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95th Tour de France - GT

France, July 5-27, 2008

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Stage 5 - Wednesday, July 9: Cholet - Châteauroux, 232km

Complete live report

Live commentary by Hedwig Kröner

12:55 CEST   
Bonjour to all you cycling fans out there - and welcome back in the Cyclingnews blimp hovering over the course of the 2008 Tour de France stage 5. Today will see the riders tackle a pretty flat parcours from Cholet to Chateauroux on 323 kilometres. The longest stage of this year's Grande Boucle will hopefully see the McEwen's and Cavendish's of this world battle it out against each other in a bunch sprint finish later today. The fast men missed out on their chances on stage 3 to Nantes already, so we can be pretty sure they'll do everything they can to reel in a possible breakaway before getting to the line.

13:06 CEST   
The official start of the fifth stage was taken at 11.42am. Before that, in the neutral zone, Columbian Mauricio Soler (Barloworld) went down - not badly, but he might have sustained another blow at one of his wrists, as we're sorry to announce that the 2007 polkadot jersey winner abandoned the race after 12 kilometres into today's journey...

He was certainly brave to try and hold on since his crash on stage one, where he broke a small bone in his right hand. Finally, the pain proved too much of a strain. We certainly hope to see him back next year!

13:10 CEST   
Shortly before that, at km 11, an escape group managed to jump away from the bunch. Again, we have French riders in front: Lilian Jégou (Francaise des Jeux), Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel) and Florent Brard (Cofidis). The trio was quickly given some advantage by the bunch: five clicks later, it was already up to 2'10.

The escapees covered 45.8km in the first hour of racing. Right now, the leading trio has 8'15 minutes over the bunch, with 65 kilometres covered.

13:18 CEST   
Today, Cyclingnews is giving away a signed jersey of the 2007 Liquigas team! Just pick today's top three in the correct order and win! Simply email your prediction to our commentary inbox (commentator@cyclingnews.com). All emails have to be received when the first rider hits the 20-kilometre to go banner.

13:23 CEST    72km/160km to go
Aha! The sprinter's teams are already reacting, even though there's still 160 kilometres to go. The leaders' advantage has started to shrink, right now it is 7'30 minutes.

They sure don't want to make the same mistakes as two days ago...

13:29 CEST   
Christian Vandevelde from the Garmin-Chipotle team told our reporter Gregor Brown this morning that he was satisfied with his ride in the time trial yesterday. He finished 8th behind winner Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner). "I'm happy so far," he said. "I rode a good time trial, I was well within myself and that bodes well for later. I'm actually quite excited about the way I felt - it's a good sign for what's to come."

Asked what his team's strategies were with regard to a possible yellow jersey for David Millar in tomorrow's stage, he said, "Vaughters hasn't told us anything yet but I'm sure he'll come up with a plan for tomorrow."

13:35 CEST   
Emails are already flooding in for the Liquigas jersey competition today. Most of our readers choose Robbie McEwen as a winner, with Thor Hushovd, Mark Cavendish and Erik Zabel following the Australian Silence-Lotto rider.

Here's another information on the finish in Chateauroux which might be useful: it is very straight, no bends for the last 1600 metres. The road is wide, 8.5 metres.

13:39 CEST   
There are two prominent birthdays to point out today: First, the ’Eagle of Toledo’ Federico Bahamontes - who won the polkadot jersey six times between 1954 and 1964 - turns 80 today. Secondly, Cyclingnews editor and reporter Gregor Brown also celebrates his 34th birthday today. Congrats, Gregor! We certainly hope you will be able to celebrate this tonight with more than an autoroute gas station sandwich and a bottle of 1664!

13:45 CEST    88km/144km to go
The maximum gain for Brard, Vogondy and Jégou so far today was 8'15 at the 52km mark. That has recently dropped to 7'15 just before the end of the second hour of racing. It is interesting to see that Cofidis was on the attack every day since the beginning of the race. They were already rewarded by Samuel Dumoulin's win on stage 3. What a great victory for the smallest rider of the Tour, who is getting married in October to the daughter of AG2R team manager Vincent Lavenu, Magali.

13:50 CEST   
Ah... more and more readers now pick Mark Cavendish as the winner for today. The Manxman is definitely a favourite, and has a similar sprinting style to Robbie McEwen. He may still be young, but even McEwen says that he is the fastest in the last 200 metres.

As regards positioning, McEwen still beats Cav in our opinion as the Australian has more experience jumping to the right wheels, and finally squeezing through the right opening in the finish. One thing's for sure: these two will be hard to beat for anyone today, except maybe for... Hushovd?

13:55 CEST   
Gregor Brown also talked to Garmin-Chipotle's Trent Lowe this morning before the start. "I feel well, I feel fit," the Aussie said about his state of form. "I'm getting into the groove..."

Asked if he was nervous at the race, he replied, "It was nervous racing in the first couple of stages. Now, the tension is coming down. Hopefully it won't be as tense now. Although tomorrow, it's definitely going to be nervous again!"

14:04 CEST   
The leading trio have just passed the feed zone at km 100.5. A word on the weather today: it's absolutely beautiful. The sun is out, it's about 22° Celsius with a light 15 km/h breeze coming from the south west. This means the breeze is in favour of the breakaway, as the riders are moving eastwards to Chateauroux.

14:12 CEST    107km/125km to go
As to the intermediate sprints, the three Frenchmen seem to have no particular objectives. The first sprint (Argenton-les-Vallees, km 33.5) was taken by Jégou in front of Vogondy and Brard, the second (Richelieu, km 98.5) was won by Brard in front of Vogondy and Jégou.

The leaders are currently racing 6'40 minutes faster than the bunch.

14:16 CEST   
Robert Hunter from Barloworld, as well as Oscar Freire (Rabobank) are also being picked to finish within the top three by our readers. For sure, the triple World champ is a threat when he is not injured or ill, and the South African is definitely hoping to repeat his 2007 Tour stage win.

Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé actually talked to Hunter this morning, who was sure that today's stage would be decided in a bunch sprint. "I'm pretty sure that it'll come down to a sprint," he said. "All the sprinters are keen on it!"

Asked if he thought that the first flat stage had been missed by the fast men because there are no real sprinter's teams in the bunch this year, he replied, "Oh, there are still more than enough teams who are interested in sprints! I'm not worried."

14:26 CEST   
Another possible top three finisher today could be Robert Förster (Gerolsteiner). The German has already won two Giro d'Italia stages and one at the Vuelta.

14:31 CEST   
Back in the peloton, the two German teams Gerolsteiner and Milram are controlling the pace. Gerolsteiner of course lives up to its status as Stefan Schumacher wears the maillot jaune since his astounding win in the time trial yesterday, and Milram are hoping for Erik Zabel to have a good day today.

14:40 CEST    125km/107km to go
The gap between the bunch and the three breakaways, which include French champion Nicolas Vogondy, has dropped under 6 minutes.

Brard is currently riding alone in front, as his companions have stopped for a natural need...

14:42 CEST   
We just hear that a crash occurred in the bunch a few kilometres ago, involving amongst others Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne). He was spotted back at the race doctor's car, accompanied by his team-mates, and seemed to have a problem with his elbow. It didn't seem to be very serious, though. We'll keep you posted.

14:48 CEST   
The Caisse d'Epargne riders are back in the first part of the peloton. Everything looks okay; the other riders that apparently went down did not sustain any serious injuries, either.

The race is moving through beautiful French farming countryside. Skies are perfect. They're on long, flattish roads passing through some picturesque villages amidst the fields, where supporters cheer them on.

14:51 CEST   
John Gadret, a climber of team AG2R, is riding at the very back of the bunch. He was reported to be one of the victims of the crash earlier. The pace, however, is reasonable right now - he didn't look like he was suffering.

But as we write this, the bunch is starting to get more strung out...

14:52 CEST    135km/97km to go
AG2R's Cyril Dessel punctured. He's stopping to get a new rear wheel and gets a push from his mechanic to get going again.

14:58 CEST   
People from all over the world are e-mailing us to win the Liquigas jersey. It's a real flood in the commentator's inbox! Just to inform those of you who've just tuned in, Cyclingnews is giving away a signed 2007 Liquigas jersey for the correct pick of today's top three at the finish in Chateauroux.

Just email your prediction to our commentary inbox (commentator@cyclingnews.com) before the first rider hits the 20-kilometre to go banner.

By the way, we haven't been able to identify all the signatures on the jersey, but we are sure to have recognized Magnus Bäckstedt's name...

15:06 CEST   
Peter Beaumont asked us if there were any time eliminations applied to the time trials at the Tour de France. In fact, there are:

As a rule of thumb, the time cut in a time trial is 25%. With yesterday's winning time of 35'44, it would have been roughly nine minutes. The last rider was Freddy Bichot, 7'10 behind stage winner Stefan Schumacher. Riders will roughly know how fast they can go and those are not competing for the stage or the overall will take it 'easy.' They will ride tempo and stay in a comfort zone. They still will want a massage in the evening, though...

It is rare that someone gets put hors déelai in a time trial, but it can happen – especially when the road tilts up to a place like the Plan de Corones, in the recent stage 16 time trial in the Giro. No less than six riders were cut that day, after Franco Pellizotti posted a 40'26:

HD Raivis Belohvosciks (Lat) Saunier Duval - Scott  51.18
HD Mathew Hayman (Aus) Rabobank 51.19
HD Paolo Bossoni (Ita) Lampre 51.41
HD Christopher Sutton (Aus) Slipstream Chipotle 52.35
HD Lander Aperribay (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 52.40
HD Thomas Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner 53.48

People still talk about the Indurain sandwich, when Miguel was flying on the front in a 1993 Tour time trial, while brother Prudencio ended up in last place. If Miguel wouldn't have flatted, it is well possible that Prudencio would have been kicked out of the Tour by his brother...

15:20 CEST    149km/83km to go
With a little more than 80 kilometres to go before the finish in Chateauroux, the gap between the break and the bunch is down to 5'15. All is going to plan for the moment for the sprinters.

For most of our readers, the win will be battled out between Mark Cavendish (Columbia) and Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto). Other contenders include Erik Zabel (Milram), Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole), Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Robert Hunter (Barloworld) and Robert Förster (Gerolsteiner). Who else could score a top three finish? Who could get a surprise placing of the less known riders?

15:23 CEST   
The sky is still immaculate. The bunch is riding along a river through the fields. The Chateau du Grand-Pressigny thrones over the scenery... No wonder the French feel protective about their "patrimoine"!

15:27 CEST   
At the sprint in Grand-Pressigny (km 152), Vogondy took the points ahead of Brard and Jégou. The three riders therefore evenly split up the sprint points of this stage between them.

15:29 CEST   
News on Valverde: The crash earlier took off some skin on his right elbow and knee, but it doesn't look more serious than that. The Spaniard is still able to laugh and wave to the TV camera, so it can't be too bad.

15:31 CEST   
Arnold Bradford sent in one additional information with regard time trial time eliminations. "It happened in the Tour as recently as 2004, when Lance Armstrong's storming victory at Alpe d'Huez eliminated two riders: Davide Bramati (Ita) Quick Step-Davitamon, and Aart Vierhouten (Ned) Lotto-Domo." Thanks Arnold!

15:38 CEST   
Several readers have now picked green jersey wearer Kim Kirchen as a possible top three finisher today, on top of the usual suspects like McEwen and Cavendish. Well, we must admit that is not a bad choice! The Luxemburger has recently proved that he is more than just a Classics specialist. In fact, he has become quite an allrounder over the years: he can climb, time trial... although we still believe that the green jersey is not an overall objective for him.

15:42 CEST   
Jane van Niekerk and François van Heerden further add to our discussion of time trial eliminations: "Robert Hunter was eliminated on the second to last stage in 2006 in the time trial due to the fact that he had saddle sores and had to do the time trial standing the whole way. He did not make the cut off time and was not allowed to complete the final stage the following day."

Thanks for that! Goes to show that we do not have an encyclopedic knowledge of our favourite sport after all... nobody's perfect, right.

15:45 CEST    166km/66km to go
The gap has dropped to three minutes now as the bunch is stretching out amidst the wheat fields, golden brown in the sunshine between the dark green forests.

Time for an Espresso up here in the blimp!

15:51 CEST   
The teams Columbia and Crédit Agricole are now doing much of the work in the front of the bunch, together with Gerolsteiner.

Fabian Cancellara (CSC) is riding at the very end of the pack, with his back number 13 still pinned on upside down. This, by the way, is tolerated by the race directors, but solely for this particular number.

15:56 CEST   
Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes talked to Adam Hansen (Columbia) this morning. "So far so good – the team is doing really well, it has got two jerseys," the Australian said. "It is a sprint day today and we really hope we can do something for Mark. We hope it stays together for a sprint.

"I had a rest day yesterday, I just cruised it and took it as easy as possible. I just made sure I made the time cut. I will have a lot of work coming up in the hills," he added - so much for elimination possibilities in the time trials!

16:00 CEST   
Another rider not to be counted out in bunch sprint finishes is Barloworld's Baden Cooke. He told Cylingnews this morning: "I felt good on Monday, it was a long day. I am feeling better each day and I think today I will have a chance. Two days ago I was feeling good and today I will have a crack at it."

16:03 CEST   
The gap is coming down fast now, maybe even too fast. Only 2'20 minutes left, with over 50 kilometres to go.

Today's favourite Robbie McEwen was pretty sure that the sprinters would be able to do their jobs today - and it quite looks like it right now. "There was not enough organisation amongst the teams to bring back the breakaway [on Monday]... it was a wasted opportunity. Hopefully today is better," he said to Shane Stokes, who also had the opportunity to speak to Mark Cavendish (Columbia).

"I am excited about today," said the Manxman. "Hopefully we can work on what happened the other day. We didn’t get them [the break] back then. There were a lot of other teams not willing to ride, and so we missed out in the end."

16:10 CEST   
One rider we haven't mentioned yet for today's finish is Quick Step's Gert Steegmans. As there is no Tom Boonen to lead out, Steegmans can do a sprint for himself and maybe score a good placing, too. Who knows what he's capable of?

The break of the day still has about two minutes
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

16:16 CEST    187km/45km to go
The bunch is sitting up a bit now as the gap is down to two minutes. They pass another chateau in the valley of the river Indre. France is just full of them!

Stefan Schumacher is stopping to get some water out of his body.

16:21 CEST   
The break is still working well together, but we don't think they have any illusions about their fate.

Schumacher is chasing back to the bunch in the cars. Now he's back within the field. Gerolsteiner apparently didn't count on the yellow jersey too much as they didn't bring any yellow shorts to the Tour... 'Schumi' is wearing the yellow jersey with just the usual blue shorts. He does have a yellow helmet, though!

16:26 CEST   
Don't forget that you have to send in your top three picks before the first riders pass the 20 km to go-sign. After that, we cannot include them anymore in the competition for the signed Liquigas jersey. Currently, there are still 37 clicks to go before Chateauroux.

16:28 CEST   
Quick Step DS Wilfried 'Fiete' Peeters just picked Mark Cavendish for today's win to French television, by the way.

Schumacher in yellow
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

16:32 CEST   
Crédit Agricole's Simon Gerrans told Shane Stokes this morning that he thought his team had a card to play in the sprints: "We hope it will all come back together at the finish today and Thor can go for it."

Regarding the green jersey, he added that "Kirchen already said he is going to go for it. I think he is a real threat to Thor, he is a rider who can chip away at the points."

The French team is working together with Columbia and Gerolsteiner to reel in the break.

16:36 CEST   
Thomas Lövkvist from Team Columbia took over the white jersey of best young rider yesterday. "I am very happy with the jersey," he told us at the start. "It is a great thing, I have never been in a jersey in a Grand Tour before, so it is very nice. I will try to keep it as long as possible, until Paris if I can. But it is a long Tour and there are a lot of good riders here, so it will be hard. I will do what I can and see where it is going to take me."

16:44 CEST    209km/23km to go
The leader's advantage is close to one minute now. It'll definitely be a bunch sprint if we don't get any counter-attack! But that seems unlikely, as there aren't any significant hills to accelerate.

16:49 CEST   
Riders are slowly starting to position themselves. But the break isn't giving up yet... here's the 20 km-mark! Time's up for our competition! Please don not send in any predictions anymore as they will not be taken into account.

16:54 CEST    217km/15km to go
Still 1'02 for the leaders. They are giving it all they have.

Regarding our competition, we will try and find the winner right after the stage. The Live coverage will thus be continuing until we can announce the lucky winner of the signed Liquigas jersey. Thanks for your many emails and smart picks! I hear we have received close to a thousand messages...

16:57 CEST   
All the sprinters teams are now at the front of the peloton. The gap is melting away rapidly. A classic sprint finish is coming up!

16:58 CEST    222km/10km to go
35 seconds between the leaders and the peloton, which is winding its way through a forest. Riders are starting to fight for position. A Cofidis rider is trying to break the rhythm for his team-mate up front, but in vain.

16:59 CEST   
Hincapie punctured! He's chasing back to the bunch now, behind his team car.

16:59 CEST   
He should be alright. Taking one team car after the next...

17:01 CEST   
The bunch comes under the 10km-banner. 33 seconds to go to catch the break, which is racing flat out.

17:01 CEST   
Spectators support the breakaway, as Hincapie gets back into the bunch.

17:02 CEST    225km/7km to go
Still 32 seconds! Liquigas, Columbia, FDJ, Silence, Quick Step are all leading out the pack.

17:04 CEST    227km/5km to go
They are coming into Chateauroux now.

17:05 CEST   
Ouch! A Saunier Duval rider, Passeron, collided with a spectator, a woman it seemed. She's also getting back up, as the rider did.

17:06 CEST    228km/4km to go
The gap is down to 20 seconds. Good timing by the bunch and their DS! The breakaway riders are looking back now.

17:07 CEST   
Another crash in a roundabout! Heinrich Haussler went down from Gerolsteiner. He is not standing up. Looks like he hit his collarbone.

17:07 CEST    229km/3km to go
Columbia is leading out. We'll keep you posted as soon as we hear anything about Haussler.

17:08 CEST    230km/2km to go
Four Columbia riders in front, lined up as a train.

17:09 CEST    231km/1km to go
They're almost catching the break now. Vogondy attacks!

17:09 CEST   
The French champion goes for it... but the bunch is near. The others are caught.

17:11 CEST   
But the sprinters finally make it... Cav takes it! In front of Zabel, Freire and Hushovd.

17:12 CEST   
No - it's Freire who takes second in front of Zabel. By a millimetre.

17:14 CEST   
Cavendish started his sprint from far away, while McEwen was nowhere to be seen.

17:26 CEST   
Now, let's see who won the signed Liquigas jersey. Could we ask the persons who picked the right top three in winning order (1. Cavendish, 2. Freire, 3. Zabel) to send us an e-mail, so that we can identify them more easily. As we said, we have almost a thousand emails to wade through...

18:13 CEST   
And we have a lucky winner! Drum roll... it's Patrick Sungwook Chang! He was amongst the very few who picked Cavendish, Freire and Zabel, and moreover in the right order! Most of you picked Cav, McEwen and Zabel.

Thanks Patrick, we will send you an email soon. Take care and join us again for tomorrow's stage 6, the first mountain test in this year's Tour.

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