So here's how things stand as we enter the Alps. Tomorrow's stage to Verbier is one of two remaining mountain-top finishes and will see a big shake up in the race for the yellow jersey.
16:40: GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE 14:
1. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita/AG2R) 58hrs 13mins 52secs
2. George Hincapie(USA/Columbia) + 5secs
3. Alberto Contador (Spa/Astana) + 6
4. Lance Armstrong (USA/Astana) + 8
5. Christophe Le Mevel (Fra/FDJ) + 43
1702: TOUR DE FRANCE 2009 AFTER STAGE 14:
Yellow: Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita/AG2R)
Green: Thor Hushovd (Nor/Cervelo)
Polka dot: Franco Pellizotti (Ita/Liquigas)
White: Tony Martin (Ger/Team Columbia)
Official results show Hincapie is second in the overall by five seconds with Contador third. A close run thing but it's one more day in yellow for Rinaldo Nocentini as the Russian Champion, Serguei Ivanov, takes a magnificent solo stage victory for Katusha.
Awaiting official confirmation but it looks like Nocentini retains yellow! Hincapie is now one second ahead of Contador (in third) and three seconds ahead of Lance Armstrong (in fourth) in the overall classification.
Cavendish and Hushovd go head to head and Cav looks the wrong way as Thor comes up on his right against the barriers.
The GC contenders come to the front and that's the sound of the Columbia lead-out train getting into motion with Thor tucked in behind Cav.
AG2R are burying themselves on the front of the bunch with some help from Garmin. Not forgetting there are points on offer for 13th so Columbia and Cervelo will want to put Cavendish and Hushovd up there.
Nicolas Roche crosses the line second and now all eyes turn to the clock to see whether George Hincapie will take the yellow jersey.
1622: SERGUEI IVANOV WINS STAGE 14! 1620:
Serguei Ivanov goes under the flamme rouge and heads to a maiden Tour victory for Katusha.
Ivanov now has 29" with 2km to the line. It doesn't look like he'll be caught now.
4km left for Ivanov, who looks rock steady as he rolls on towards what could be Katusha's first Tour stage win.
5.0km to go, Ivanov has 22" in hand on the chasers. Hincapie currently is the virtual yellow jersey by around 35" on the road. Timmer's face betrays just how much the chase is hurting.
Roulston and Timmer pursue the Russian Champion, Ivanov, across a bridge but the gap seems to be growing, now out to over 20".
Gap of 17" for Ivanov as the rest of the break struggle to pull him back. Sergei's got his head down and ploughs on regardless.
Under the 10km to go banner and Ivanov still has a big gap. Now Le Mevel tries to get across the gap, taking Hincapie with him.
The break comes back together briefly and Ivanov blasts away on the right opening up a big gap. Timmer is the first to react and chases.
Le Mevel goes, Hincapie counters. Bennati follows and Roche then counters as they come through a roundabout
The break is starting to lose its cohesion as they look to summon one last burst of energy for the finish. First attack is from Maaskant
who goes on the right and is followed by Ivanov
15km to go, time to pick one of the following for the win: Hayden Roulston, Martijn Maaskant, George Hincapie , Nicolas Roche, Daniele Bennati, Frederik Willems, Christophe Le Mevel, Sebastian Minard, Daniele Righi, Serguei Ivanov, Gerard Ciolek and Albert Timmer.
The gap is going out again, now back up to 6'47". Nocentini shakes his head as if to concede the yellow. Meanwhile at the rear of the field Tom Boonen's joyless July continues with another puncture.
Graham Jones suggests that AG2R's Nicolas Roche should be the freshest rider in the break as he will have done less work due to his team chasing behind. Listen to the finish with commentary from Simon Brotherton and Graham
A graphic flashes up to say that Hincapie has done the most work in the break. With 24km to go the gap is down to 6'29" which means that the winner will almost certainly come from the twelve up front.
There's three men in the break who have previously won stages at the Tour: Hincapie, Bennati and Ivanov. Will it be one of them who adds to their palmares or will there be a new name in the record books?
With 30km to go the break still has 6'50" on the yellow jersey group. Graham Jones and Simon Brotherton reflect that another day in the maillot jaune
would put Nocentini in very illustrious company as an Italian rider.
The gap back to the peloton has now dropped below seven minutes and the riders in the break are starting to look at each other and figure out who they would like to lose before they get to the line.
Big George Hincapie puts in a small attack but Martijn Maaskant covers it. He's known as "sleepy" by his Garmin team but was anything but in countering that move.
Alasdair Fotheringham tells Simon Brotherton that he thinks the break is bound to split up as no one is going to want to carry Bennati or Ciolek to the line as they are the strongest sprinters.
Gap is down to 7'29" but that's still not enough for Nocentini to retain yellow. He needs to be within 5'25" of Hincapie, or "Big George Hincapie" as he's always referred to by some commentators.
AG2R are now on the front "giving it full gas" to close the gap and keep the yellow jersey on the shoulders of Rinaldo Nocentini. The peloton behind them is strung out like a windsock in a gale.
On 606 tgsgirl
has a nice breakdown of how the points pan out behind the break: "Twelve guys ahead, flat stage, so green points available at the finish are 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1"
There's still one more intermediate sprint to go and with only 12 riders in the break, there's still points to be fought for at the front of the main group. Cavendish will want to ensure that he is the next rider home to close the gap on Hushovd in the green jersey competition.
It's brightened up enough out there for me to break out the sunshine. Still a few spots of rain about but definitely sunshine for the break who are still 8'15" up.
BBC Radio 5 live commentary from Simon Brotherton and Graham Jones is now live:
Graham Jones has no doubt the break will stay away. Behind the break the peloton is lined out with Astana, AG2R, Liquigas and Garmin occupying the front.
Sighting of Bradley Wiggins up near the front of the peloton. We need something a bit better than "Wig-watch" and a graphic in time for tomorrow. He's sitting fourth in the overall classification which puts him in a great position going into the mountains.
Live commentary from the BBC Radio 5 live team of Simon Brotherton and Graham Jones starts at 1500. Link below to listen which should be live shortly:
Someone's stopwatch isn't working. The gap has now dropped faster than Cancellara down a mountain road and stands at 8'07".
Crikey! AG2R are going to have to pedal a bit if they want to hold onto yellow tonight. The gap has ballooned to nearly twelve minutes. George Hincapie could be in yellow, something that not many would have foreseen this morning.
The gap is out to over eleven minutes. If it stays like this George Hincapie will be in the yellow jersey. At US Postal and Discovery he was Lance's faithful lieutenant, is this a belated gift for those seven years of hard work?
The break has now stretched their lead out to 7'14". By the traditional reckoner of one minute per 10km, the bunch could still pull them back but it's looking less and less likely. AG2R only need to bring it back by three minutes or so to keep Nocentini in yellow which would suit Lance Armstrong's Astana team.
Columbia's team director Brian Holm is reported by the official Tour site as saying they absolutely will not chase the break and will leave it to Astana to maintain the gap and the other sprinters' teams to close it down if they want to do so.
Despite the grim conditions, the climb is packed with fans applauding the break, which now has 87km to go. Once the peloton are over the same climb we'll know whether or not the sprinter's teams are interested in bringing them back. Cav sits near the front of the bunch smiling and joking with Bernard Eisel. Meanwhile I've worked out that my updates were in the wrong order. Apologies all round.
The break of 12 hits the bottom of the day's second climb, the category 3 Cote de Blamont. the gap stands at 6'10" and Astana are on the front of the bunch to maintain the gap.
The race makes its way through a series of small villages with little change in the situation: gap of 5'48" between a break of 12 riders and the main peloton.
BBC Radio 5 live's Phil Sheehan reports via Twitter
from today's finish: "The weather is cold, grey, windy and threatening to rain. The run-in to the finish looks good for sprinters"
Cav-watch time. "The Manx Missile" is sitting about eight places back in the bunch tucked in on Mick Rogers' wheel, just head of Tony Martin, the white jersey wearer.
Double bubble for Christophe Moreau
who is allowed up the climb ahead of the bunch to take the plaudits from the fans in his home area. The former French champion laps up the attention, high-fiving the crowd as he goes.
The gap seems to have settled at around 5'30" as the break crosses the Cote de Lebetain. Four points for Willems in the polka dot jersey competition, which shouldn't worry Franco Pelizotti
, the current holder of the jersey.
The break pass through the feed station and grab their musettes which usually contain a couple of water bottles, energy gels and a cake, or perhaps something savoury. An old classic that covered the lot is a ham, jam and cheese sandwich.
Always lovely to see a rider being allowed a moment of glory when the race passes near their home. Today Christophe Moreau
is allowed up the road to say hello to his family who are standing by the roadside waiting for him.
Situation so far is that a break of 12 riders has 5'28" on the peloton. It's tipping it down with rain again today. There's 116km to go as the race winds its way towards Besançon. A sprint finish is still possible.
Best wishes to Paul who texted us on 81111
: "Crashed my Bianchi badly on Thursday, so now following Le Tour from a hospital bed! Trying to keep my fingers crossed for Cav today - and looking forward to a show of intention from Astana tomorrow; I don't think they'll leave it until the Ventoux to decide this year's race."
75km done already, which is quite a pace given the conditions.
It's a rainy day out there, not the day for white shorts. That hasn't stopped Pozzato though, who has finally got a "proper" Italian champion's jersey with tricolore bands.
Astana on the front of the bunch, keeping the gap to a sensible level. Hincapie is the best placed rider in the break, 5.25 behind Nocentini, whose AG2R team will be determined to keep in yellow for one more day.
of Cervelo Test Team takes the second intermediate sprint. Start line interviews with Mark Cavendish
and Michael Rogers suggests that Columbia might decide to reel this break in later on and go for the stage win. But will they want to chase down their own rider, George Hincapie, one of the most senior riders in the race?
The gap has now gone out to over four minutes, which suggests that the peloton has sat up. Jens Voigt is stuck in the gap between the two having stopped to put his wheel in straight and take a "natural break".
Can the break stay away today?
DeGuzman on 606
reckons they might: "Think these guys really have a chance, don't think Astana will mind if somebody from the escape group wears yellow tomorrow. Like Nocentini they'll be considered harmless. Could well be those who want to bring everything together, decide it's too much effort looking at the strength of the escape group."
Jens Voigt has a mechanical but is back in motion, trying to rejoin the break, who will certainly benefit from his presence.
The gap is now out to almost a minute, currently at 5 seconds. This is a good sign for the break, but not good news for those hoping for a sprint finish. There's still 150km to go though, so plenty of time to reel them in.
On 606 artetarocksmyboat
: "Have I missed something? How did Hushovd overtake Cav on a mountain stage?"
Thor smashed his way over the hills, managing to stay with the main peloton to finish sixth, scoring 15 points and moving five ahead of Cav in the green jersey competition.
49km done and the pace is a lively 49km/h average. There''s still a gap to the break which includes Nicolas Roche, the Irish champion, whose father was quite a handy bike rider in his day. He's Stephen Roche's son, something he's been reminded of enough already in his career.
A bit more Tour history for you: the first time a stage finished in Besançon was in 1905 when Hippolyte Aucouturier (FRA) won stage 2 from Nancy to Besançon. What a magnificent name! The gap to the break is coming down, now at around 22 seconds.
And at the first intermediate sprint, Ciolek
takes the six points from Bennati
, with Righi
third. The first two were considered as serious challengers to Cavendish before the Tour but have been almost invisible so far.
And having said that it seems Kreuziger may not be in the break after all. Perhaps he sat up to give his team mates Bennati and Willems a better chance of staying away.
Despite a rider from each of Garmin, Saxo Bank and Columbia being in the break, the presence of Liquigas' Roman Kreuziger doesn't bode well for the escapees. AG2R certainly won't want to give up yellow to him today and Columbia will see it as a challenge to Tony Martin, who wears the white jersey of best young rider.
No surprise that the break includes Jens Voigt of Saxo Bank, a rider who should probably change his name by deed poll to "In the break 'big' Jens Voigt". Another of the 'big' men of the peloton, George Hincapie is also up there.
According to official Tour historians, 90 years ago today, on 18 July 1919, race leader Eugène Christophe (FRA) wore the first ever Yellow Jersey during stage 10 from Grenoble to Geneva.
With 20km gone there's a group of 13 with 25 seconds on the bunch. That will suit Cavendish as it means that there's no danger of Hushovd being able to pip him for intermediate sprint points.
Cavendish jumps into a group of 14 riders with a handful of seconds on the bunch, and then drops back. The action has begun early today.
DeGuzman On 606
can't make his mind up about how it will go today: "The escape artists might benefit from teams wanting to save energy for tomorrow. For example, maybe Columbia wants to save their GC guys a bit. On the other hand the close to head wind is not favouring any escape attempts. I'm slightly edging to a sprint."
With nearly 10km done the peloton is still together as they head away from a grey and damp Colmar.
The riders are on their way. With two intermediate sprints in the opening 70km, expect the first two hours to be busy for Cavendish's Columbia and Hushovd's Cervelo teams as they try to control the attacks and bag the points.
Lance Armstrong on Twitter
is going with the outcome most Brits would like to see: "Driving 2 the start. Rainy and chilly. Supposed to clear. I'm picking Cav for stage win 5 today."
Today we're off to Besançon on what looks like being the last chance to see the sprinters in action before the Alps. Or will they allow a break to go instead and save themselves for getting over the Alps?
BBC Radio 5 live's Graham Jones on Twitter
"It's wet in Besancon, another cold and wet day in The Tour! Sprint or Break, can't make my mind up but will go for break!!"
Last time the Tour visited, in 2004, it was Lance Armstrong who took the stage, an individual time trial. Previous winners in the town include the legendary Jacques Anquetil and Patrick Sercu as well as Jean-Paul van Poppel, the 1987 green jersey winner who is now a manager with the Cervelo Test Team.