Stage 16: Orthez to Gourette-Col d'Aubisque (218.5km)
LATEST ACTION AS IT HAPPENS (ALL TIMES BST)
By Andy Nicolson and Mark Orlovac
1622: Rasmussen has stamped his authority all over this stage and the whole Tour, crossing the finish line 25 seconds ahead of Leipheimer.
1620: It's Leipheimer, Rasmussen and Contador inside the last kilometre. Rasmussen turns up the heat and pulls away. He's off and away, blowing Contador and Leipheimer off the mountain, and probably securing the whole Tour.
1615: Two kilometres to go. Leipheimer's tipping the contents of a water bottle grabbed from a fan over his head as the trio leave Evans in their wake. The American looks in pain. The like of which I can't begin - nor want - to imagine.
1610: Leipheimer spots Evans catching up and digs in but the Aussie is still in touch.
1604: Leipheimer catches up with Evans, attacks him and now has the lead two in his sights. Could there yet be a major twist in the outcome of the stage?
1603: Contador and Rasmussen are playing cat and mouse through the huge crowds with Evans hanging grimly on to their tail.
1601: Contador attacks again but doesn't look as explosive as two days ago. Leipheimer is spent and Rasmussen attacks Contador!
1600: Contador's back in the group and Leipheimer has a dig but Rasmussen claws him back. Discovery are having a real go at the yellow jersey.
1558: Contador attacks at 9km and Rasmussen doesn't respond, though he maintains his pace with Evans and Leipheimer.
1553: As if on cue, Schleck blows up. Nice shout, Alex. Can you work your magic on Rasmussen?
1552: "Anyone want to go a bit crazy and go with my ridiculous tip of Frank Schleck?" asks Alex on 606
1550: And then there was one - Boogerd's bonked in the fierce pace as the chasing group hoovers up Soler.
1547: Menchov has blown up - it's now Boogerd's job to drag Rasmussen up the hill - as Sastre tries another attack.
"I fancy Contador. Rasmussen to finish 2nd."
DeGuzman on 606
1545: Just after Verdugo drops off the break, Sastre attacks. Mayo gets onto his wheel but it looks like Soler has paid the price for his hard work.
1540: Soler is going hell for leather at the front of the break in his bid to secure the polka dot jersey, keeping the gap around the 40-second mark. He's really turning a big gear with a climbing style somewhat reminiscent of Jan Ullrich's.
1535: Stick your neck out time - who will win today's stage?
1530: The Caisse d'Epargne team are moving to the front of the chasers - maybe Alejandro Valverde has a cunning plan?
1525: It's looking ominous for the break as the seconds slip off their lead. The chasers are really cranking up the pace in the valley below the Col d'Aubisque.
1520: Sastre's breakaway group is now down to four - and under two minutes - as they descend the Col de Marie-Blanque. Garcia-Acosta is midway between the escapees and the chasing peloton.
1515: The riders tested after Stage 11, one of whom has failed a test for artificial testosterone, were stage-winner Robbie Hunter, Michael Rasmussen, Maxim Iglinskiy, Erik Zabel, Lilian Jegou, Cristian Morini, Kim Kirchen and Patxi Vila.
1505: Menchov and Boogerd are really pulling out all the stops to keep Rasmussen in yellow. As they pass Didi the Devil on the gruelling Marie-Blanque, they've cut Sastre and company's lead to 2'31".
When will Contador make his move? On the Aubisque?
1450: Dekker's work is done. He slips back from the front of the peloton, leaving just Menchov and Boogerd to haul Rasmussen back to the escapees, who are now 3'11" ahead.
1440: The lead has been cut to just under four minutes, reflecting the efforts of Rasmussen's team-mates, as the breakaway group start the ascent of the Marie-Blanque.
It could all kick off from here on.
1430: Sixty clicks to go and the peloton is through the second feed station. Boy, I bet those Rabo boys are hungry after doing all the work.
1425: The gap to the breakaway - around five minutes - is beginning to look dangerous for Rasmussen, Contador and Cadel Evans with two big climbs to go.
Levi Leipheimer has punctured but is quickly back on his bike with a new wheel.
When will his Discovery team-mate Contador make his move on the Chicken?
1410: Auge and Rinero, who were chasing the breakaway group, are swallowed up by the Rabobank-led peloton but the five-man breakaway is still just over five minutes ahead. Voight, who apparently crashed on the descent, is now on his own among the team cars at the back of the race.
1410: Kim Kirchen - who was ninth overall this morning - and Jens Voight are among a small group that has fallen off the back of the main group and is chasing back on the hairpins of the descent of the Col de la Pierre-Saint-Martin, the race heading back into France after a brief Spanish excursion.
1358: The main group roll over the summit four minutes and 58 seconds behind, meaning Sastre is 1:48 away from being the yellow jersey on the road. With two climbs left today, Rabobank cannot afford to let up on behalf of their top man.
1353: Mauricio Soler leads the breakaway group over the top of the Pierre-Saint-Martin to pass Rasmussen in the king of the mountains competition, although he has been wearing the polka-dot jersey since the Dane took yellow.
1348: The lead group of five has around around 4km to go to the summit of the sweeping Col de la Pierre-Saint-Martin, with that lead continuing to creep up despite the attentions of three Rabobank riders leading Rasmussen in the groupe maillot jaune.
1340: Sastre is really putting the effort in at the front of the breakaway, and it's slowly paying off - the gap is now at 4'20".
1335: The riders at the very back of the field, hoping for nothing more than to come home within the time limit, are 11 minutes off the pace.
1330: There are masses of orange shirts amongst the hordes of fans cheering on the leading riders on the ascent of the Col de la Pierre St-Martin.
1325: We're getting reports of a small explosion on part of the Spanish route of the Tour after a telephone bomb-threat from a caller claiming to represent Basque separatist rebels Eta. Great.
1320: Rinero, smiling, is out of the back of the breakaway. Perhaps he's happy that he'll be able to slip back into the peloton and catch a draft all the way to the finish.
1315: A white-backed vulture - after which the Col de Marie-Blanque is apparently named - circles above the peloton as it rolls long the Spanish valley floor before tackling the Col de la Pierre St-Martin.
1315: Sastre's group have swallowed up Verdugo and Garcia-Acosta, but the Rabobank boys are shovelling on the pressure at the front of the peloton, squeezing the gap to just under four minutes.
1305: Sastre's group - now five-strong - is eating into the lead of Verdugo and Garcia-Acosta. It's just over a minute and the gap back from them to the peloton is nudging towards six minutes.
My maths means that Sastre is now just two minutes behind Rasmussen in the general classification, and it can't be long before the Rabobank riders need to react. But will they have the legs to do that and give Rasmussen the support he'll need to stay in touch over the Aubisque?
1255: More doping news, unfortunately. According to French newspaper L'Equipe, another rider has failed a doping test, this time for testosterone.
L'Equipe quoted a senior French doping official who said that he did not know the identity of the rider, and spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the case with reporters.
1250: Sastre et al have caught Rinero and Auge on the descent of the Alto Laza. The first-category Col de la Pierre St-Martin beckons.
1245: As the race enters Spain, the gaps seem to have stabilised with Soler, Sastre and Mayo 2'40" behind Verdugo and Garcia-Acosta at the start of the second climb, of Alto Laza. The Rasmussen peloton is 5'15" behind the front pair.
1225: Verdugo and Garcia-Acosta have dropped Rinero and Auge at the front as they approach the summit of the Port de Larrau. Garcia-Acosta is the first to cross.
Sastre is doing by far the most work at the front of the chasing trio, but Soler leads them across the top to bag some more KOM points.
1220: "When the Col de Marie-Blanque makes a jump from around 6 to 11%, is when Contador should power away."
reallywheelie on 606
What's your prediction for the day?
1215: The gap between the leading four and the chasing trio is dropping second by second - it's now 3'45".
It's going to be a long day for a lot of riders today - the peloton, such as it is, is strung out all the way up the Larrau, as Thomas Dekker and his Rabo colleagues drive up after Castre, Soler and Mayo.
1205: The front four are now just under five minutes ahead of the chasing trio of Soler, Castre and Iban Mayo, who are just over a minute ahead of the peloton.
1200: The Rabobank riders are having to push the peloton forward to protect Rasmussen. But it's very early in the day for the yellow jersey to have to use his best men - Castre (6'46" behind in the general classification in sixth place) and Soler's escape is clearly worrying them.
1150: Juan Mauricio Soler has broken off the front of the peloton at the Port de Larrau, no doubt looking to leapfrog Rasmussen in the king of the mountains competition. He's joined by Carlos Sastre and our friend from the other day, Amets Txurruka.
Geraint Thomas, meanwhile, is the last man as the climb begins to blow the peloton apart. But it looks certain that the Welshman, the youngest rider on the Tour, will make it to the finish-line in Paris.
1140:"I'd never watched Le Tour before but... my partner and I are hooked (not on drugs tho!!).
Shame about the doping but you've got to start a clean-up operation somewhere and as long as they 'crack' down on it and rid the Tour of it, then I'm happy. Come on Alberto Contedor!!!"
sadgillsfan on 606
What's your prediction for the day?
1135: Auge et al are now 8'56" as they start the ascent of the Port de Larrau. Interestingly, Rinero is a former king of the mountains from... 1998. A day full of coincidence.
1130: "I hope an Euskaltel finally manages the win today. They've come close a few times in the last few days and perhaps might have got won on Monday had it not been for Vino."
c_murphy86 on 606
What's your prediction for the day?
1115:The foursome have just passed the feed station, 7'25" ahead of the peloton, which is being led by the Barloworld team.
The word on the street is that Discovery are aiming for the yellow jersey today, and with the finish on the awesome, hors category Col d'Aubisque, it's set up for Alberto Contador.
1100: Vinokourov has insisted he has done nothing wrong, telling French sports newspaper L'Equipe: "It's a mistake. I never doped, that's not the way I see my profession.
"I think it's a mistake in part due to my crash. I have spoken to the team doctors who had a hypothesis that there was an enormous amount of blood in my thighs, which could have led to my positive test."
Vinokourov also claimed he and his team have been victimised: "It's been going on for months and today they're managing to demolish me.
"The setting-up of our team made a lot of people jealous and now we're paying the price. It's a shame to leave the Tour this way, but I don't want to waste time in proving my innocence."
1055: Whilst I think about it, there's a race going on, and the front four - Rinero, Auge, Verdugo and Garcia-Acosta - are now 8'25" ahead.
"Rabo will not be bothered if an escape group with not dangerous riders gets away. I hope Discovery have the guts to attack on the Larrau (the 1st col)."
DeGuzman on 606
What's your prediction for the day? Were David Millar's pre-race comments flippant or can we expect him and Saunier Duval to go for a stage win?
1050: To give Vino's disgrace some context, 225 blood tests have been conducted so far at the race. Of those, just one - for Vinokourov - was positive.
Just before the race, David Millar said, "There's still a lot of work to be done and we need a more advanced athlete whereabouts system. But at least the tests are working."
And referring to today's action, he broke into a big smile: "We're going to be smashing it. We've been looking forward to this stage all race. We're not letting Vino ruin our race."
Good on ya, David!
1045: "I've been following the Tour for the last 20 years and I have lost track of how many times there has been some form of drugs scandal. I now just shrug my shoulders "C'est La Tour !"
johnlumbard on 606
What do you think? Do you just give a Gallic shrug and get on with watching it?
1040: Sombre might be one word to describe my mood as I take over commentary from Mark. It was entirely coincidental, but somehow prescient, that I was re-reading Marco Pantani's 1998 Tour victory last night, oblivious to the news breaking around me.
The four escapees are now 4'20" ahead of the peloton.
1027: A bit of action now, Stephane Auge, Vincente Garcia-Acosta, Gorka Verdugo and Christophe Rinero have made a charge and are now two minutes ahead of the peloton.
1020: A lack of news at the moment as we have no pictures and apparently the Tour Radio is struggling to get its signal through. So that's great. Here is a quick recap of the current leaders in the various classifications, just in case you need it. Yellow jersey: Rasmussen, polka dot jersey (mountains): Rasmussen, green jersey (sprint): Tom Boonen.
1005: A bit of an update, the teams that organised the protest were Agritubel, AG2r, Francaise des Jeux, Bouygues Telecom, Cofidis, Credit Agricole, Gerolsteiner and T-Mobile. They have formed a group called the Movement for a Credible Cycling and want all teams to abide by their good behaviour charter of 2005. So there you are then. Back to the racing, the riders have reached the 3km mark and there have been no breaks as yet.
0951: Farcical scenes as a significant group of riders refuse to start when the hooter sounds, they apparently want to make a protest against doping. After 30 seconds or so, some riders at the back have enough and sneak their bikes through the crowd to get started. A stubborn group at the front refuse to budge however and are greeted with boos from the crowd before they eventually start. What a way to get this stage going, it can only get better from here.
T-Mobile's Marcus Burghardt says: "We just wanted to make out feelings known. The authorities have to take stern measures against those riders they think are not clean."
0946 BST: The riders have gathered for the start of stage 16. Goodness knows what is going through their minds following the Vinokourov news on Tuesday. A few of the athletes are interviewed beforehand and Team CSC's Fabian Cancellara hints at a bit of defiance: "It is his problem but it reflects badly on all of us. We have to go out and fight."
The Tour de France resumes on Wednesday with the riders reeling from the latest doping scandal to hit the sport.
Alexander Vinokourov has tested positive for blood doping and the pre-race favourite and the rest of his Astana team are now out of the event.
The riders enjoyed a rest day on Tuesday and will try and put the Vinokourov news out of their minds as they negotiate the 16th stage, which runs from Orthez to the Col d'Aubisque.
The 218.5km trip is the last mountain stage of the Tour and contains an hors category climb up the Port de Larrau as well as two other first category ascents.
The battle for the overall winner is now between yellow-jersey holder Michael Rasmussen and Alberto Contador.
The stage has a mountain-top finish and Contador, two minutes, 23 seconds behind his fellow climber, says he has been boosted by his performance during stage 15, when he attacked Rasmussen four times during the ascent of the Col de Peyresourde.
"He is the same type of rider as me," said Contador. "After Monday's stage I feel a bit stronger. I felt that Rasmussen was in trouble a few times and I'm more confident."