Stage 14: Mazamet to Plateau-de-Beille (197km)
LATEST ACTION AS IT HAPPENS (ALL TIMES BST)
1615: Stage winner Alberto Contador is yapping away on a mobile. Andreas Kloden and Cadel Evans finish one minute 54 seconds down. Contador can tell whoever's on the other end of the phone that he is second in the general classification in the Tour de France behind Michael Rasmussen. Australian Evans drops to third.
1614: Juan Mauricio Soler Hernandez comes home third, 37 seconds down. Next is Levi Leipheimer who didn't have quite enough to overhaul the Colombian. Carlos Sastre finishes fifth, 53 seconds down.
Stage result (Plateau-de-Beille, 197km)
- 1. Alberto Contador - five hours 25 minutes 48 seconds
- 2. Michael Rasmussen @ same time
- 3. Juan Mauricio Soler Hernandez @ 37 seconds
1613: The sprint's on. Alberto Contador comes round Michael Rasmussen to win. The points mean Rasmussen stays top of the King of the Mountains standings.
1612: Michael Rasmussen's still leading. Alberto Contador is matching his every pedal.
1611: Juan Mauricio Soler Hernandez puts in a burst and is third on his own. A kilometre to go for Michael Rasmussen and Alberto Contador.
1610: Michael Rasmussen and Alberto Contador have fallen out. They are bickering about who is going to do the work. Rasmussen gives it a dig to get rid of Contador. He can't. The Spaniard refuses to come through and lead. A race for the line beckons. Quality.
1609: Andreas Kloden and Andriy Kashechkin link up with Cadel Evans. One of the Astana boys has cracked a gag. They're having the time of their lives out there.
1608: Amazing. In the mix of this lung-busting effort Alberto Contador and Michael Rasmussen find the time to talk. Is an argument going to do for their team work?
1606: Michael Rasmussen and Alberto Contador are working well together and have opened up a minute on Cadel Evans. That's not yet enough to put Contador into second. He started the day one minute 31 seconds back from the Australian.
"This is the best battle yet: Contador vs Rasmussen. I'm still with the young 'un."
reallywheelie on 606
1604: Alberto Contador and Michael Rasmussen are up to Antonio Colom with a little over three kilometres to go. Colom hangs on to the wheel of Rasmussen for a bit but has gone by the three kilometre to go banner.
1601: Cadel Evans has blown. Carlos Sastre ups the tempo in the second group and takes Juan Mauricio Soler Hernandez and Levi Leipheimer with him.
1600: Antonio Colom has a 29-second lead over Alberto Contador and Michael Rasmussen who go under the five kilometre to go banner.
1558: Michael Rasmussen chases up to Alberto Contador. Cadel Evans, Carlos Sastre and Juan Mauricio Soler Hernandez can't.
1557: All six are back together again. Alberto Contador goes for it. Nobody follows. These sudden bursts have done for Levi Leipheimer.
1556: Juan Mauricio Soler Hernandez goes again. The others look around themselves and then Alberto Contador goes. He takes Michael Rasmussen and Cadel Evans with him and they fire past the Colombian.
1555: Juan Mauricio Soler Hernandez goes first. Michael Rasmussen goes second. Have they struck a deal? The other four stick with them.
1554: Michael Rasmussen is trying to shake off Alberto Contador. One dig, two digs, three digs, four, this is a case of cycling war. Rasmussen's testing them all but he can't quite splinter this group of six. Rasmussen and Juan Mauricio Soler Hernandez have time for a bit of a conflab.
1553: Antonio Colom is the only man up ahead of the big boys now and Michael Rasmussen attacks. Who responds? Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans. The top three are going head-to-head on this brute of a hill.
1552: Then there were seven... make that six. Andriy Kashechkin has gone as Alberto Contador gives it a twirl.
1551: Here we go. Levi Leipheimer bursts as Yaroslav Popvych drops off.
1549: Antonio Colom is 100 seconds in front with eight kilometres to go.
1548: Yaroslav Popovych is still the man driving this on. His team-mate Alberto Contador may be finding the pace too hot. Having looked comfy up front he is now the eighth man in the train.
1546: The main group is down to eight now. Andreas Kloden has slipped off the back and does not look like he'll be back any time soon.
1544: Andreas Kloden's struggling. A big dig and they can bin him out the back here.
1543: Michael Boogerd's gone. Michael Rasmussen's on his own in terms of the Rabobank team. Yaroslav Popovych is setting the pace and has two Discovery team-mates in there with him in Alberto Contador and Levi Leipheimer.
1541: Michael Boogerd has taken up the pace set by Yaroslav Popovych. He is doing a good job for his team leader Michael Rasmussen. All the big boys have unzipped their jerseys. Tops flapping, tongues hanging, lungs gasping.
1540: In the heat of battle Juan Mauricio Soler Hernandez finds time to offer Michael Rasmussen a bottle of water. The Dane declines. The business face is on.
1539: Andreas Kloden's at the back of the group but hanging with them. Denis Menchov peels off and we are down to 10.
1537: Alejandro Valverde's gone as well. That main group is down to 11 and they are two minutes off Antonio Colom. Cadel Evans is shadowing Michael Rasmussen's every move. Who's going to go for it?
1536: The pace set by Yaroslav Popovych in the main group is too hot for Kim Kirchen, Iban Mayo and Frank Schleck who slip off the back. Chris Horner goes out the back as well so Cadel Evans, second overall, has no team-mates to help him home.
1533: Antonio Colom tests the reserves of energy in the legs of Jose Ivan Gutierrez and Amets Txurruka. They've got no answer. The Astana man is out front on his own. He's just under two minutes in front of the peloton but they will be reeling him in in due course.
1532: Britain's Charlie Wegelius has fallen off the back of the main group and further up the road Carlos Barredo's done for. You need more than one energy bar for this climb!
1531: Michael Rasmussen's looking around left and right waiting for an attack.
1529: Rabobank hit the front and hit the climb. George Hincapie hits the wall.
1528: They turn the corner and on seeing the 9% incline Ruben Perez gives a little shake of the head and hangs back. This goes on for four kilometres. Carlos Barredo, Antonio Colom, Jose Ivan Gutierrez and Amets Txurruka go at it like madmen.
1527: Here we go then. Through Les Cabannes and once the leading five thread through this picturesque village the road kicks up and it bites straight away.
1519: Hats off to Carlos Barredo. He was dropped an age ago but has rejoined the leaders and the Spanish quintet of Barredo, Antonio Colom, Jose Ivan Gutierrez, Ruben Perez and Amets Txurruka are back together. Barredo celebrates by bolting down an energy bar of his own with no hands. Looks like a snake swallowing a frog - ignoring the fact snake's can't ride bikes.
1518: The big boys cruise under the 25 kilometre to go banner. They are three minutes seven seconds off the leaders.
1513: Antonio Colom makes the most of a relatively flat spot between the peaks to nibble on an energy bar. The leading four are going like the clappers and are three minutes 30 seconds to the good.
1510: The peloton spears through Ax-les-Themes. Michael Rasmussen is talking tactics with one of his team-mates. What cunning ploy have they got up their short, lycra sleeve?
1509: Some chat on the final climb from BBC Sport's Phil Sheehan who drove up there this morning. "There's a nasty section with about seven kilometres to go which will suit some of the guys who still have some zip in their legs. The gradient slackens off in the final couple of kilometres, but any rider looking to give the others the slip here will face some reasonably strong crosswinds."
1503: Anyone like omens? Finish first at Plateau-de-Beille and you win the Tour. Just ask Lance Armstrong. The American did it in 2002 and 2004. You can't ask Marco Pantani, but the Italian did it in 1998.
1500: It's head down bums up time as everyone races down the other side. Once they hit the bottom of the valley it is straight up the other side to the finish in Plateau-de-Beille. Almost 16km of purgatory with an average gradient of 7.9%.
1456: Alexandre Vinokourov goes over the top of the Port de Pailheres more than eight minutes back.
1451: Juan Mauricio Soler Hernandez jumps off the front of the main bunch. He wants mountain points and he gets 12 of them to move clear of Michael Rasmussen in the King of the Mountains classification. He crosses two minutes 38 seconds after the leading quartet.
1449: The leaders are over the top. The big boys pass the kilometre to go sign.
Out-of-category result (Port de Pailheres, 146,5km)
- 1. Ruben Perez - 20 points
- 2. Amets Txurruka - 18 points
- 3. Antonio Colom - 16 points
1448: It is like a campervan showroom up at the top of this climb. Huge slabs of white metal parked at all sorts of angles loom over the road as it kicks up a final, agonising kilometre.
1445: The leaders, four of them now that Jose Ivan Gutierrez has joined Ruben Perez, Amets Txurruka and Antonio Colom, are a kilometre from the top of the relentless Port de Pailheres.
1442: The main group numbers about 30 as the road breaks out into the barren peak of this climb to Port de Pailheres.
1439: Michael Rasmussen looks remarkably relaxed as he sits in the pocket behind his team-mates in third spot. The Dane's taking in the view. Further back, Mikel Astarloza, who set off in eighth place almost four hours ago in Mazamet, has been shelled.
1436: Britain's David Millar peels off the front of the peloton after a long grunt which has set things up nicely. Race leader Michael Rasmussen's Rabobank team are now to the fore.
1435: Ruben Perez is back up with the leaders - Amets Txurruka and Antonio Colom. He has been yo-yoing around all day.
1432: Team CSC's Frank Schleck and Discovery Channel's Yaroslav Popovych have gone now as well. Schleck started the day in 17th. Popovych set off in 15th this morning.
1430: Bye bye Vino. The first big name to be shelled is Alexandre Vinokourov. The bandaged Astana rider is paying the price for his blistering ride in the time-trial yesterday.
1428: Amets Txurruka and Antonio Colom are now out front on their own. They have a four minute 40 second gap to the main peloton.
1427: Britain's David Millar is setting the tempo at the head of the peloton. Michael Rasmussen's Rabobank team are throwing a few riders into the mix to help out Saunier Duval. They are shedding a bundle of riders off the back... but no big names as yet.
1424: The gap between the leaders and the main peloton drops to under five minutes. Euskaltel's Ruben Perez and Amets Txurruka and Astana's Antonio Colom up the ante and drop Carlos Barredo and Jose Ivan Gutierrez at the front.
1420: Cross-border supporters from Spain are relishing the sight of five Spaniards out in front. Huge cheers, particularly with the garish orange of two riders from Basque team Euskaltel leading them around the switchbacks.
1415: Amets Txurruka shows why he's wearing the red-backed number for combativity. He gives it a dig but does not shake off his four compatriots at the front.
1408: The lead group is down to five and it is an all-Spanish selection as Alexander Kuschynski drops off. He hasn't fallen asleep. Just dropped off the pace.
1407: The peloton has split into three. The big boys at the back are all aboard the bus already. The likes of Thor Hushovd and Gert Steegmans have punched their tickets for the slow ride home. There's another who will look to take it a bit quicker and the struggling Christophe Moreau's in with them.
1405: That little burst from the leaders has checked the peloton's progress. The pack are being held at just over six minutes.
1359: Action up front where Quick-Step's Carlos Barredo has already unzipped his blue top which is flapping in the breeze. Ruben Perez and Jose Ivan Gutierrez have picked up the pace and the other quartet eventually respond.
1348: We are officially on the climb to Port de Pailheres. It is 16.8km long with an average gradient of 7.2% and some nasty kicks. More detail of the gradient can be found here...
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1344: The leaders are now less than eight minutes out in front as the road snakes through the shady Gorges de l'Aude. The leafy peace before the life-crushing punishment.
"Iban Mayo's men pacing the pack. Sign of things to come?"
De Guzman on 606
1329: The road's beginning to go up ever so slightly and the gap to the leaders is beginning to come down ever so slightly. Saunier Duval are on the front of the peloton.
1313: Lunchtime for the peloton.
1306: The 14th stage of the Tour finished at Port de Pailheres two years ago when Georg Totschnig took the honours. They went up from the other direction that day.
1300: The second sprint of the day is taken by Carlos Barredo. A few clicks to the feed station and then the full focus will turn to the climb up the Port de Pailheres.
Intermediate sprint result (Campagne-sur-Aude, 91.5km)
- 1. Carlos Barredo - Six points/six seconds
- 2. Alexander Kuschynski - four points/four seconds
- 3. Jose Ivan Gutierrez - two points/two seconds
1249: The time difference from the leaders to the peloton is holding steady at a little over 10 minutes.
1231: The first third of the day is out of the way as the peloton cruise past Limoux, which tees us up perfectly - with the aid of a crowbar - for the pointless fact of the day. The town, according to its own website, is "the cradle of the world's oldest dry wine, the Blanquette de Limoux".
"Blanquette de Limoux is a lovely wine. It pre-dates Champagne as a sparkling wine, being another product of Benedictine monks with too much time on their hands and access to strong booze."
Alex on 606
1219: This really is the calm before the storm, and it's quite a dull calm. Hopefully there will be a stonking storm at the day's end. As for the actual weather, it's bright, sunny and hot.
1210: The gap at the front hits double figures. Ten minutes and rising on the D118, a gently rising road that turns into a vicious monster all the way up to Port de Pailheres at 2,001 metres. ETA 1420 BST.
1159: There goes Carcassonne. The peloton piles through more than seven minutes after the leaders.
1152: There may be five Spaniards in that leading group, but it is odd-man-out Alexander Kuschynski of Belarus who takes the sprint in Carcassonne.
Intermediate sprint result (Carcassonne, 46.5km)
- 1. Alexander Kuschynski - Six points/six seconds
- 2. Ruben Perez - four points/four seconds
- 3. Jose Ivan Gutierrez - two points/two seconds
1149: We must be heading towards the Spanish border. Five Spaniards are hunting glory in the leading sextet and the best-placed man is Jose Ivan Gutierrez. The Caisse d'Epargne man is 15 minutes 21 seconds back in 28th place.
1145: Things have settled down and six men have been allowed to go for it after that early morning flurry. They are: Carlos Barredo, Antonio Colom, Jose Ivan Gutierrez, Alexander Kuschynski, Ruben Perez and Amets Txurruka.
1136: Michael Rasmussen has been reeled in. But that attack shows he's feeling fine and frisky after the exertions of the time-trial and expect more audacious attempts to gain time on the Port de Pailheres in about two hours.
1130: With the peloton bearing down on that rather tasty breakaway group that includes Michael Rasmussen, Ruben Perez attacks again and jumps off the front. The Spaniard clearly feels being with the Dane in yellow makes him a marked man and he fancies a pop on his own.
1126: Cadel Evans, who is second overall, has given his Predictor team the get up and go. They hit the front of the peloton and start the chase.
1124: No time for all 27 to be listed, but Michael Rasmussen has been joined by some big names, notably Kim Kirchen, Juan Mauricio Soler Hernandez and Yaroslav Popovych. The group also contains Amets Txurruka, who has an ever-growing fan club on 606.
1122: Things were supposed to kick off in about two hours when the road is set to kick up to the Port de Pailheres. But Michael Rasmussen has taken the bull by the horns here. He is in a group of 27 riders 45 seconds in front.
1118: Any thoughts of a quiet Sunday cycle through the foothills of the Pyrenees has gone out of the window. Race leader Michael Rasmussen is on the attack on the road south to Carcassonne.
1108: Discovery's efforts pay off and they snare the breakaway. David De La Fuente goes over the Cote de Saint-Saraille first while Colombian climber Juan Mauricio Soler Hernandez picks up enough points to draw level with Michael Rasmussen at the top of the King of the Mountain rankings.
Category-two climb result (Cote de Saint-Saraille, 9km)
- 1. David De La Fuente - 10 points
- 2. Juan Mauricio Soler Hernandez - nine points
- 3. Yaroslav Popovych - eight points
1101: Five Spaniards are out front by a handful of seconds. They are Carlos Barredo, Antonio Colom, David De La Fuente, Amets Txurruka and Gorka Verdugo. Discovery crank up the front of the peloton.
1057: Poor old Stefan Schumacher. He puts in some early graft to break in that group and then crashes. That breakaway has dwindled to three and they are within sight of the peloton. Cyril Dessel and Nicolas Jalabert are also in sight of the peloton, but at the wrong end. They have slipped off the back and this is going to be a long, painful day for some.
1056: Ruben Perez leads the first attack. The Euskaltel rider is joined by seven other riders. Further back Philippe Gilbert is labouring off the back of the peloton. Ominous for the Belgian.
1052: The peloton rides as one for the time being and going into a testing day the number of riders in it stands at 166. Saunier Duval's Francisco Ventoso, who injured his hand in a fall a few days back, did not start.
1047: Racing proper starts, and before we get into that short, sharp 5.2% climb to Cote de Saint-Sarraille, for those wanting a quick recap of how things stand it's worth checking out the report from yesterday's time -trial.
The headlines were that Alexandre Vinokourov moved into the top 10 and Michael Rasmussen, against all expectation, held on to top spot. But with the top 12 covered by less than six minutes he can expect attacks today. Should be good.
1043: And that mountain-top finish at Plateau-de-Beille isn't the only out-of-category climb on the menu. There is another 50km from the finish. And just nine kilometres from the start comes a category-two climb which should get the blood pumping nice and early.
1040: After the mathematical minefield of the individual time-trial it is back to plain old-fashioned, first-past-the-post road racing today. There is one big problem for the riders though. That finishing post is almost 200km away at the top of a giant climb in the Pyrenees.