition. He started the day level on points with Oscar Freire, and could end the day with a nice advantage.

16:58 CEST   
Riccò is inside the final two kilometres and is relishing this moment. His team-mate Piepoli is at the back of the group behind, content that the Saunier Duval squad will be celebrating this evening.

16:59 CEST    223km/1km to go
Final kilometre! The Italian is still trying to get time, realising that he's back in the GC hunt in this race.

16:59 CEST   
He sprints towards the line, pushing hard..

16:59 CEST   
He's sprinting all the way, and getting a great reception from the crowd.

17:00 CEST   
He sits up, points to his chest, then throws his arms in the air. Efimkin will take second, having burned the others off his wheel with a powerful attack.

17:01 CEST   
Efimkin comes in 1'03 back. Team-mate Dessel takes third, 1'15. Kirchen was quite far back and so may not have got points. He had a tough day...

17:02 CEST   
Schumacher leads home a group 1'56 back. He surely regrets his attack, which sparked off a succession of counter-moves and ultimately saw Lang caught by Riccò.

17:05 CEST   
David Millar finishes in a group 4'34 back. His team-mate Vande Velde had a good day and is now up to third overall, leapfrogging Schumacher who drops to fourth.

17:07 CEST   
Lövkvist and Hincapie come in together, 6'26 back. The white jersey has gone now.

17:10 CEST   
Another big group comes in. This stage didn't cause big gaps between the race favourites - apart from Riccò's time gain, and Schumacher's loss - but it did split the peloton up somewhat. Tomorrow's summit finish at Hautacam is likely to have a bigger effect on the top ten.

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