Stage 11: Marseille to Montpellier (182.5km)
LATEST ACTION AS IT HAPPENS (ALL TIMES BST)
1604: The second group, which includes Christophe Moreau and Erik Zabel come home three minutes 20 seconds down. A 'mare for Moreau.
1601: South African Robbie Hunter goes early and holds off his rivals as Fabian Cancellara thumps his handlebars in anger at just missing out on the stage win.
1600: Crash. A tight right and a number of riders go down.
1559: The big boys are winding this up. The sprinters are lurking, but Fabian Cancellara has a pop.
1558: That was shortlived, but sniping attacks could come thick and fast with less than three kilometres to go.
1557:Alexandre Vinokourov's bid for glory does not look promising as QuickStep step it up and lead the chase.
1556: Alexandre Vinokourov gives it a dig off the front of the peloton.
1554: Getting close to the five kilometre mark. All sorts of jerseys up at the front, but no mass movement from any single team as yet.
1551: Make that two minutes 45 seconds. Christophe Moreau's down to unlucky 13 then in the General Classification by the looks of things.
1549: The peloton arrows under the 10km to go banner. That gap is up to two minutes 36 seconds now.
1546: The gap is still going up. This is a shocker for Christophe Moreau. He is almost two minutes 30 seconds behind, a margin that will see him drop to 12th. It could yet get worse.
1544: An electric pace as the peloton spears in two, swooping either side of a roundabout before linking up again. At this pace it will be hard for anyone to jump off the front and steal away for a win. The sprinters must be licking their lips already - apart from Erik Zabel.
1540: Make that two minutes and rising. Christophe Moreau is going to fall out of the top 10 at this rate. Not a great day for the French.
1535: The gap between the two groups is now two minutes. There are 20km left.
1530: AG2R are finally getting some help at the front of the second group. Erik Zabel's Milram team have joined forces with them but the gap still refuses to budge.
1524: The field flies through the little town of Saint Just and the gap between the two groups is holding at one minute 40 seconds. Less than 30km to go and the game seems up for the chasers. Christophe Moreau will fall behind Carlos Sastre, Andreas Kloden and Levi Leipheimer in the General Classification. Erik Zabel could be waving goodbye to his bid for the green jersey.
1519: The second group is slowly coming back. They are one minute 40 seconds adrift now, but there are only 34km to the finish in Montpellier so time may be against them.
1515: David Millar's bid for glory is almost over. At one stage it looked odds on the Briton would be fighting it out with Xavier Florencio, Dimitri Fofonov, Philippe Gilbert and Fabian Wegmann at the finish. The five leaders sit up and await the peloton.
1513: Chistophe Moreau's mouth is gaping as he stays on the tail of his team-mates. Nobody else is helping them, but Erik Zabel and his Milram boys know this could prove a costly day for them as well so they may give it a turn on the front before too long.
1507: The gaps on the road... The leaders have a minute on the main group (the margin is coming down all the time), which now has two minutes on Christophe Moreau's group (the margin is going up all the time). The Frenchman's group has linked up with what was the fourth group.
1503: David Millar, Xavier Florencio, Dimitri Fofonov, Philippe Gilbert and Fabian Wegmann are now 90 seconds clear. Just 30 minutes ago they were cruising along with an advantage of more than seven minutes!
1500: Christophe Moreau's group numbers 14, but they are leaving the hard graft to the Frenchman's AG2R team-mates. They are not eating chunks out of their deficit.
1456: No, the gap to the leaders is coming down again. Barloworld are giving it a twirl on the front.
1454: Things seem to have settled down and Astana have stopped hitting the hammer. The lead for David Millar, Xavier Florencio, Dimitri Fofonov, Philippe Gilbert and Fabian Wegmann has levelled off at about two minutes 30 seconds. AG2R are still desperately trying to get Christophe Moreau back with the big guns.
1450: Green jersey news, and it's good news for Tom Boonen. The current leader of the Points Classification is in the Astana group. Erik Zabel, his main challenger, has done a "Moreau" and got caught napping when the peloton split.
1449: Astana are setting a relentless pace. The gap to the leaders is down to three minutes and the gap to Christophe Moreau and co is up to 90 seconds.
1445: A third of the stage still to go and the lead of David Millar, Xavier Florencio, Dimitri Fofonov, Philippe Gilbert and Fabian Wegmann continues to dwindle. They are about four minutes 40 seconds in front. Chistophe Moreau is a minute adrift of the main chasing group of big names and looks set to loose at least three places in the General Classification.
1443: It's all getting a bit tasty out there. What's going on? There are four groups on the road. The five leaders, the main peloton, the Christophe Moreau group and then a bunch of stragglers which includes Thor Hushovd. Astana have blown the peloton apart with that sustained turn on the front.
1439: Astana have cut the gap to the front five to less than five minutes and have opened up a sizeable gap to Christophe Moreau. His team-mates are blowing and cannot get him back. There's another group a further minute down the road.
1437: One of the casualties of this cranking of the pace is Christophe Moreau. The Frenchman, sixth overall, has had a bad day. He crashed earlier and is now in the second part of the peloton. His AG2R team-mates don't seem capable of cutting the gap no matter how much punch they give it.
1436: The time is tumbling down and David Millar, Xavier Florencio, Dimitri Fofonov, Philippe Gilbert and Fabian Wegmann are less than six minutes ahead, although the gap seems to be levelling off for now.
1432: The gap is under seven minutes and the peloton, which was intitially strung out in Indian file, has now split. Chaos is king.
1431: The gap has come down for the first time. The leading quintet got up to seven minutes 26 seconds but that was deemed more than enough for Astana. Alexandre Vinokourov and some of his team-mates hit the front of the peloton and are looking to get serious. The injection of pace has caught some riders at the back of the peloton off guard and they are labouring. Igor Anton of Euskaltel has retired from the race.
1426: As the peloton mull over their musettes and chew on an energy bar or two the front five are churning out the miles. No let up from them and the advantage is up to seven minutes... and climbing.
1424: Lunchtime for the peloton as they line up their musettes, take what they want and discard the rest.
1420: The leading group of David Millar, Xavier Florencio, Dimitri Fofonov, Philippe Gilbert and Fabian Wegmann are now six minutes to the good.
"Still reckon Quickstep, Milram, Credit Agricole and Barloworld will try to bring it back before the end of the stage."
dummy_half on the 606 messageboards
1415: Credit Agricole's Dimitri Fofonov is the best-placed rider in the leading group. The Kazakhstani is 40th on the General Classification, 28 minutes and 10 seconds off the pace. Fabian Wegmann is 55th overall, Xavier Florencio 63rd, David Millar 101st and Philippe Gilbert 107th.
1413: The average speed for the day after two hours is a touch under 50km/h.
1411: Herculean effort from David Millar who has bridged the gap to the leaders who now boast a four-minute advantage as they fly through the crowded outskirts of Arles. The Briton is getting his breath back on the back of the breakaway.
1410 The second sprint of the day goes to Xavier Florencio, but the Spaniard will not be too bothered by that. Staying away is the priority now.
- Intermediate sprint (96.5km)
1. Xavier Florencio - 6 points/6 seconds
2. Fabian Wegmann - 4 pts/4 secs
3. Philippe Gilbert - 2 pts/2 secs
1407: The gap is now more than three minutes. David Millar is still betwixt and between.
"Pack taking it easy. Four candidates for the win left."
DeGuzman on the 606 messageboards
1405: Are the peloton happy to let Xavier Florencio, Dimitri Fofonov, Philippe Gilbert and Fabian Wegmann break away? It looks like it. They have opened up a gap of two minutes.
1402: That's the day's halfway mark. David Millar is still in no-man's land between the leaders and the peloton.
1400: The quartet of Xavier Florencio, Dimitri Fofonov, Philippe Gilbert and Fabian Wegmann are a minute clear. An impressive burst with lunch in Arles - once home to Vincent Van Gogh - coming up.
1356: David Millar is looking to bridge the gap to the escapees.
1354: Step forward - or roll forward at speed - Fabian Wegmann. Clenched teeth and a gut-busting effort later the German has broken away. Philippe Gilbert, Xavier Florencio and Dimitri Fofonov join him in jumping off the front.
1350: That's it. The race is back as one. Cue peddling pandemonium as various riders chance their arm at launching another escape.
1344: The game is almost up for the trio of Daniele Bennati, Sebastien Chavanel and Benoit Vaugrenard. They can see the peloton over their shoulders.
1336: Six of the group have given up the ghost, but Daniele Bennati, Sebastien Chavanel and Benoit Vaugrenard are still hitting the pedals hard and hoping against hope they can stay away.
1331: There are now 170 riders in the race. Sylvain Calzati has abandoned. The AG2R rider was 46th overall, just over half an hour off top spot, and is the first member of his team to throw in the towel this year.
1330: Time's almost up lads. The gap is now just 30 seconds and the peloton is flying with a menacing intent.
1325: That's a third of the day done already and the gap between the nine and the peloton is now under a minute.
1318: Hello, that gap, which was almost up to two minutes at one stage, is beginning to come down. Rabobank are now being helped by Euskaltel, Milram and Predictor-Lotto.
1313: An hour's proper racing in the saddle behind them, and the riders are going like the clappers out there. The average speed is 50.8km/h! Rabobank are still leading the chase at the front of the peloton.
"I don't fancy the chances of this escape much. Arroyo is just two minutes off the top 10 which means the teams of the top 10 riders surely won't let them go."
Lowlandbrit on the 606 messageboards
1307: The road's now heading west, parallel to the Mediterranean which is to the south, and the leaders are almost two minutes up on the peloton.
1259: Barloworld's Kanstantsin Siutsou takes the points from the day's climb - his first in the competition.
- Fourth-category climb (Cote de Calissanne - 38km)
1. Kanstantsin Siutsou - 3 points
2. Pierrick Fedrigo - 2 pts
3. Nick Nuyens - 1 pt
1258: With the time difference ticking up to 100 seconds race leader Michael Rasmussen's Rabobank team take up the challenge at the front of the peloton.
1253: The gap between the nine and the peloton, which did catch the other escapees, is up to one minute and 30 seconds. Christophe Moreau crashes but is back on his bike. The Frenchman, sixth overall, will need some witch hazel come the days end for the cuts and grazes on his left-hand side.
1249: The points for the first sprint of the day go to Lampre's Daniele Bennati. That haul pushes the Italian up to the fringes of the top 10 in the points classification.
- Intermediate sprint (31.5km)
1. Daneile Bennati - 6 points/6 seconds
2. Nick Nuyens - 4 pts/4 secs
3. Pierrick Fedrigo - 2 pts/2 secs
1245: So there are three groups out there. The nine at the front, the 19 remaining riders from the intial break and then the peloton, although the second two groups look set to merge soon.
1239: The leading nine have pushed their advantage over the peloton to a minute. The group in full is David Arroyo, Daniele Bennati, Sebastien Chavanel, Pierrick Fedrigo, Heinrich Haussler, Nick Nuyens, Kanstantsin Siutsou, Benoit Vaugrenard and Jens Voigt. Caisse D'Epargne rider Arroyo is the best-placed in general classification at 19th, seven minutes 33 seconds back.
1230: That's better. They are down to nine now which is far more manageable. Jens Voigt's still in the mix.
1227: That lead group have opened up some time on the peloton and a quick count puts their number at 28. No Brits in there. But Jens Voigt has gone again.
1222: A biggish group has broken away and time will tell if they have more success than Messrs Bichot and Auge.
1216: Freddy Bichot is joined by compatriot Stephane Auge, but as quickly as they broke free they are sucked back into the peloton. Everyone's going along at quite a lick out there.
1214: Blimey, Freddy Bichot's not hanging around! The Frenchman, who rides for Agributel, launches the first attack of the day.
1212: We're off for good.
"I can see the sprinters going for it, it's basically their last chance and they're unlikely to be contenders for the time-trial stage."
Lowlandbrit on the 606 messageboards
1154: The 171 riders still in the race are gently cruising through the neutral zone before racing proper starts. There's the slightest of kicks in the road is it heads north before turning west towards Montpellier, which Wikipedia suggests gets its name from Mont Pele meaning, Naked Hill. Not much of a hill mind for these boys, be it naked or clothed.
"It seems incredibly likely that we'll end up with a sprint unless someone really determined and experienced gets away."
morganmuffle on the 606 messageboards
1151: How the race stands:
It's all about green. The yellow jersey will not change hands today, and with only a fourth-category climb to come after 38km the mountain classification is not going to be turned on its head either. There are two intermediate sprints at 31.5km and 96.5km to keep an eye out for.
- Yellow jersey: Dane Michael Rasmussen leads by two minutes 35 seconds from Alejandro Valverde, with Iban Mayo four seconds further back in third.
- Green jersey: Tom Boonen has a 16-point advantage over Erik Zabel.
- Polka dot jersey: Rasmussen's also the present King of the Mountains, but as he's wearing yellow Juan Mauricio Hernandez Soler is sporting the spots.
1145: Allez. The riders roll out to the backdrop of some lively accordian playing in downtown Marseille.
"Jens Voigt might want to have another go for a stage win. He was disappointed not to win yesterday and a stage win for CSC would be dedicated to Stuart O'Grady, who is currently in intensive care with his wife soon due to give birth."
opplock on the 606 messageboards
1143: Roll up, roll up. Next up for the inquisition is Erik Zabel. He's tipping a breakaway and his focus for the day is keeping tabs on Tom Boonen. Good to know the feeling's mutual between those two then.
1140: Alexandre Vinokourov's put on the spot now and he goes all Peter Mandelson. "I'm not a quitter," states the battered and beleagured pre-race favourite, but that's where the Mandy similarities end. "Day-by-day it gets a little better but my legs are still aching and there's swelling in both knees," adds the Astana man.
1137: Talking of points leader Tom Boonen, a microphone is thrust in front of him. No great insight in terms of what he expects from today. A sprint is "possible" and it's going to be hot. But he is keeping tabs on Erik Zabel in the race for the green jersey: "He's the only guy I have to watch."
1134: A baking day and the 182.5km road from Marseille to Montpellier is as flat as the proverbial pancake. The bookies have the sprinters at the shortest odds for the stage win and Belgian Tom Boonen is 9/4 favourite.
1130: The riders are set to roll out at 1145 on a stage the Tour's competition director Jean-Francois Pescheux predicts will be run at a "hot pace". Never mind the pace, it's just going to be plain hot out there. The thermometer's touching 29°C in Marseille and will be rising to 30°C for the finish in Montpellier.