At last the the Tour has come alive with a devastating display of climbing from Contador to take the yellow jersey. Britain's Bradley Wiggins moves up to third at 1'46", behind Lance Armstrong who is now 1'37" behind his team-mate Contador.
There will still be riders crossing the line and there's no word yet on the Lanterne Rouge, Kenny Van Hummel, last seen toiling on his own 20 minutes back.
Tomorrow is a rest day for the riders who will look to recover for the final week in the Alps, featuring an individual time-trial on Thursday and the Giant of Provence, Mont Ventoux, on Saturday before arriving in Paris next Sunday, 26 July.
16:28: GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE 15:
1. Alberto Contador (Spa/Astana) 63 hrs 17 mins 56 seconds
2. Lance Armstrong (USA/Astana) + 1 min 37 secs
3. Bradley Wiggins(GB/Garmin) + 1 min 46 secs
4. Andreas Kloden (Ger/Astana) + 2 mins 17 secs
5. Andy Schleck (Lux/Saxo Bank) + 2 mins 26 secs
1702: TOUR DE FRANCE 2009 AFTER STAGE 14:
Yellow: Alberto Contador (Spa/Astana)
Green: Thor Hushovd (Nor/Cervelo)
Polka dot: Franco Pellizotti (Ita/Liquigas)
White: Andy Schleck (Lux/Saxo Bank)
So the important numbers are that Alberto Contador takes the yellow jersey, with Armstrong second and Wiggins third overall. A decisive day in the Tour and what must be the defining moment of Wiggins' incredible Tour thus far.
Evans comes in at 1'20" back ahead of Sastre then Armstrong trails in. Wiggins was 1'06" behind Contador in fifth.
Andy Schleck crosses the line about 42" behind, Nibali jumps out as Wiggins crosses the line behind him 50" back on Contador.
Out of the saddle and across the line with his trigger salute. ALBERTO CONTADOR WINS STAGE 15
Graham Jones points out Wiggins could move up to third as they pass the red kite and 1km to go. Armstrong slips further back to 1'20" and Andy Schleck is 44" back from Contador.
Evans and Sastre attack and drop Armstrong as they try to bridge up to Wiggins' group. Contador passed under the red kite and is 1km from the line.
Kloden pulls for Armstrong. Contador lashes out at fans who get too close to him. Evans and Sastre hang with Armstrong. I may have got this confused but it looks like Wiggins has gone with Frank Schleck and Nibali. Andy Schleck at 36", Wiggins and Frank Schleck at 50", Armstrong, Evans and Sastre over a minute back.
Wiggins is pulled back and Frank Schleck counters. Meanwhile Contador bobs and bounces out of the saddle as he continues on his way.
Bradley Wiggins attacks the Armstrong group. Yes, you did read that correctly.
Wee Bert Contador goes under the 4km banner as Carlos Sastre works his way back up to Wiggins, Armstrong, Evans. Bradley Wiggins is still hanging with the biggest names in the sport.
Contador grimaces and powers on with Andy Schleck 16 seconds back and Armstrong's group 35 seconds back
Kloden seems to be helping Armstrong close the gap. The good news is Wiggins is still hanging in there with Evans and Nibali.
There goes Contador, out of the saddle and flying away. Andy Schleck goes after him. Armstrong marks time with Frank Schleck and Bradley Wiggins in his wheel.
Now they catch Van Den Broeck as Cancellara puts the hurt on everyone's legs. Armstrong swings hard left and has to dodge the fans as he brings Contador up with him. "The wee lad who rides with Armstrong", as my girlfriend's mum calls him, now ups the pace.
Cancellara has dropped back with Hesjedal and they pick up the bunch as it comes up to them. Their job is to destroy themselves to keep the pace high.
Brad Wiggins is sitting third in the line as the Jens Voigt moves off the front and Saxo Bank continue to pound the pedals.
All the teams are fighting to be first through the left turn onto the final 8km climb. Millar comes to the front for Garmin with Wiggins in his wheel. Saxo Bank line things out with all the contenders behind them.
Cancellara tries to push Van Den Broeck into the line as behind Saxo Bank move to the front of the peloton as a unit. Will the two up front be pulled back to help their team leaders?
The break has gone to pieces with the riders now dotted along the climb. Spilak is followed by Van Den Broeck and Astarloza, Cancellara and Fedrigo, then a gap back to the remainder.
Milram come to the front as Cav is sighted at the back.
The attacks start in the break with Astarloza
off in pursuit of Spilak
, followed by Hesjedal
and Van Den Broeck
Contador wolfs down an energy gel as Armstrong sits on his wheel. All eyes in the race are on them.
According to his wife Cath, Bradley Wiggins isn't wearing black socks today. So disregard our advice to look for them.
Up front Spilak continues to push his advantage, now at 40" over the chasers.
Henrik Redant of Lotto is glad to have Van Den Broeck
in the break as it gives him options. He can either ride for the win or drop back to support Cadel Evans
Back in the bunch the yellow jersey of Nocentini is still there as Liquigas continue to hammer away ay the front.
attacks the break and opens up a gap of 20 seconds as the peloton continues to close in, now at 2'29"/
He's up near the front with David Millar next to him. Confusing our simple "look for the black socks" formula, Millar is also wearing black socks. Most inconsiderate of him.
On the front two Liquigas riders collect fresh bottles without letting up the pace. The gap is crumbling now, under three minutes at 2'54". Pellizotti
could do with the points which would give him a strong position in the KOM competition, but they've also got Nibali
in a good position in the overall.
The break makes its way through Martigny with 3'13" left now and 25km to try and survive.
Liquigas are on the front working to keep Franco Pellizotti
's hair out of the wind and in contention for the King of the Mountains. The gap is down to 3'19" with 30km to go. Today the usual rules of one minute per 10km don't apply. On a mountain finish that gap could disappear inside a fraction of that.
When the Tour of Switzerland finished up this climb Kim Kirchen
of Columbia was first across the line, followed by Andreas Kloden
. Veteran Luxembourgeois journalist Marcel Gilles believes it's not going to be steep enough to create big gaps among the contenders.
1511: Andy Schleck
is back among the cars with big Jens Voigt
and Stuart O'Grady
loading up the bottles.
The gap has come down to 3'41" with 38km left. The hulking figure of Gregory Rast once again makes his presence felt at the front of the peloton as Astana and Liquigas continue to drag the escapees back.
1505: Tour legend Bernard "The Badger" Hinault has some advice for those looking to beat Astana: "It's necessary to attack them. It's true... there are not 36 solutions. If they don't try to attack them they won't be able to get time on them. But with what is left of the Tour, there are ways to leave a mark, have some fun."
Bernard Hinault suggesting an attack, is that the most consistent and least surprising point of view in cycling?
42km to go. Blazing sunshine as the helicopters give us the full tourist brochure for the region. Astana and Liquigas police the front while four of Cadel Evans' Lotto team police the back. They might want to do something about that before the race hits the climb.
1459: 50km left to run as the race crosses the valley towards Verbier. Break of ten riders still has a gap of around 4'30" on the main field. No word on Kenny Van Hummel's dogged pursuit of the Lanterne Rouge but it's important to remember he'll still finish the stage faster than the quickest amateur.
Frank Hoste, a past winner of the green jersey, tells 5 live's Phil Sheehan that Cav's celebrations on previous stages may have played against him with the jury.
Graham Jones points out that the presence of Astarloza in the escapees' group means it's unlikely they'll be allowed to stay away.
Simon Brotherton and Graham Jones are now live with audio commentary.
The escapees are now on the valley floor and have a gap of just over four minutes. We're still waiting for the fireworks to be lit in the yellow jersey race.
The break, now all back together, passes some roadworks where the road narrows suddenly. The peloton will have to be very careful when they come through there.
Nearly time to fire up the audio stream for live commentary from BBC Radio 5 live's Simon Brotherton and Graham Jones. They are live at 1445 with all the action into Verbier. Meanwhile Cancellara
looks to have launched himself off the front of the break on the descent as Liquigas come to the front of the main peloton.
Bradwatch. The black sock of Bradley Wiggins
spotted up to the front of the peloton tucked in on the right. There's some gesticulation from the Astan rider on the front which suggests that they're looking for some help setting the pace.
takes the points on offer at the top of the Col and now the break plunges down hill towards Aigle, home of the UCI, cycling's governing body. Sadly the television pictures aren't giving us another chance to watch Flyin' Fab giving another masterclass in how to go down hills quickly.
A huge crowd cheers the break up the mountain with Fabian Cancellara
proudly wearing his Swiss champion's jersey as he grabs some food from the team car.
goes back to the car to get some bottles and Armstrong
is spotted a fair way back in the bunch. Popo's first bottle is handed to Armstrong before he makes his way back up with what looks like a good half dozen bidons for his team.
The stats say Cancellara
and Van Den Broeck
have done the least work in the break which now has a gap of 4'17" with 4km to go to the summit of the Col des Mosses. At the front of the peloton the tempo is rising as Astana once again impose their vice-like grip on the race.
make it look easy, Kenny Van Hummel
, the Lanterne Rouge, is struggling and more than 20 minutes back of the field. Merijn Zeeman, assistant team director of Skil - Shimano: "Kenny faces another 100km on his own. He is determined not to give up. I think he needs to stay within 53 minutes of the leaders. We will have to wait and see where he ends up at the end of the day."
124km into the stage Astana are riding tempo with Kloden and Rast pulling at the front as they climb the Col des Mosses. That gap is out at over four minutes now. Astarloza still could be in yellow tonight.
The gap to the break stands at 3'37" as they start the climb of the Col des Mosses. Astana on the front and still not even the smallest party popper of action to report from among the GC contenders. Let's not forget that several of them have got men in the break who could come into play later in the stage.
There's been plenty of suggestion that today is a day for Andy Schleck
to attack. According to
5 live's Phil Sheehan on Twitter
that's not likely: "Apparently he is targeting stage 17, the evil one with five climbs and he thinks the climb to Verbier is too easy"
1349:"Abandon de Efimkin"
- AG2R's Russian rider Vladimir Efimkin
climbs off. He's not recovered from a crash earlier in the week. It's a big blow to Nocentini's defence of the yellow jersey.
There's lots of talk about the relegation of Cav in yesterday's sprint. At the moment there's no news about a Columbia appeal, which the commissaires say they wouldn't hear in any case. Opinion is divided as to whether Cav did drift Thor into the barriers or whether the barriers drifted into them. In either case the loss of points has made the Manx Missile's job of claiming green in Paris much harder.
It will be a quick lunch on the move for the riders as they clock up 100km in the saddle today. Next up is the Col des Mosses, a category two hump of 13.8 km at an average of 4 %. Those average percentages can be very deceptive. I rode the Col de Lautaret in 2006 and it was the most miserable 27km of 4% average I've ever slogged up in my life. The pros will probably blast over this without too many problems.
Which is a good opportunity to remind you all that live audio commentary from Simon Brotherton and Graham starts at 1445 today. I'll drop it in a few minutes early so you can fire it up to hear what should be a very exciting finish.
Situation normal. A break is up the road with a rider "potentially" in yellow, Astana is on the front of the bunch en masse
and the sun is peeking out on the smooth roads of Switzerland. So that means we can get the sunshine icon out.
Best placed rider in the break is Astarloza at 3'02" back from Nocentini. He could become the first rider from Euskatel to wear yellow if the gap persists.
On 606 piehutt
gives his verdict on how the stage will shape up: "I'd imagine the Astana boys led by Lance and Alberto will tap out a bit of pace on today's ascents to try and clear the GC of other competition. Expect them to overtake Hincapie and Rinaldo to leave Contador in yellow tonight with the likes of Wiggins and co a bit further back also."
The gap is out to over three minutes now. Are the breakaway riders in a hurry to pick up their lunch at Epagny, 99km into the stage?
Talk of the feed station gives me an opportunity to wheel out my favourite Tour De France food story as heard on French telly a few years ago. Apparently one year the riders collected their musettes to discover tins of foie gras from a sponsor. Unfortunately they hadn't given them tin openers.
So they threw them over the next hedge into a farmer's field. The enterprising farmer collected them up and made a tidy packet selling "Tour de France foie gras" to those in the surrounding area. It clearly lacks something in translation.
Flecha makes it over to the break at last. Taken him a while but the Spaniard is there at last. Rabobank have had a very disappointing Tour so far, in particular for Giro winner Denis Menchov.
At the top of the Côte de Prévonloup, 77km into the stage, Hesjedal was still out on his own but he's now back with the others making a break of nine with 1'51" on the bunch.
Life in the break is all about working together and when a rider doesn't do their bit the others get a bit upset. Certainly that was the case yesterday for Nicolas "son of Stephen" Roche
: "I was getting a lot of abuse from the other riders in the group because I wasn't helping to relay. I think I was called every name under the sun, and in every language."
To be fair to him, his team were chasing behind the break to defend the yellow jersey. But he perhaps didn't help himself by going for the win and finishing second on the stage.
is 20 seconds ahead of his breakaway companions and 1 minute 21 seconds up on the peloton as Juan Antonio Flecha
tried to make his way up to the break
Another anonymous text via 81111
: "You spelt Pellizotti incorrectly! He truly has the best hair of the tour! I cannot see any of the big guns showing their cards again today. Although I hope I'm wrong!"
Yes, apologies for the mistyping. It also gives me an excuse to relay that Franco and his hair are back in the peloton along with Millar
as the break shrinks to eight riders with Ryder Hesjedal
out front on his own, holding a gap of 15 seconds.
The break is back to 32 seconds.
On 606 bigyakman
may have the answer as to why it's being chased down: "Shame for the breakaway that Martin is in it, they are never going to let it get too far"
David Millar has a good explanation of the dynamics of getting in a break.
Writing on the Garmin team official site
he relays the advice of Cyrille Guimard, one of the great sages of the sport: "It is the peloton that decides if the breakaway works or not, not the other way round."
takes the six points on offer at the sprint. We fear he might have mixed up his competitions, although there's probably a few euro to be had for the sprints.
At the top of the Côte de la Carrière, Kern
takes the four points, followed by Pellizotti
and then Martinez
. The best placed rider in the break is the wearer of the White jersey, Tony Martin of Columbia, who started the day in eighth.
It's all go as David Millar
, Mikel Astarloza
and Tony Martin
are the latest to jump across the gap to the break which has pushed out its advantage to nearly a minute. Nine more riders are in the gap trying to break free from the peloton. Millar in the break along with Hesjedal is good news for both Garmin and Bradley Wiggins so that means a first outing for the Brit Up arrow.
The breakaway group is on the Côte de la Carrière and with 12 up there there's no worries for Mark Cavendish about losing more points on the intermediate sprint. And that will probably be the only use of that Cav image today until we wait for the autobus to finish the stage.
So that break in full: Pellizotti
(Liquigas), Van Den Broeck
(Saxo Bank), Arroyo
(both Caisse d'Epargne), Moncoutié
(Bbox). All the main contenders for the Polka Dot jersey are there. A group of four more have bridged up to them: Hesjedal
(Cofidis). That makes 12 and they've got 30 seconds on the bunch.
The break is now out to 25 seconds. It looks like a fascinating mix with Van Den Broeck
of Lotto, Cancellara
of Saxo Bank and two riders from Caisse D'Epargne, Arroyo
in there. Could they have been sent up the road by their teams to help later in the stage, and who will they try to help?
And on the text via 81111
and anonymous message says: "Feel sorry for Hincapie not in yellow. What were Garmin and Astana doing? Stabbed in back by Lance"
Lots of post-stage debate about that last night, but George is a big boy and seemed to accept it's not worth getting too upset about. But it does add some spice for today as we watch to see where alliances will form on the road.
Out on the road the Polka Dot competition is getting lively with a break of seven away, including Pelizotti
and his fabulous hair. How much time does he spend on it in the morning and does he do it before or after he puts his helmet on?
A good point made by
winnerfrogman on 606
: "If, and for me it's still a big(well medium) if. Nocentini loses yellow today I think it's only right to note just how well he wore "le maillot jaune" and all the pressure that goes with it. Forza Rinaldo"
The Italian Rinaldo Nocentini
still holds the yellow jersey, his eighth, and has drawn level with the likes of Henri Pélissier, Roger Walkowiak, Gerrie Knetemann and Claudio Chiappucci. He's worked hard to defend it and his team will do their best to defend it for one more day, even with only a slender lead over Hincapie
37km already done, a couple of punctures (Flecha and Arashiro) on the descent and the peloton is still together as they ride through an area dominated by mountains and lakes. Last time a stage finished in Switzerland it was won by the Dutch rider Erik Dekker in Lausanne.
An interesting situation coming up at around 54km at the top of the Côte de la Carrière where there's KOM points with an intermediate sprint 2km later.
took the four points on the Col Des Etroits with Martinez
again only scoring two. The peloton is now in Switzerland, rolling down into the valley. It's been 25 years since a stage finished atop a Swiss mountain.
Over on 606 Esquain
has got some predictions for how today will pan out: "Ok, today I expect to be somewhat of a disappointment. Can't see Lance making a statement here, team tactics will still be in play, but am fearful about Alberto galloping up the road in the last few kms."
What's your verdict? You can let me know
or by Text on 81111
. Make sure you put "CYCLING" at the start of your texts as it makes it easier to find them among all the cricket ones.
Bad news for Belgian fans. Tom Boonen
, the National Champion, didn't make the start this morning. Another big blow for Tommeke in what has been a pretty miserable July.
Usually stages start slowly with a few attacks but already there's plenty to report. Lanterne Rouge Kenny Van Hummel
is struggling on the Category 3 Cote Du Rafour while Franco Pelizotti
mops up the four points on offer in his pursuit of the Kings of the Moutains title. His nearest rival Egoi Martinez
takes two points. Not sure why they put a big lump so near to the start. Seems a bit much when they've got another 200km still to ride.
Today the Tour proper begins and we get to see who will have the legs to wear yellow in Paris. Mountain-top finishes mean big time gaps and on the road to Verbier, everyone is waiting to see which of the contenders can make it count. Will Armstrong or Contador dominate Astana, or will one of the other contenders break free on the ascent to the Swiss mountain resort?
Bradley Wiggins on Twitter
, a contender for a top 5 finish in Paris: "It's a new dawn and a new day on the TDF, the race continues"
We'll be keeping an eye on how he fares today. Look out for his signature black socks in the lead group.
Lance Armstrong on Twitter
promises excitement today: "Big day today @ the TdF. Expect fireworks. Lots of them. 4 those who think it's been boring, you'll appreciate the final week. Fosho.."