Stage 19: Cognac to Angouleme (55km)
LATEST ACTION AS IT HAPPENS (ALL TIMES BST)
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SNAPSHOT: Levi Leipheimer wins the time trial, but Tour de France leader Spaniard Alberto Contador retains the yellow jersey ahead of Cadel Evans of Australia.
1624: Alberto Contador holds on to the yellow yersey after a thrilling time trial, just 23 seconds in front of Cadel Evans.
1622: Alberto Contador is the only rider on the course now and he is set to finish just over 20 seconds ahead of Cadel Evans.
1621: Cadel Evans holds on to his second place in the general classification, finishing just nine seconds ahead of Levi Leipheimer.
1619: Levi Leipheimer is struggling for words as he reflects on his remarkable ride, but one word that does he keep repeating is "awesome."
1614: This race is becoming as close as the 1989 classic when Greg Lemond beat Laurent Fignon by eight seconds.
While Cadel Evans cuts into Alberto Contador's lead, third placed Levi Leipheimer has set an astonishing time by finishing nearly two minutes ahead of Vladimir Karpets.
1607: Alberto Contador is spinning away furiously, but Cadel Evans continues to close the gap - the Australian is just over 40 seconds behind now.
1605: Cadel Evans at the 35km mark was averaging 52.1km per hour and is now within 48 seconds of Contador.
1600: Cadel Evans isn't the fastest man on the course but he is riding the race of his life and is now within 56 seconds of Contador.
But as the Australian closes the gap on Contador, Evans' second place is coming under pressure from third placed Levi Leipheimer, who is set to win his first stage in the Tour de France.
1553: There are a few Australian flags in the the crowd being waved for Cadel Evans, the man from the Northern Territory.
His face locked in the most painful of grimaces you can imagine, but Evans shows no sign of easing off the gigantic gear he is spinning.
1546: Support for Cadel Evans on 606 from Whats_the_problem: "He's from a country where they listen to Rock and Roll... ACDC...Evans for Sunday on the Champs."
He could have a point because Evans - though I'll have to beg to differ on the relative merits of ACDC - looks so up for this time trial, while Contador's body shape is much less static.
1540: That huge gear Cadel Evans is turning is starting to pay off for the Australian. Over the first 17.5km of the course he is 22 seconds ahead of Alberto Contador.
If Evans keeps up the pace he would make up a minute over the Spaniard, but would still be 50 seconds behind Contador.
1539: Vladimir Karpets is the new stage leader after finishing an astonishing 31 seconds ahead of Jose Ivan Gutierrez.
1533: Cadel Evans is the picture of concentration as sweat pours off his face.
The Australian has got simply enormous calf muscles, while his mouth is half ajar as he feels the pain of spinning that huge gear.
Evans' head is rocking a bit and at the 17.5km he is 14 seconds behind Levi Leipheimer.
1526: While Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans slug it out on the road, cycling's chiefs continue to squabble in the corridors of power.
International Cycling Union president Pat McQuaid's gives short shrift to the demand of Tour de France organisers the Amaury Sport Organisation for UCI senior officials to resign.
"It's ridiculous," says McQuaid. "It's not up to him to ask for that. Only the UCI
1523: Spanish time trial champion Jose Ivan Gutierrez pushes George Hincapie off the top spot, finishing six seconds ahead of the American.
Back on the course Cadel Evans looks like he is turning a bigger gear than Alberto Contador, though the Spaniard is maintaining a higher cadence.
1520: Three minutes after Cadel Evans sets off, Alberto Contador is the last rider to start the time trial.
Over the next hour we will see if the Spaniard can hold on to the yellow jersey.
Just before Contador sets off he crosses himself.
1515: George Hincapie is the stage's new leader as he finishes 15 seconds ahead of Leif Hoste.
1512: Spanish time trial champion Jose Ivan Gutierrez is demonstrating his prowess in this discipline, reaching the 35km mark 13 seconds ahead of Hincapie at the same point.
1502: Cadel Evans has been warming up, but he doesn't look quite as stylish as Alberto Contador.
While the Spaniard was plugged into his iPod, Evans has inserted cotton wool in to his nostrils, which doesn't provide the most attractive of images.
1501: Geroge Hincapie is maintaining a cracking pace and posts the fastest time at 35km, seven seconds faster than Stefan Schumacher.
1455: Thomas Dekker records the second best time of the day, just 6.7 seconds slower than Hoste.
1450: Jose Ivan Gutierrez puts in the fastest time at the 17.5km mark, with the Spaniard four seconds ahead of George Hincapie at the same point.
1446: As ever there are plenty of fans out to watch the Tour.
Say what you like about the race but there can't be many events where you can spectate for free and any prawn sandwiches you consume are likely to have been made by yourself.
1442: With just over 30 minutes to go before his scheduled start time Alberto Contador is warming up, easing off the speed momentarily as he selects a new song on his iPod.
1438: Having completed his ride David Millar predicts Cadel Evans will struggle to make up nearly two minutes on Tour de France leader Alberto Contador.
"It's going to be hard to take time, it's a fast course," said
"It's going to be hard for Cadel to take that much time back,
you don't get a chance to take such big times gaps when there's a
tailwind like that, but you never know."
1435: George Hincapie of the Discovery Team is threatening Leif Hoste's grip on this stage.
At the 17.5km mark Hincapie clocks the best time, three seconds head of Stefan Schumacher.
1427: David Millar's blown tyre at the start scuppers any hope of the Briton putting in a good time.
Crucial minutes are lost as mechanics scramble to provide him with a new bike and Millar finishes over five minutes behind Hoste.
1415: Thomas Dekker is putting his foot down in the early stages of his ride, clocking in at the 17.5km mark at 20 minutes and 33 seconds, 10 seconds faster than Cancellara.
1406: More lawyerly email action - I didn't realise I was so popular with the legal profession.
The email announces Astana plans to keep racing for the rest of 2007 after it left the Tour following Alexandre Vinokourov's expulsion from the race.
The team will also institute an internal doping control programme.
1351: Back to the race and stage leader Leif Hoste was cycling at an average speed of 50.8km per hour in achieving the fastest time so far on Stage 19.
1341: I've just been sent an email by the law firm representing Alexandre Vinokourov, who was thrown out of the Tour last week.
The Kazakh rider intends to dispute the positive findings of the French laboratory for blood doping that resulted in his expulsion.
"I've always raced clean" said Vinokourov.
Vinokourov's lawyer Maurice Suh added: "As of now, the public has only heard one side in these test results.
"We encourage everyone to keep an open mind about the test results and not to assume that the LNDD has done everything correctly or has achieved accurate results."
1339: German Stefan Schumacher is unable to maintain his blistering start and finishes the course behind current stage leader Leif Hoste.
1334: My colleague Mark Mitchener wanted me to let you know that the site's live coverage of the second Test match between England and India is about to resume.
My thoughts on cricket? Only the English could invent a game that lasts five days and ends in a draw. Let's get back across the Channel.....
1321: Back to doping and the owner of the Tour de France
has harsh words for UCI cycling chief Pat McQuaid.
"The piloting of cycling's reconstruction can't be
given to the UCI," said Patrice Clerc, boss of the Amaury Sports Organization
which owns the 104-year-old race.
"We will have to do it with all those who reject the current system in order to
find our values again: riders, teams, sponsors, federations."
By the way as I headed south from Edinburgh to London - see below - on my bike ride I did occasionally use stimulants of the alcoholic variety.
My memory isn't as good as it used to be, but I had a pint of real ale in Alston - the highest market town in England.
The next day in the Yorkshire village of Gilling I had upped my alcoholic intake to two pints of ale - the second pint was a salute to the sheep that had outsprinted me in the North Pennines.
Thursday I was back to one pint of real ale.
Alcohol consumption for the ride - four pints - which could come as a revelation to my work colleagues, who I suspect have me down as a bit of Puritan on the libation front.
1309: Briton David Millar is unlikley to repeat his 2003 success - see below. At the 17.5km check he was one minute and 38 seconds behind Stefan Schumacher, who has set the fastest time at that point.
Millar had the worst possible start when seconds after leaving the start his back wheel disintegrated, so badly that the Briton required a new bike.
1300: Leif Hoste's hope of podium glory is under threat from Stefan Schumacher with the German nine seconds faster at the 35km mark.
1256: Briton David Millar (SDV) is up and running.
Four years ago he won the penultimate stage of the 2003 Tour de France, when he set the second fastest average speed for a time trial at the Tour when he won in Nantes, despite suffering a fall.
1249: Apparently there is a bit of rain at the start, but I bet you its nothing to compare to the torrential conditions I had to contend with the other week riding to Lincoln - see below - as I cycled from Edinburgh to London.
Five hours in incessant rain before we catch a glimpse of Lincoln Cathedral through the murky gloom.
My joy is quickly punctured when my friend discovers our overnight stop is 10 miles south of where we are.
I'm not planning on a quick return to Lincolnshire, rest assured.
1245: Over the last 15km of the course Fabian Cancellara puts in a sterling effort to try and claim his third stage win, but falls just short, finishing seven seconds behind Leif Hoste.
1243: If Alberto Contador holds on to the yellow jersey he would be the Tour's youngest winner since Jan Ullrich in 1997.
Evans, who is five years older than the Spaniard, finished fifth overall in the 2006 overall classification.
1237: Stefan Schumacher has set the fastest time at the first check, coming in 11 seconds faster than Cancellara at 17.5km mark.
The Swiss rider has just passed the 50km point of the course, but is still trailing Lief Hoste by 15 seconds.
1232: Impossible to get away from doping on the Tour - have a look at 606.
Researching some background for this on Friday - you didn't think we just cobble this together on the spur of the moment, did you? - I stumbed across a Tour preview piece by George Vecsey in the Montreal Gazette equating cycling to professional wrestling.
Harsh words, though having said that the thought of Giant Haystack going head-to-head with Mick McManus in their pomp in lurid lycra on road bikes is a spectacle I would have paid to watch.
1226: Perhaps Fabian Cancellara is mortal after all - the Swiss rider has reached the 35km check, but he is 15 seconds behind Leif Hoste.
1216: Leif Hoste's finishes the course in one hour, five minutes and 32 seconds, that is two minutes and 36 seconds quicker than Bram de Groot.
1205: Just received a message from TreborUSA on 606 who asked me about negotiating eight sets of traffic lights on my ride to work this morning - see below - posing the question whether I have a sideline in city planning?
Unfortunately not, perhaps I've missed my vocation in life?
When the Tour de France got going three weeks ago I departed on my own Grand Boucle, meandering my way through Scotland and England from Edinburgh to London.
Among many memorable moments of that ride was climbing the North Pennines and being outsprinted by a sheep for about a kilometre before said animal hopped over the fence.
Before you ask I wasn't going that slowly, climbing at about 20km per hour. I didn't realise sheep was so quick.
1200: Fabian Cancellara's time-trial pedigree is clear for all to see - at the 17.5km check, the Swiss rider is five seconds faster than Leif Hoste, the next quickest rider at that split time.
But Hoste has set the fastest time at the 50.1km mark, two minutes and 10 seconds ahead of Bram de Groot.
1146: There's more bad news for former Tour de France leader Michael Rasmussen.
Dumped out off the race on Wednesday for lying to his team about his pre-Tour whereabouts, the now finds himself persona non grata at the Decoplant
Grand Prix, one of Denmark's leading races, which starts on Monday.
Race director Jesper Tikioeb told Saturday's Berlingske
Tidende newspaper: "We've decided that Michael Rasmussen's
participation in the Decoplant Grand Prix would constitute a
handicap for the competition."
1139: Wim Vansevenant, who was the first rider to start the time trial, was caught by German Sven Krauss (GST) before the end of the stage.
Krauss started four minutes behind the Belgian, but was 4 minutes and six seconds ahead of Vansevenant by the end of the time trial.
The German rider also finished two minutes ahead of British rider Geraint Thomas (BAR).
But Krauss was still 30 seconds behind Bram de Groot, who has set the best time of the day at one hour, eight minutes and 39 seconds.
1133: World time trial champion Fabian Cancellara - the favourite to win Stage 19 - is out on the course.
If the Swiss rider does win it would be his third stage victory of this year's race.
Cancellara won the prologue in London, racing the 7.9km course at an average speed of 53.7 kilometres per hour, beating his nearest rival at 13 seconds.
That's quick in anyone's language. When I'm feeling fit I've occasionally got up to 50 kilometres per hour, but that's with the aid of a slight incline and I'd be lucky to maintain that speed for more than a minute, before having to take a breather.
1127: You might think there is an art to riding a time trial. Not according to Cadel Evans: "You get on your bike, you go as fast as you can and hope you set the best time. It¿s not complicated," the Australian told the Tour de France website.
1119: Cadel's Evans teammate Leif Hoste records the fastest time 20 minutes and 48 second - through the first check, 14 seconds better than Bram De Groot.
When he finishes Hoste will provide more background for Evans about the best way to plot his path to victory over the time trial.
1115: Thank you to DeGuzman for the time-trial rivalry background between Contador and Evans - the Australian was two minutes 37 seconds faster than Contador in this year's Dauphine-Libere ITT over 40.7 km.
1111: Before Saturday's time-trial began second-place Cadel Evans rode the course in preparation for his own ride later on. His verdict? Harder than he had expected.
1103: Eight riders have reached the first time check and Dutch rider Bram De Groot (RAB) is now the quickest to the complete the first 17.5km of the course, 40 seconds faster than Geraint Thomas.
By the way as well being slowed down by the eight traffic lights on my ride to work - see below - I also feel I should point out that I was riding an old school steel frame mountain bike circa 1996.
I love that bike dearly, but it is probably heavier than Alberto Contador, who apparently weighs no more than 60 kilos.
1055: There is some concern in the Discovery team that Contador's lead could be threatened by Evans in this time trial.
Contador lost a minute at the first time-trial and that was over a much more rugged course than this one.
In the prologue in London three weeks ago the Spaniard was a second quicker than Evans over the 7.9km course
1044: The weather is cloudy in the Charente as Belgium's Wim Vansevenant covers the first 17.5km in 22 minutes and 43 seconds.
Geraint Thomas is motoring, covering that distance a whole minute quicker than Vansevenant.
I really was slow on my morning ride to work - see below.
Just in case you're wondering about my refueling habits - I had a bowl of porridge and a couple of pieces of toast for breakfast rather than EPO or HGH.
1041: Ten riders are winding their way in aerodynamic fashion towards Angouleme.
1029: Five riders are now on the course, including British rider Geraint Thomas.
You'll be pleased to hear I cycled to work on Saturday for this Tour de France shift, covering the 16km from north to west London in just under 45 minutes.
How slow is that? I hear you cry, though in my defence I did have to negotiate eight sets of traffic lights, an obstacle the 141 riders left in the Tour will not have to contend with.
1010 BST: Contador has a lead of one minute 50 seconds on Australian Evans and 2:49 on his American team-mate Levi Leipheimer.
Saturday's solo effort against the clock from Cognac to Angouleme will decide the winner of the Tour, two days after previous leader Michael Rasmussen was sacked by his Rabobank team.
Contador, Evans and Leipheimer are due to set off after 1500, with Belgium's Wim Vansevenant the first rider to tackle the time trial at 1020.
British David Millar - 20th in last Saturday's time trial and famously anti-doping after serving a two-year ban - is expected to put in a strong showing.
The other remaining British riders, Charly Wegelius and Geraint Thomas, will aim to save their energy to perform for their teams on Sunday's final stage on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.