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Photo ©: Bettini

95th Tour de France - GT

France, July 5-27, 2008

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Stage 13 - Friday, July 18: Narbonne - Nîmes, 182km

Complete live report

Live commentary by Shane Stokes

With just three fourth category climbs in the way, this should once again be a stage for the sprinters. The route continues its way across the southern edge of France between the Pyrenees and the Alps. It's likely that a break will try to get away, but even more likely that the sprinters' domestiques will bring them back before they reach the finish.

The stage travels from one Roman settlement to another: leaving the oldest one in Narbonne, and arriving in probably the most famous one in Nîmes. The capital of the Gard department, Nîmes is home to probably the highest concentration of historic Roman sites outside Italy. These include the best preserved arena in France – which still gets used for concerts and bullfights, the Maison Carrée – a temple dedicated to the sons of Agrippa, and most famously: the Pont du Gard – a three level aqueduct which lies 20 kilometres to the north.

Nîmes' other big claim to fame is as the origin of Serge de Nîmes, an indigo blue fabric that has changed the world. Over the years its name has been shortened to one word that most people will recognise: Denim.

The city has hosted the Tour 15 times before, with Aitor Gonzales (Fassa Bortolo) taking the victory in 2004, the last time it finished here.

13:03 CEST   
Hello and welcome back to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the 95th Tour de France. Today the riders will continue their eastbound journey, going from Narbonne to Nîmes over 182 kilometres. The overall contenders are expected to try to stay out of crash trouble and remain healthy until the Alps, when the real showdown will start. The only question today is if a break can take advantage of the little cat 4 rises to stay away or if the sprinters (or should we say *the* sprinter?) will try to get another one.

Of equal interest will be the battle for the polka dot jersey. First it was two Saunier riders battling it out. Following the team's end of the Tour, we now have two Gerolsteiner riders, Sebastian Lang and Bernhard Kohl ahead, separated by two measly points.

13:07 CEST   
Maybe that should be measle-y points, given that the jersey is spotted red (groan).

13:10 CEST   
Today's stage is of course another transition one, bringing the riders from the Pyrenees ever closer to the Alps, and the big showdown of this race.

It's relatively flat, with three four-category climbs scattered along the 182 kilometre distance. There are also two bonus sprints.

13:16 CEST   
The climbs are the Cote de la Resclauze (62km), the Code de Puechabon (105.5km) and the Pic Saint-Loup (126km).

The bonus sprints take place in Saint Bauzille de Montmel (139.5km) and Villevielle (155.5km). If no break is clear, expect to see those in contention for the green jersey competition to fight it out. It's relatively close there: this was the overall standing of the points competition this morning.

1 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank                                162 pts
2 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Team Columbia                                  138
3 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole                               136
4 Erik Zabel (Ger) Team Milram                                     123
5 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team Columbia                               121

Freire has a decent lead now but he's still catchable. And while Mark Cavendish has taken the most stage wins thus far in the Tour, he's lost out in terms of overall consistency. If he keeps up his winning streak he can get closer, but the Manxman himself said that he'll fight it out for green in future years. His big aim now is to get to Paris and, hopefully, pick up another win (or two) along the way.

Oscar Freire has a decent lead, but the green jersey battle is far from over
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

13:22 CEST   
Niki Terpstra (Milram) and Florent Brard (Cofidis) attacked in the first kilometre of today's stage.

They currently have a lead of 2'15.

13:35 CEST   
Oscar Freire has taken three stage wins at the Tour; one in 2002 and two four years later. The injury-prone Spaniard has only once finished the race, placing 96th in 2003.

13:36 CEST   
Certainly, the addition of the maillot vert to his palmarès would be a plus for the three-time world champion. After the Tour he'll aim his season around being at his best for the championships in Varese.

13:39 CEST    18km/164km to go
After nearly 20 kilometres, the breakaway duo are five minutes clear. A bunch sprint is expected today, but much will depend on how much control teams like Columbia, Credit Agricole and Milram can exhibit.

One who would very much want to be in the fight today is Robbie McEwen. He hasn't had a great Tour thus far, and is currently only tenth in the points classification.

13:49 CEST    26km/156km to go
Brard and Terpstra continue to pull clear. They are now eight minutes ahead of the peloton.

13:57 CEST   
It's a beautiful day in France, with the sun shining and temperatures in the 30s. Celsius, of course, not Fahrenheit..

14:02 CEST   
Both the sprinters and the breakaway specialists need to capitalise on the opportunities presented today and tomorrow. On Sunday, the race heads into the mountains and will remain there for several days; there's three high mountain stages, interrupted by a rest day on Monday.

The sprinters don't have much to hope for from next Thursday's stage to Saint Etienne, either. It's lumpy and has a second category climb 33 kilometres from the finish, so there's no guarantee that there will be a bunch gallop that day either.

If that's the case, the only sprints next week will be on Friday and at the race conclusion in Paris.

14:09 CEST    39km/143km to go
The maximum gap of the break was recorded 21 kilometres after the start. At that point the duo were 9'55 clear. It started to drop slightly after that, and is currently down to 9'10.

14:19 CEST    45km/137km to go
Further reductions in the gap; it's now 8'20.

The fallout continues after the positive test of Riccardo Riccò. As Cyclingnews' Laura Weislo wrote yesterday, WADA had worked with Roche, the company developing CERA, in order to prepare a test for the substance. If the B sample is confirmed, it was this collaboration which enabled the young Italian to be caught.

14:22 CEST   
Riccò has denied any doping. Yesterday's comments from Christian Prudhomme were interesting: he also cast doubts on the performances of Riccò's team-mate Leonardo Piepoli and Juan Jose Cobo on stage ten to Hautacam, as well as saying he didn't trust team manager Mauro Gianetti.

Reading between the lines, does this mean there could be more positives from the team? The results of the anti-doping controls for more recent stages are awaited. Certainly if any more Saunier Duval riders are found positive, the team's future will be in doubt. Right now, all activities are suspended until further notice.

Brard was already in the break in stage 5, seen here in last place. Today he only has Terpstra as a companion.
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

14:25 CEST   
There is a gap of several days between samples being taken and results being returned.

14:31 CEST    51km/131km to go
The Frenchman and the Dutchman continue to work together, but their gap is now down to 7'45.

Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown spoke to several riders at the start today. Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) is noticing the attention. "It is still crazy in the yellow, it is even getting crazier," he said. "There is a lot a pressure from the media."

Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) is hoping for team success in Nîmes, and also hopes to ride better himself. "I feel better. I was feeling even better about three days ago, but I had a crash. I came down on my right leg. I hope all of these problems are finished, after having the cold and this problem with the crash.

"From now until Paris, I will try to enter into the escapes. There is wind today at the start but for the arrival there is not supposed to be so much. We will try for a sprint for Gert Steegmans."

14:33 CEST   
John Trevorrow also got hold of Evans, asking how it was going on his third day in yellow? "Busy, and getting busier," he replied. "It is a bit of a balancing act trying to keep relaxed and accommodating all the media requests. Then there's the fans of course, but that's all good.

He was asked if there was still a special buzz in wearing the Maillot Jaune? "There certainly will be if it is in Paris. There is certainly a lot more attention when you are in yellow. I reckon today might be an interesting one. The wind is strong and there could be 'put in the gutter a bit. It should be interesting"

14:44 CEST   
We diga um alô para o Brasil - saying a hello to our Brazilian readers, who get up early to follow Le Tour and especially Murilo Fischer of Liquigas. The Brazilians hope Fisher can take out a stage win this year, but it all depends on the instructions from the team management. The South American work horse may have to give all his power for his leaders and may not get a chance to get into a break.

14:45 CEST    61km/121km to go
The gap is 7'10. Brard leads on the first climb of the day, the Cote de la Resclauze.

14:48 CEST   
John Trevorrow also had a chinwag with Robbie McEwen. "I wasn't too happy," he said about yesterday's sprint, where he was eleventh. "I had a good position as the sprint started but Chavanel chopped me as he was following the wheel past, and Casper was coming backwards at the same time.

"That stopped me and then it happened again soon after. I virtually didn't get to sprint at all. But this is what happens when you haven't got a lead out. I'm feeling OK, actually, so we'll see how it pans out today."

Brard got the climbing points ahead of Terpstra. The peloton is yet to reach the climb.

14:53 CEST   
Matteo Tosatto (Quick Step) spoke to Gregor Brown at the start. "Every day we are trying to get an escape. It is difficult, but we are trying. Yesterday we tried, but then we switched tactics to work in the finale for Steegmans. Today will be another day to try.

"Today, it will be difficult to control the race and there will be a lot of battles amongst the teams that want to have a man in the escape. You always have to be ready, from kilometre zero on."

He was asked about his 2006 win in Macon - does he think of following that up with another? "I would like to repeat this win," he answered. "But it is hard and everyone wants the same thing."

14:55 CEST   
Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) jumped clear of the main bunch and easily took the point for third place on the climb. His team-mate Bernhard Kohl is his closest challenger, and a better bet once the race gets into the high mountains.

The team doesn't have a sponsor for next season and, having already won a stage and held yellow with Stefan Schumacher, is relishing more time in the spotlight in order to highlight what it can offer to a prospective backer.

If you've several million euro and are interested, contact Hans Michael Holczer.

Robbie McEwen has not yet had the breakthrough win in the Tour
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
(Click for larger image)

14:57 CEST    68.8km/113.2km to go
The gap goes back up, reaching 7'07. The skies are virtually cloudless and our Hindenburg IV blimp cruises quietly onwards, having been taken out of storage and dusted down.

15:01 CEST   
Columbia and Française des Jeux sit on the front of the bunch, keeping things manageable. Those teams had the first two riders yesterday, namely Mark Cavendish and Sébastien Chavanel, and both will fancy their chances.

15:11 CEST    79km/103km to go
Française des Jeux have been doing more work than Columbia; we guess they need a win more.

The leaders are 6'34 ahead.

15:12 CEST   
The riders are passing the cirque of dolomites de Mourèze. It does look impressive, but certainly tiny compared to the real Dolomites. Some of the rock formations have been named. If you are in the area, a few kilometres off Clermont-l'Herault, go check it out.

15:14 CEST   
Gregor Brown spoke to Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) prior to the drop of the flag. He wasn't putting his hopes on a big bunch gallop. "On a day like today, I think there is more chances of a break than a sprint. We will see.

"I am working more for Menchov than for Freire today. Things look good for him and I am sticking at his side."

Fabian Cancellara (CSC-Saxo Bank) was also in a chatting mood. "I will try for a win, however my goal is to win a gold in the Olympic time trial," he said. "If there is an escape and I have a chance, then I will go. When you are in the escape you risk to pay for your efforts the day after. I want to give my best for me and for the team, then leave the Tour and be able to go better at the Olympics."

15:15 CEST   
Markus Burghardt got a musette in the feed zone. He's right on the front and so was very careful in disposing of it, reaching over to the side of the road and tossing it towards a spectator. That's safer than just chucking it over his shoulder :)

15:21 CEST   
News just in: The Saunier Duval has fired both Riccardo Riccò and Leonardo Piepoli for "doping practices."

There had been rumours that another rider tested positive for the same substance, CERA. While this is yet to be confirmed, it is clear that the team has serious doubts about the stage 10 winner.

The company is also understood to be considering stopping its sponsorship of the team.

15:33 CEST    93km/89km to go
Status quo: two leaders, the bunch behind is led by La Française des Jeux. The gap is 6'45 at the moment. It's holding relatively constant, but the peloton is just ticking over. Thus far, this is a virtual replay of yesterday's stage.

15:40 CEST   
Frank Schleck was off the back a couple of kilometres ago, and was dragged back by his CSC - Saxo Bank team-mates. So too Cadel Evans, who was escorted by Silence Lotto. We doubt the first and second riders in GC took their personal marking of each other too far; maybe they both took a nature break at the same time.

Whatever the reason, they are back in the bunch now.

15:45 CEST    97km/85km to go
Brard is doing 65% of the work in the break.

Don't forget to check out the Live Rider Data and Positioning section, accessible via the link at the top right hand corner of this page. The riders you can monitor are KOM leader Sebastian Lang (Team Gerolsteiner), Ralf Grabsch (Team Milram), Adam Hansen and Markus Burghardt (Team Columbia).

Thanks to SRM, you can see parameters such as their speed, heart rate, power output and cadence.

15:46 CEST   
Evans is back up near the front, sitting on the right hand side of the bunch. The wind is coming from left to right, so he's sheltering behind his team-mates.

15:54 CEST    105km/77km to go
Brard and Terpstra continue their bid to be birds in flight, but they are unfortunately more like sitting ducks. They have 4'33 lead now with over an hour and a half of racing to go.

They are on the Cote de Puechabon, the day's second fourth-category ascent. Nice view, good crowds. Not particularly steep or long, hence the ranking.

Terpstra looks a bit rough at this point. Brard gives him a bit of encouragement but the Milram rider doesn't come through before the prime line. So the Frenchman gets it.

15:56 CEST    106km/76km to go
There's a burned out bus/truck and car beside the road, as the bunch passes by. Perhaps some angry fans got hold of the Saunier Duval team vehicles. Okay, okay, we doubt that's the case...

15:56 CEST   
The fire engines are still there so it must have been a recent little bonfire.

15:57 CEST   
There's a bit of laughing and joking going on in the bunch. This is quite a relaxing day in the peloton, at least until things ramp up before the final sprint.

16:01 CEST    109km/73km to go
Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) is close to the front, as he will go for the remaining point on the climb and thus extend his lead in the KOM classification. He's got spots on his helmet.

He and Kohl ride clear, with the latter actually taking the point. We are likely to see Kohl go all out in the Alps for that jersey. He was a fine third in the 2006 Dauphine, so he's got some good climbing legs. He's also fourth overall right now.

16:02 CEST   
Leonardo Piepoli's home in Monaco has reportedly been searched by police.

16:06 CEST   
French television commentators are talking about a fourth positive on the Tour, namely Piepoli. It's unclear if this is speculation or if a fourth has indeed been officially confirmed.

If that happens, we expect the team to disband.

16:15 CEST    118.8km/63.2km to go
3'06 for the two leaders. The white jerseys of La Française des Jeux plus the blue of Columbia are those gradually, and calmly, chipping away at the lead.

16:23 CEST    125km/57km to go
Terpstra is hanging on for dear life behind Brard up the Pic Saint Loup.

16:25 CEST    127km/55km to go
Tons of spectators line the top of the hill. One 'fan' sprays Terpstra with some water. It is hot, but the Dutchman is not happy about the wet surprise. Ever gotten unexpectedly shocked with cold water when you were really heated up? Not a good feeling.

Brard takes the maximum points over the top as Terpstra has fought back on to the Frenchman's wheel.

16:28 CEST   
Lang moves clear of the bunch on the climb. Kohl came scampering after him and there were some smiles between the two. Lang got it, though.

16:35 CEST   
Our Brazilian spies have informed us that Fischer has indeed the green light from the green team to get into breaks. He just hasn't gotten into the right move yet.

It always takes a bit of luck to be represented in the break. There are still 158 riders left and an escape is often only a handful of people strong. Today only two.

We are certain that if Fischer would have been in the break he would have had at least some advantage with the temperatures. It is really hot out there.

16:37 CEST    136km/46km to go
Yesterday's stage winner Mark Cavendish moves up in the bunch, looking chirpy. Can he take win number four today? His supporters from the Isle of Man and the British mainland will hope so.

Terpstra pushes along on the front, appearing more comfortable on the flat. Meanwhile, 2'05 behind, Columbia lead the bunch. The pace has clearly picked up.

16:44 CEST    139.5km/42.5km to go
Terpstra has a nice aero position, getting low on the bike as he plugs away. He takes the sprint in Saint Bauzille de Montmel ahead of Brard. The peloton is 1'34 back. Oscar Freire has sent Rabobank team-mate Juan Antonio Flecha up the road to nab third place, thus saving his legs.

It could mean one of three things; Freire might not be confident about his chances in the intermediate gallop, he might be tired today, or perhaps he wants to go for the stage and thus save all his gas for that.

Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel Euskadi) has a flat tire.

16:45 CEST   
Flecha now waits for the peloton.

16:48 CEST   
Both Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas) and Jerome Pineau (Bouygues Telecom) are stretching at the back of the bunch. Right foot up and behind, onto the saddle, then left food. Perfectly synchronised, of course...

Niki Terpstra (Team Milram) is in the break together with Florent Brard (Cofidis)
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

16:49 CEST    145.3km/36.7km to go
The gap is going out again...it's now 2'01".

16:54 CEST   
Brecht Decaluwé reports that some shifty character made off with the Cyclingnews' media car sticker this morning. Fortunately they didn't make off with the car itself; that would be more inconvenient.

He spoke to Robbie McEwen at the start. "It takes a lot of energy to protect Cadel as much as possible," said the Australian sprinter. "I am trying to take care of him as a road captain. I'm not doing too bad in the sprints, I am just unlucky. I was feeling quite good yesterday but got on the wrong wheel and had an unlucky sprint. Better results are possible."

16:57 CEST   
Brecht also spoke to Garmin Chipotle's Martijn Maaskant. He asked him if he would try to get into a break. "Well, my task is to stay with Christian [Vande Velde], get him to the front as much as possible. I will do that with a few others on the team.

"In the final, I have been trying to set up Julian Dean for the sprint, but it hasn’t worked out so far. He is quick enough but we haven’t had luck so far in getting a result there."

16:59 CEST    151.9km/30.1km to go
The two leaders go over a speed bump and both do a bunny-hop. They push on but it's really only a matter of time; they've now got 1'15.

A spectator gets a bit too enthusiastic and steps into the road. Fortunately they are far enough away to avoid him.

17:02 CEST   
Brecht Decaluwé chatted briefly to Maxime Monfort, the Cofidis rider expressing his frustration at being hit with a 20 second penalty for drafting back after a puncture. "We talked to the commissaire but he didn’t want to listen to our arguments," he said. "We were there for 30 minutes and it didn’t work out. We will talk directly to Christian Prudhomme as we think it is not fair."

17:05 CEST    152km/30km to go
Brard pushes the pace on a small drag leading up to the next sprint. Terpstra is a couple of lengths back, but then puts in a great acceleration and opens up a clear lead. He takes the sprint and keeps going, making his bid for the stage.

Behind, Flecha is clear again, looking for third in the sprint. But he's got company this time; Stéphane Augé (Cofidis) grabs his wheel, then accelerates clear on the climb.

The ascent was uncategorised.

17:05 CEST   
We can attest that Wim Vansevenant (Silence-Lotto) is not the lanterne rouge because he is a slacker at the back. He is working really hard for the team every day, sticking his wild hair out into the wind for Evans. He will take it relatively easy in the time trials and in the autobus up the mountains. That allows him to 'gain' time against his closest rivals. Vansevenant is riding towards the third title in that inofficial competition.

Recall that before stage 1, Vansevenant told Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé that "It is not a goal, but why not?" We will keep you posted...

17:06 CEST    158km/24km to go
Was Terpstra bluffing? He was weaker on the previous hills but is flying along now.

17:08 CEST    158.5km/23.5km to go
Brard is now 35 seconds back. The peloton is 1'29 in arrears.

Augé has joined Brard and the two team-mates are working together.

17:10 CEST    162km/20km to go
So it's one against two up front, with quite a few more in pursuit behind. Terpstra is going well, pulling out the gap to 57 seconds.

17:11 CEST    162.4km/19.6km to go
The leader is 1'43 ahead of the peloton.

17:12 CEST   
As they go under the 20 kilometre to go banner, Brard reaches over and grabs a drinks bottle from the motorbike. He's had a long, hard day out front (remember, he and Terpstra attacked in the first kilometre) and with this heat, every drop of fluid is welcome.

17:12 CEST    164km/18km to go
Terpstra looks good, getting really low in a bid to beat the wind.

17:13 CEST   
La Française des Jeux lead the chase. Philippe Gilbert is at the front now, using his considerable horsepower to drive things along.

17:14 CEST   
French champion Nicolas Vogondy is also up the front, showing off what is a very nice jersey.

17:15 CEST    166km/16km to go
Terpstra is getting plenty of encouragement, although we wager the two French chasers will be urged on that bit more by the spectators.

They need all the cheers they can get, as the gap is still a minute. It's not looking good for their chances.

17:18 CEST   
Brard and Augé are going to be wolfed up very soon by the peloton...they are within sight.

A French gendarme is standing on a traffic island, waving his arms and warning the riders about the danger. He looks like someone from a village people video, what with the flamboyant arm gestures. Scary.

17:19 CEST    168.5km/13.5km to go
Terpstra is slowing, tiring, and has just 52" now.

17:21 CEST   
Brard and Augé were caught, and now it's just one in front.

17:22 CEST    170km/12km to go
Riders from Agributel, Credit Agricole, Quick Step and Columbia are up front, making easy work of reducing this lead. Just 20" now...

17:22 CEST   
Terpstra is a picture of pain. He's really suffering now.

17:23 CEST   
Cadel Evans is well placed, sitting behind some team-mates on the right of the peloton.

17:25 CEST    171.5km/10.5km to go
Terpstra is well within view, holding a gap of 6 seconds. A Bouygues Telecom rider accelerates clear and passes him, holding a slight lead under the inflatable banner signifying ten to go.

17:25 CEST   
It's Stef Clement. He's not looking too happy out there, almost willing the peloton to catch him and put him out of his misery.

17:27 CEST   
He's goooooone.

Sven Kraus (Gerolsteiner) ploughed into some traffic furniture and went flying.

17:28 CEST    174km/8km to go
He's up and limping. His bike is in two halves. There was no Village People warning there, unfortunately.

Sylvain Chavanel has attacked. The Cofidis rider is flying along, with the whole Milram team chasing now.

17:29 CEST    175km/7km to go
Chavanel persists, but has a big stomping bunch to hold off. It's unlikely. However, worth a shot...

17:30 CEST   
Liquigas are now moving up, with Garmin Chipotle also trying to get up to the front. They are working for Julian Dean.

17:31 CEST    177km/5km to go
Chavanel uses every inch of the road, nearly hitting the curb. He's fully committed, although some in the peloton must think that he should be committed for trying such a move.

17:33 CEST    179km/3km to go
He has been caught...all together now...

17:34 CEST   
Quick Step are pushing it, hoping Steegmans can repeat his win of last year.

17:34 CEST    180km/2km to go
Liquigas is also there...

17:35 CEST   
Still Liquigas...

17:35 CEST    181km/1km to go
They are riding for Chicchi. Under the kite...

17:35 CEST   
Milram lead out...

17:36 CEST   
Zabel is well placed...Cavendish waits but gets blocked..

17:36 CEST   
Cavendish versus McEwen...

17:36 CEST   
Four for Cavendish!!

17:36 CEST   
He was blocked in with about 400 metres to go but then got clear, hitting the jets..

17:37 CEST   
Four for the rider who has dominated the sprints in this race...wow.. He's still just 23 years of age, too...

17:38 CEST   
McEwen took second, with Romain Feillu (Agritubel), Heinrich Haussler (Gerolsteiner) and Oscar Freire (Rabobank) next across the line.

17:38 CEST   
Feillu pats Cavendish on the back as he rolls past.

17:46 CEST   
Thanks for joining us in today's live coverage. The sprinters made sure they won't let one of the last opportunities slip away.

Please join us again tomorrow at 13:00 CEST.

Au revoir!

Provisional results

1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team Columbia                           4.25.42 (41.10 km/h)
2 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Silence - Lotto                                 
3 Romain Feillu (Fra) Agritubel                                       
4 Heinrich Haussler (Ger) Gerolsteiner                                
5 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank                                   
6 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole                                  
7 Leonardo Duque (Col) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone              
8 Erik Zabel (Ger) Team Milram                                        
9 Julian Dean (NZl) Team Garmin-Chipotle p/b H30                      
10 Sébastien Chavanel (Fra) Française des Jeux    

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