Stage 14 - Revel to Ax 3 Domaines, 184.5 km
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Tomorrow sees another tough Pyrenean stage, with three lower-category climbs, then the hors-car Port de Bales, followed by a tight descent to end the 187.5km stage to Bagneres-de-Luchon. That's it from me today. Report now online. Thanks for your company.
So Schleck continues to lead the General Classification, retaining his 31-second lead over Contador. Sanchez and Menchov have taken 14 seconds out of their lead and are now at 2'31 and 2'44 respectively. It will be a while before we will have any update on that green jersey!
Here's Riblon, talking to French TV:
"I've had a strange feeling since the start of the Tour then last night I thought to myself, 'You've got to do something, you've got to try'. My legs were really good today. I'm quite emotional, it's incredible."
Schleck stops to shake the hand of Riblon, who is slumped at the finish.
Wiggins finishes in a group 4'59 back, 3'51 on GC. Contador was seventh and Sastre 10th, part of the Schleck group.
Denis Menchov and Samuel Sanchez cross the line together, then Schleck leads the sprint to finish 1'07 behind Riblon.
Under the flame rouge
and Christophe Riblon has got it now. He looks back, punches the air, zips his jersey up, kisses his St Christopher and is overjoyed as he crosses the line.
Sanchez winds former Giro winner Menchov back in and they will have to fight for third place another day.
Riblon goes over the summit at Ax 3 Domaines, with a flattish 1.5km to go now.
It's about third place now, with Menchov making a move on Sanchez, who is 13 seconds ahead in GC. Schleck finally gives chase, with a huge crowd now. Catalan, Spanish and Luxembourg flags on the slope, fans all over the road.
If these boys weren't so skinny, I'd think we were watching a track event. Alberto and Andy drop behind the group, playing cat-and-mouse, but Schleck stays on the back wheel. I have never seen anything like this. Schleck happy to wait and let Contador make his move. Meanwhile the other podium contenders are moving clear.
Wonderful stuff from Schleck and Contador. The Spaniard attacks but the Luxembourger is more than up to it. Sanchez and Menchov stay with them, with Olympic champ Sanchez trying to distance the Russian as third place could be at stake.
That main group is now about seven strong - all the main GC contenders, as they go through 4km with a gap of 2'03 behind Riblon.
Riblon heads under the 4km banner. He will win now, with no effect on the General Classification as he was 24'37 back in 33rd place at the start of the day. Has been away for almost the entire stage.
Contador decides to leave them to it. No sooner has Vinokourov dropped off but the Spaniard makes a move. Schleck goes with him and they catch Sastre almost immediately. Menchov joins them quickly and is followed by Sammy Sanchez.
We may not decide a winner today but we could decide the podium, with Samuel Sanchez, Denis Menchov and Jurgen van den Broek all battling. Levi Leipheimer, currently sixth overall, has just been dropped.
Looks like Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Basso has been dropped too. Sastre isn't closing on Riblon, who is 2;28 clear of the pack and has about 2km of climbing, then 3km of flat to the finish.
With 6km to go, Vinokourov makes a bit of a break, which sees Gesink shed from the back and Schleck just hanging on to the pack as it rejoins.
Sastre opens up a decent gap on Cunego, still about 2'24 behind Riblon but don't count the Spaniard out. Remember that display on Alp d'Huez which won him yellow in 2008. Looks like Wiggins has again dropped from the back of the yellow jersey pack.
The Sastre group, which is about seven strong, hits the slopes about 37 seconds ahead of the pack, then Sastre goes it alone, looking to recreate his win in Ax 3 Domaines from seven years ago. Contador takes to the front of the yellow jersey group, dancing on the pedals.
Moinard almost rejoins Riblon, then the road heads back uphill and the Cofidis rider drops off again. I think Riblon, a 29-year-old five-year pro who has only won four races in his life, has this now.
Riblon heads under the 10km banner in Ax-les-Thermes, with a lead of 2'47 on the group. About 1km now until the road goes up again.
The big-hitters - Contador, Schleck, white jersey Robert Gesink and Wiggins - catch Charteau and are closing on the Sastre group. Only Moinard and Riblon - who is 17 seconds clear at the front - look like they could stay away.
Wiggins is flying like the wind, jersey still flapping, to rejoin that yellow-jersey group. Motorbikes with TV cameras are struggling to keep up.
This descent is spectacular, with hairpin bends heading through the tree-covered slopes and snow-capped peaks in the distance. A group of eight or nine has gone clear of the pack but Schleck gets himself in it and everyone gets a chance to regroup before the final 8km climb up to Ax 3 Domaines.
Moinard is second over, followed by Van de Walle, then Valls Ferri and Sastre, riding together, and Vasil Kiryienka. Charteau just out-sprints Damiano Cunego, a rival for the polkadot jersey.
Wiggins drops from the pack with about two minutes to go to the top. Perhaps opting not to go too deep but it doesn't bode well for the second climb, to the finish.
Huge crowds at the summit, with flags all over the place as Christophe Riblon crests it, zips up and starts the 19km descent to Ax-les-Thermes.
The pack moves into the final 1km of the climb, with Sky's Bradley Wiggins now at the back, although he doesn't look in too much trouble. Thin road, crowds lining it but not much space for cars and camper vans.
Riblon has moved clear of Moinard at the front of the race, with 1.72km to go to the summit. Further back, current King of the Mountains leader Anthony Charteau is putting in a push to try and get into the points.
Cadel Evans is slowly slipping off the back of the peloton, riding out of the saddle despite the pain of a hairline fracture in his left elbow.
With the gradient at 10%, Van de Walle is demonstrating the meaning of the term "peddling squares" as French duo Riblon (AG2R) and Moinard (Cofidis) move clear.
Only Navarro left of the Astana pack that sat at the front of the biggest group in the run-up to the climb. Did they set the pace too high? The lead trio are 3km from the summit now.
I spoke to British riders Jez Hunt and Dan Lloyd from the Cervelo team in the week before the race, just after Sastre made the surprise decision to take part after a run of poor form. They both reasoned that he must be feeling good. If not, why bother, as the Spaniard could always focus on the Vuelta instead? We've seen nothing from Sastre so far but he looks pretty strong today, ditching his personal protector Gustov.
Schleck signals for his team car and picks up some more food, perhaps worried by the pace that Astana are setting but maybe also after some advice from his directeur sportif
. Cadel Evans is the latest to struggle on the back of what can only loosely now be called a peloton.
The latest check has Valls Ferri 1'54 behind that lead trio, with Sastre and Gustiv 2'45 back. Lance Armstrong slips out the back of the main pack, looking at the moto camera with a knowing grin.
Riblon, Van de Walle and Moinard remain from that nine-man break, which was together for about 120km. Sastre and his team-mate Volodymir Gustov pass a toiling Thomas.
Valls Ferri of the Footon Servetto team passed G Thomas, who has his British champions jersey unzipped and flapping in the breeze. A rather frightening-looking man in Speedos, wearing a yellow sash and carrying a flag, trots next to the Astana train for a moment.
From phildange on 606
" Astana leading. Guess we'll see a Contador attack for the yellow today. Schleck will have to be very aware and stick to him. Probably Vino going for a first break before?"
Rafael Valls Ferri, on his way up from the pack, passes Stephane Auge, who has slipped from the break, and the difference in pace is huge. Sastre and a team-mate have been joined by an HTC-Columbia rider just ahead of the pack. Meanwhile former King of the Mountains Jerome Pineau drops from the back of the pack.
The team from 5 live sports extra will be starting their live commentary in the next few minutes. If you're on the website, refresh this page and you'll see a green icon top right - click it for a pop-up window.
It's almost three hours since I last mentioned Spaniard Carlos Sastre - stage-winner at Ax 3 Domaines in 2003 - but the Cervelo rider is attacking now. Currently 15th on GC, 7'36 back.
Spaniard Rafael Valls Ferri attacks the front and it looks like they're happy to let him go for now. Brit David Millar slips from the pack - the Scot has had a terrible Tour, hanging on despite injuries and illness.
Already, the peloton has fractured, with Bradley Wiggins' bodyguard Michael Barry among the first to drop into the grupetto
at the back.
Geraint Thomas slips off the back of the break, and it won't be long before the pack catches him. Navarro on the front now, shoulders labouring. If you've been just keeping an eye so far, it's time to pay attention!
From Mol_Daze_Etty via text
"Fair point. I was meaning last racing day for the GC contenders - Champs-Elysees is a parade stage ending in an all out criterium finish and (unless your name is Bernard Hinault) the GC riders don't race there."
Absolutely, Mol. I was just after a chance to promote the
recent interview with Chris Hoy!
The break have just gone under the banner that marks the official start of the Port de Pailheres - an hors-category climb with an average gradient of 7.9%. There is 15km to the summit at 2,001m.
Perhaps a GPS problem as we're down to 4'06 now, with 45 km remaining, but there is work going on in that breakaway and a couple of them are struggling to keep up.
The lead was plummeting until recently but it seems to be holding at 4'28 now, with the peloton still working hard. Perhaps a last push from that nine-man break, currently led by Geraint Thomas.
Daniel Navarro already has his shirt unzipped, sitting third wheel at the front of the peloton. He led Contador ably in the tougher Alpine stages in a way that reminded me of a young Miguel Indurain leading Pedro Delgardo in the last 1980s, waiting for his own chance at glory.
From Mol_Daze_Etty via text
"Re Simon at 1236: Evans is not a true time-trial specialist so not necessarily a good analogy. There are plenty of examples where a time-trial specialist has taken the Tour on the last day (LeMond in 1989 against Fignon and 1990 against Chiapucci, Roche in 1987 against Delgado). Not many examples since then but then the Tour has been dominated by riders like Indurain and Armstrong who could take time in the mountains and time trials."
LeMond v Fignon was the only occasion when the time trial was on the final day (As
Chris Hoy recalled in a recent interview
). The others were the penultimate day, which is the norm. Break at 5 min dead now.
Bright sunshine now on the tree-lined road. Team Sky are starting to jostle on the front with Astana, which shows they know Thomas won't stay away. Perhaps aiming to launch a climber, or just ensure Bradley Wiggins is in the lead group when it starts to splinter on the climb of the Port de Pailheres.
The pack is speeding along the river (guessing it's the Aude) in Axat, with the break around 5'30 away now.
Remember the old days of Lance Armstrong? US Postal sits on the front of the peloton in the foothills and slowly cranks up the pace, forcing riders off the back, before launching Lance as the gradient starts to bite? It looks just like that now, with the Astana boys on the front for Alberto Contador. Perhaps trying to finish off some of Schleck's Saxo Bank domestiques
now. Break under 6'00.
The road is starting to rise now but we're not yet on the climb of the hors-category Port de Pailheres - a 30km climb to a summit at 2,001m. The peloton is strung out, chasing this pack of nine that includes Geraint Thomas and David Zabriskie. There is 67km still to go and the lead has been reduced from 10 minutes at its biggest to 6'25 now.
From halfwheeler on 606
"Why are Astana pulling - surely that's Saxo's job?"
I'm glad you asked, halfwheeler, because I was starting to feel a bit thick. I guess brinkmanship between the two teams? Saxo has been doing most of the work over the last week so maybe they just waited for Astana to take a turn. After all, Contador is as much in the hunt as Andy Schleck is.
Here are those results from the second intermediate sprint of the day in Campagne-sur-Aude: 1 Auge (Cof), 2 Moinard (Cof), 3. Riblon (AG2R). Don't think they went for it.
I missed the intermediate sprint as the TV pictures didn't seem to pick it up. Will bring you the results when I have them. Break just going through the feed station now, with their lead now under 7'30 and 78km still to go.
Former Tour yellow jersey and Olympic pursuit champion Chris Boardman has been talking to the Tour website about Thomas, saying: "He should be able to climb. He's light enough and he's got plenty of power. I'd like to think he can stay away but I can't see the escape staying alive to the finish. They might make it over the Pailheres, though."
Decent crowds as the break enter Campagne-sur-Aude, with Thomas taking over at the front, wearing his British champion's jersey. He wore the white jersey for best young rider in the first week but Schleck holds that as well as the yellow now. Gesink is second, and actually wearing the jersey.
That gap continues to come down, now under nine minutes. Remember
comment that they would need 12 minutes at the foot of the first climb? Well there is still around 30km to go until then.
From Ben, from Surrey, via text:
"Sat by the 200m marker at the top of Ax with my Dad - another scorching day with bright clear skies - its going to be a tough day for the riders. No GC threat from the break but hoping it'll get caught - would like to see Schleck and Contador coming up round the final corner battling for the stage win."
Cruising towards the second intermediate sprint in Campagne-sur-Aude, with the roads windy and undulating. Astana and Rabobank (protecting Robert Gesink and Denis Menchov) are working on the front of the peloton, reeling that break back a little to under 9'30 now.
That lead is being held at the 10-minute mark as they move within 100km of the finish. Moinard has just had a visit from the race doctor, to patch up an injury on his knee, but he rejoins the group easily enough.
From Simon (who bet on Carlos Sastre to win the Tour in 2008) via text:
" Only a couple of years ago the same was being said about Sastre needing more time over Evans in the time trial. Then he pulled out the ride to win comfortably. I think having so much riding on it and also knowing Contador's splits and pace, Schleck won't need as much time as everyone is saying."
Team Sky directeur sportif
Sean Yates has been talking to the
official Tour website
, saying: "We wanted to try and get someone in the move early today with two ideas behind this approach. First of all we wanted someone who is good enough to help build a lead and then, if the escape has a good advantage in the finale, also have the strength to go on and possible go for the win. We're pleased to have Geraint in the move. He's got good form at the moment."
Don't forget, you can listen to live commentary of the final 90 minutes or so of today's stage from BBC 5 live sports extra from 1445 BST. Commentator Simon Brotherton is joined by former Tour rider Graham Jones.
Graham has been on
Twitter already this morning,
saying: "Looks like this break could go a long way, if not all the way. Thomas is in it, be good experience for him!"
This nine-man break now has a lead of over 10 minutes. To re-cap, it is made up of Sky's Geraint Thomas, David Zabriskie, Benoit Vaugrenard, Pavel Brutt, Christophe Riblon, Jurgen Van de Walle, Pierre Rolland, Stephane Auge and Amael Moinard.
From DeGuzman on 606
"In an end-of-the-Tour time trial, sometimes none-specialists who are doing great in the GC, like Schleck, lose less time [than you would expect]. Do agree he needs to gain more time though. AS needs to attack."
There are reports of a puncture for the Team Sky, erm, car. Quick wheel change, push from a passerby and they're off again. Not sure which of the drivers, coach Rod Ellingworth or assistant Sean Yates, was involved.
60km gone and the gap is up to 9'10. Riders from Astana on the front of the peloton, just making sure that it doesn't become crazy. The next sprint is in just over 40km, after which comes the feed station, then we start climbing.
Today would have been the 90th birthday of great Italian climber Gino Bartali, winner of the 1938 and '48 Tours, who died 10 years ago. Bartali was known for his great rivalry with countryman Fausto Coppi.
Results of the first intermediate sprint in Mirepoix: 1 Vaugrenard (FDJ), 2 Zabriskie (Grm), 3 Van de Walle (Qst)
And here's Contador, talking about today's stage: "The first pass is very hard, Pailheres, with huge percentages and a fast descent before the climb to Ax 3 Domaines, short but tough. The time differences will be very important."
The nine-man break, including David Zabriskie and Geraint Thomas, is now 7'55 ahead.
Here's Andy Schleck last night, talking about Contador: "I respect him as a rider and admire him as a great person. I'm a bit nervous for tomorrow. I'm comfortable but I'm nervous - and I think he is too."
Interesting line on the
official Tour website
, suggesting Gutierrez dropped from the break to allow it to go clear. Radioshack lead the team competition by 21 sec over Caisse d'Epargne so were ready to chase the break if it contained the Spaniard. The break is 6'10 ahead now. How much does it need to hold an advantage over the two big climbs at the end of this stage?
Maybe not quite that bad Martin (below) but Contador said last night that he knew he could regain some ground in Saturday's time trial, which covers 52km between Bordeaux and Pauillac. Schleck's team boss Bjarne Riis said earlier this week he thinks his man will need to be 1'30 ahead by then if he is to keep hold of yellow.
From Martins in Lagos, Nigeria via text:
"Everyone keeps talking of Schleck needing to build a healthy lead before the time trial. You begin to wonder if his legs will be tied up at the TT and all Contador needs to do is show up."
I interviewed Thomas a couple of weeks ago, for our
video preview package of Brits in the Tour
. Carried his bike (very light) to make a nice backdrop to the interview, then took him his Blackberry, which he'd left behind afterwards. Blackberry heavier than bike - I almost kid not.
Christophe Riblon of AG2R supplants Thomas as the best-placed GC rider in this break. He's still 24'37 off, though, so I can't see Schleck and Saxo Bank worrying too much. Will be interesting to see what the teams of the sprinters do about the intermediate sprints, though. First one is about 20km away.
Our final destination for today, ski resort Ax-3 Domaines has hosted stage finishes since 2001, when Colombian Félix Cárdenas interrupted a run of stage victories by Lance Armstrong. Spain's Carlos Sastre also won here, in 2003, but we have yet to see much from the 2008 Tour winner this time around - he currently sits 15th in the General Classification, 7 minutes 34 seconds behind Schleck and five seconds ahead of top Brit Bradley Wiggins.
A group of five, including Frenchman Stephane Auge, have bridged the gap between the peloton and the break, with is now up to a whacking 3 min 55 sec. Famed American coach
Jim Ochowicz says on Twitter
: "This one should go"
Gutierrez has gone from the breakaway so they're already down to four. Thomas is best-placed of the four on GC - 58th at 56'23.
Break just 12 seconds ahead, being chased by a Radioshack pack, as they head through Castelnaudary. Hmm
The Tour isn't the only cycling event going on today. Team Sky's Ben Swift and Ian Stannard will be among the riders at the
first Sky Ride event of the summer
, in Ealing, west London. And our own
is taking part in the
Etape du Tour
today, with thousands of amateurs scaling Thursday's 17th stage from Pau to the summit of the Tourmalet. Bon chance
That break is made up of Thomas, American David Zabriskie from Garmin, Frenchman Amael Moinard of Cofidis, Spaniard Jose Ivan Gutierrez of Caisse D'Epargne, and Russian Pavel Brutt of Katusha. Best-placed is Gutierrez, 43'35 back, so they may be allowed to go.
From Phil348 on 606
"Interesting to see if Cavendish will compete for the intermediate sprints today, his last realistic chance of staying in the hunt for the Green jersey."
Cav is currently third in the points race, on 162, behind Hushovd on 185 and Petacchi on 187. Interesting quote from him the other day, though, when he said he's "not the type of rider" who can do the intermediates. Was also interesting to see Hushovd struggle in the sprint yesterday, finishing eighth.
They're attacking already! Germany's Christian Knees is one of 12 riders in a break that began in the first kilometre.
From Ellandbackagain60 on 606:
" Think the two main protagonists will keep their powder pretty dry today - I fancy Samuel Sanchez to get in a break on the Pailheres and with his superb descending to break away on the way down and hold on all the way up the final climb to the finish."
Off we go, then. Slightly cooler today, I'm told, but with clear skies so it's likely to get warmer. No abandons overnight so still 175 riders in the pack.
From Nicholas Roche on Twitter
"Big day today! Long hard climbs, and big battle from GC guys I think!"
Is it really 23 years since he balled his eyes out on the podium while his Dad celebrated in yellow? Roche Jr is currently 14th on GC, 6'44 back.
Riders now heading through the 2.9km neutral zone and ready for the off. The first 120km of today's stage are easy enough, travelling through the undulating Aude region, through Castelnaudary (home of
), with intermediate sprints in Mirepoix (51.5km) and Campagne-sur-Aude (102km), which are likely to see the continuation of the green-jersey battle between current leader Alessandro Petacchi and Thor Hushovd, who is currently two points behind.
Will Andy Schleck seek an opportunity to build his 31-second advantage over Spaniard Alberto Contador today, or will he wait for the bigger Pyrenean stages to come, perhaps the first climb of the Col du Tourmalet on Tuesday? Let us know what you think, either on
or text on 81111
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The quiet days have been crazy enough but now we ramp it up again, with the
first of four days in the Pyrenees
, including climbs of the hors-category Port de Pailheres - a 30km climb to a summit at 2,001m - then a category-one, 8km climb up to Ax 3 Domaines. The riders roll out of Revel at 1105 BST.
Morning all. A last-minute office emergency has seen your usual host Peter Scrivener moved to cover
some golf tournament
today, so I've been drafted in off the bench. Got into the mood with the particularly tricky descent of the A40 from North Acton to Shepherds Bush and raring to go.