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2004 Tour de France

July 3 - July 25

Results, map, stages with live updates and running GC

2003 Tour | 2005 Tour | Tour de France Database | 2004 Tour Quick Facts | 2004 Tour de France Final GC | Stage results with running GC and live updates | Route details | Teams

The route


2004 Tour Quick Facts:

3,391.1 km raced at an average speed of 40.553 km/hr

188 starters and 147 classified finishers.

Lance Armstrong won his sixth Tour while all of his major competitors, one by one fell by the wayside. In fact, Armstrong never faced any real challenge so his supremecy. Iban Mayo, who had beaten Armstrong earlier in the Dauphiné was considered to have a good shot at winning the Tour, but came down with mononucleosis and abandoned the Tour after the fourteenth stage.

Richard Virenque won his record-setting seventh polka-dot jersey.


Final 2004 Tour de France GC. Armstrong won the 2nd fastest Tour in history at 40.553 km/hr. Only last year's Tour was faster at 40.940 km/hr.

Complete Final 2004 Tour de France General Classification

  1. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 83hr 36min 2sec
  2. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) @ 6min 19sec
  3. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 6min 40sec
  4. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 8min 50sec
  5. José Azevedo (US Postal) @ 14min 30sec
  6. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) @ 18min 1sec
  7. Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner) 18min 27sec
  8. Carlos Sastre (CSC) @ 19min 51sec
  9. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 20min 12sec
  10. Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) @ 22min 54sec
  11. Pietro Caucchioli (Alessio) @ 24min 21sec
  12. Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) @ 24min 36sec
  13. Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears) @ 25min 11sec
  14. Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) @ 27min 16sec
  15. Richard Virenque (Quick Step) @ 28min 11sec
  16. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 28min 53sec
  17. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 29min 0sec
  18. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) @ 31min 12sec
  19. José Luis Rubiera (US Postal) @ 32min 50sec
  20. Stéphane Goubert (Ag2R) @ 37min 11sec
  21. Axel Merckx (Lotto) @ 39min 54sec
  22. Michael Rogers (Quick Step) @ 41min 39sec
  23. Floyd Landis (US Postal) @ 42min 55sec
  24. Oscar Sevilla (Phonak) @ 45min 19sec
  25. Giuseppe Guerini (T-Mobile) @ 47min 7sec

Points (Green Jersey)

1. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) 272 points
2. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) 247
3. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) 245
4. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) 234
5. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) 227

Climber (Polka Dot Jersey)

1. Richard Virenque (Quick Step) 226 points
2. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 172
3. Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) 119
4. Ivan Basso (CSC) 119
5. Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) 115
5. Jan Ullrich 115

Young Rider (White Jersey)

1. Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears) 83hr 1min 13sec
2. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 3min 42sec
3. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) @ 6min 1sec

Team Classification:

1. T-Mobile 248hr 58min 43sec
2. US Postal @ 2min 42sec
3. CSC @ 10min 33sec
4. Illes Balears @ 52min 26sec
5. Quick Step @ 57min 33sec


Stages, rated climbs, results with running GC

Saturday, July 3: Prologue 6.1 km, Liège (Individual Time Trial). Flat with only 4 corners. Should be fast. First rider, Pierre Bourquenoud (RAGT), off at 4:01 PM Belgium time (should be 7:00 AM Pacific Daylight Time). Last rider, Armstrong, off at 7:08 PM and should finish at 7:15 (10:15 AM PDT). The last 5 riders will be: Petacchi, Mayo, Hamilton, Ullrich and Armstrong.

Weather in Liege at 1:42 PM local time: Showers predicted. 58F (14C), wind from the WSW at 14 mph (23 kph). It did rain, but the riders have had dry streets and some wind.

Results:

Mr. Armstrong delivered a message that cannot be ignored. At almost 33 years old, he can pound out the watts as well as any short time-trial specialist. He took 15 seconds out of Ullrich and 16 out of Hamilton. It's early days, but they have their work cut out for them.

1. Fabian Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo) 6min 50sec
2. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) @ 2sec
3. Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Illes Balears) @ 8sec
4. Bradley McGee (FDJ) @ 9sec
5. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) 10sec
6. Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) @ 11sec
7. Jens Voigt (CSC) s.t.
8. Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) @ 12sec
9. Bobby Julich (CSC) s.t.
10. George Hincapie (US Postal) s.t.
13. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 15sec
16. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 17sec
18. Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) @ 18sec
26. Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) @ 21sec
70. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 29sec
71. Santiago Botero (T-Mobile) s.t.
143. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 42sec
188 riders finished the course.

Points (Green Jersey)

1. Fabian Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo) 15 points
2. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 12 points
3. Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Illes Balears) 10 points
4. Bradley McGee (FDJ) 8 points
5. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) 6 points

Young Rider (White Jersey)

1. Fabian Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo) 6min 50sec
2. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) @ 21sec
3. Benjamin Noval Gonzalez (US Postal) @ 22sec
4. Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears) s.t.
5. Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) @ 23sec

Team GC

1. US Postal 21min 2sec
2. CSC @ 6sec
3. Phonak @ 11sec
4. Fassa Bortolo @ 14sec
5. Illes Balears @ 18sec

Cofidis' Mathew White crashed while warming up. He broke his collarbone and will not be able to start the Tour. White, from Australia, is a former US Postal rider who switched to Cofidis after being passed over by Postal in its Tour team selection in previous years. Cofidis has replaced White with Peter Farazijn, who had to jump in his car and drive to the race.


Stage 1, Sunday, July 4: 202.5 km, Liège - Charleroi

The rated climbs:
Km 15.0: Côte de Florzé: 1.2 km climb at 5.0%, 4th Cat
Km 21.0: Côte de Awan, 1.8 km climb at 4.1%, 4th Cat
Km 33.5: Côte de Werbomont, 1.8 km climb at 4.4%, 4th Cat
Km 101.5: Côte de Borlon, 4.4 km climb at 4.4%, 3rd Cat
Km 107.0: Côte de Ocquier, 1.4 km climb at 4.4%, 4th Cat

Sunday Stage 1 weather: At 2:00 PM local time in Liege, Cloudy with a chance of showers. 60F (16C), wind from the SW at 10 mph (16 kph).

Live updates are below the results.

Results:

1. Jan Kirsupuu (Ag2R) 4hr 40min 29sec
2. Robbi McEwen (Lotto) s.t.
3. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) s.t.
4. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) s.t.
5. Jean-Patrick Nazon (Ag2R) s.t.
6. Baden Cooke (FDJ) s.t.
7. Kurt-Asle Arvesen (CSC) s.t.
8. Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) s.t.
9. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) s.t.
10. Allan Davis (Liberty Seguros) s.t.

General Classification after stage 1:

1. Fabian Cacellara (Fassa Bortolo) 4hr 47min 13sec
2. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) @ 2sec
3. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) @ 8 sec
4. Jens Voigt (CSC) @ 15sec
5. Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Ille Balears) @ 16sec
6. Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) s.t.
7. Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) @ 20sec
8. Bobby Julich (CSC) s.t.
9. George Hincapie (US Postal) s.t.
10. Jose Enrique Gutierrez (Phonak) @ 22sec
12. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 23sec
16. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 25sec
18. Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) @ 26sec
19. Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) @ 29sec
69. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 27sec
139. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 50sec
186 classified finishers.

Points (Green Jersey)

1. Thor Hoshovd (Credit Agricole) 38points
2. Jaan Kirsipuu (Ag2R) 35
3. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) 30

Climber (Polka Dot Jersey)

1. Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) 13 points
2. Janeck Tomback (Cofidis) 12
3. Jens Voigt (CSC) 4

Young Rider (White Jersey)

1. Fabian Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo) 4hr 47min 11sec
2. Bernhard Eisel (FDJ) @ 26sec
3. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) @ 27sec

Team GC:

1. US Postal 14hr 22min 29sec
2. CSC @ 6sec
3. Phonak @ 11sec

Live updates for stage 1:

Km 60: It has started to rain. Fassa Bortolo is at the front, protecting both the yellow jersey of Fabian Cancellara and the chances for a sprint win of their ace speedster, Alessandro Petacchi. At km 4 Walter Beneteau (Brioches La Boulangere) took off. Over the next several kilometers, 4 other riders bridged up to him. They are still away with a lead of 3min 5sec. The riders in the break are: Jens Voigt (CSC), Janeck Tomback (COF), Paolo Bettini (QSD), Frank Renier (BLB) and Bernhard Eisel (FDJ). Mario Cipollini was involved in a crash, but he is back in the field.

Km 92: Gap remains at 3min 5sec. For the first two hours, the average speed of the stage is 41.3 km/hr.

Km 106: The gap is down to 2min 10sec. Cipollini and McGee came off on on the 3rd category Borlon climb. It's still rather soggy.

Km 117: It's really raining. The gap is down to 30 seconds. Eisel fell while talking to his team car, but he got up and rejoined the break. Fassa Bortolo is at the front and really pouring on the gas. Cipollini is in a chase group. An earlier posting said he was back in the field. He's not and his group of about 10 is working like dogs trying to rejoin.

Km 132: Everyone is back together. The Cipollini-McGee chase group has made it back on to the back of the peloton after a 30 kilometer all-out chase. The break of 5 up front has been caught as well. There was a crash in the center of the peloton a few kilometers back. Armstrong and the Posties were up front, as usual. Mayo's Euskaltel team, being caught in the back half led the chase to reunite the peloton. Average speed for the 3rd hour is 43.8 km/hr. There are lots of flat tires with the wet road causing debris to stick to the riders' tires.

Km 141: The break lasted 116 km. The rain has stopped. The peloton seems content to ride behind Fassa Bortolo for now.

Km 163, 39.5 to go: After the third intermediate sprint (won by Stuart O'Grady), Marc Wauters (Rabobank) and Jakob Piil (CSC) counter-attacked. They now have about 1 minute on the field. A larger break of 5 tried to get up to them, but the pack was having none of that and quickly caught them. Bradley McGee (FDJ) is having trouble staying with the field. He had a talk with the Tour doctor. He injured his back in one of the many crashes. He is just trying to make to the finish.

Km 169: Wauters is a (I think) 2-time Belgian time trial champion and Piil is also a very powerful rider. They are working together very well. Their gap is now 1min 37sec. Fassa is stringing it out a bit with Postal sitting just behind them.

Km 173, 30 to go: The gap is up to 1min 54sec. There doesn't seem to be any panic in the field. The average speed for the stage over the first 4 hours is 42.7 km/hr.

Km 181: The gap is 1min 45sec. Quick Step and Lotto have moved to the front and are doing work in the field to help Fassa Bortolo chase Piil and Wauters. Piil and Wauters look good are are fairly sharing the work.

Km 186, 16 to go. The gap is down to 1min 20sec. The pair are showing some signs of their effort, but theyr are not slackening in any way. Bradley McGee is sitting about 100 meters, alone, off the back of the pack.

Km 191, 12 to go. The gap is 55 seconds. The peloton is getting organized and chasing hard now. Credit Agricole has joined the chase.

4 Km to go, the gap is 20 seconds.

1.5 km to go. The pair are caught. Now it's time for the drag race to the finish.

The finish. Fassa Bortolo was completely unable to impose its will upon the pack. Thor Hushovd went first up the right hand side against the barriers. Jaan Kirsipuu and Robbie McEwen came around him. I couldn't see Petacchi in the front of the sprint.


Stage 2, Monday, July 5: 197 km, Charleroi - Namur

Km 7.0: Côte de l'M de Bomeree, 2.0 km climb at 4.2%, 4th Cat
Km 141.5: Côte de Silenrieux, 1.1 km climb at 6.9%, 4th Cat

Live updates for Stage 2 begin after the results listed below.

Results:

1. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) 4hr 18min 39sec
2. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) s.t.
3. Jean-Patrick Nazon (Ag2R) s.t.
4. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) s.t.
5. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) s.t.
6. Jaan Kirsipuu (Ag2R) s.t.
7. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) s.t.
8. Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) s.t.
9. Gerrit Glomser (Saeco) s.t.
10. Mario Cipollini (Domina Vacanze)

General Classification after Stage 2:

1. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) 9hr 5min 42sec
2. Fabian Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo ) @ 8sec
3. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) @ 17sec
4. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) @ 18sec
5. Jens Voigt (CSC) @ 23sec
6. Jose Ivan Guttierez (Illes Balears) @ 24sec
7. Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) @ 27sec
8. Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) @ 28sec
9. Bobby Julich (CSC) s.t.
10. George Hincapie (US Postal) s.t.
13. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 31sec
17. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 33sec
19. Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) @ 34sec
31. Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) @ 37sec
73. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 45sec
102. Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) @ 53sec
138. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 58sec

Points (Green Jersey):

1. Thor Hushovd (Credit agricole) 68 points
2. Robbie McEwen (lotto) 65
3. Jaan Kirsipuu (Ag2R) 55

Climber (Polka-Dot Jersey)

1. Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) 16 points
2. Janeck Tombak (Cofidis) 14
3. Jens Voigt (CSC) 4

Young Rider (white Jersey)

1. Fabian Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo) 9hr 5min 50sec
2. Bernhard Eisel (FDJ) @ 26sec
3. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) @ 27sec

Team GC:

1. US Postal 27hr 18min 26sec
2. CSC @ 6sec
3. Phonak @ 11sec

Stage 2 Live Updates:

The weather should be nicer today: 63F (17C), mostly sunny with the wind from the NW at 7 mph (11 kph) at 2:00 PM local time.

One rider did not start today. Lotto's Nick Gates crashed in Stage 1 and banged his knee against his handlebars. He finished the stage, but came in 31 minutes 43 seconds after the stage winner Kirsipuu, a little more than 5 minutes after the cutoff time. Bradley McGee, who is suffering from back problems did start.

Km 55: Paolo Bettini took the first climb, the Bomeree. He holds the Polka-dot Climber's jersey and he is looking to keep it. Just after the climb, six riders went clear and now have a lead of 4min 50sec:

Jerome Pineau (Brioches La Boulangere)
Jakob Piil (CSC)
Sebastian Lang (Gerlsteiner)
Christophe Edelaine (Cofidis)
Mark Scanlon (Ag2R)
Christophe Mengin (FDJ)

Km 97: The lead is down to 3min 31sec. Credit Agricole, wanting to put their Thor Hushovd into yellow, is leading the chase. Hushovd is only 2 seconds behind Fassa Bortolo's Fabian Cancellara in General Classification.

Km. 106: The break passed through the feed zone. After getting their food stowed, they settled down to a good, neat pace line. Their lead is down to 3min. An earlier posting of 2 1/2 minutes was in error. Credit Agricole is still doing the lion's share of the work with some help from Quick Step.

Km 130: The break just finished the 2nd intermediate sprint, taken by Christophe Edelaine. He'll get a 6sec time bonus. The break had been working beautifully, running a tight, circular pace line, each rider taking short pulls. As the riders closed in on the sprint, they started jockeying for position, losing some time. They've settled back to work. In the pack, there are lots of orange Euskaltel jerseys near the front. They aren't doing any work. They may have some religion after being caught in the back half of the field during a crash yesterday. They were separated from the leading group and had to work hard to close the gap.

The highest placed rider in the break is Sebastian Lang at 31sec.

Km 142: The average speed for the first three hours is 44.3 km/hr. The lead break is now 2min 20sec ahead of the field.

Km 150: Pineau took the 4th category Silenrieux climb. Paolo Bettini's Polka-Dot jersey is in no danger today. The gap to the 6 breakaways is 2min 15sec. Fassa Bortolo learned that The Tour de France ain't the Giro. In the Giro they were able to control the stages that might be won by Alessandro Petacchi. Day after day they rode at the front, chasing down the breaks. Then they still had suds left to do a powerful leadout. They tried the same strategy yesterday and got their heads handed to them. I haven't seen any Blue/White Fassa Bortolo jerseys at the front of the pack yet today.

Km 157: The gap is down to 1min 44sec. No sooner had I written the above posting about Fassa Bortolo when their Mario Bruseghin showed up at the front of the pack. It's still a big difference from riding tempo at the front all day as they did at the Giro or as they did yesterday.

Km 164: The gap is down to 1min 15 sec. The pack can see the break down the long, straight road. Pineau took the last intermediate sprint. There was a big crash at the back of the field. Everyone got up and chased except Domina leadout master Gian Matteo Fagnini. It looks like he broke his left collarbone. He's being taken away in an ambulance.

Km 172. The gap is 20 seconds. They will be caught rather quickly. Phonak and Lotto are working the front of the pack now.

Km 178. The break has been caught. They were gone for 164 kilometers. There's another crash at the back. Thor Hushovd went down and has remounted. Cofidis' Bessy took a lot longer to get back on his bike. He has a hard 20 kilometers to go to get across the finish line and beat the elimination time cut. He looks really sore.

Km 184, 13 to go. Hushovd made it back to the pack with lots of help from his team.

5 km to go. It's together. The speed looks really high. Fassa and Quick Step are driving the front.

The finish. Fassa did some monster pulls, but they didn't get Petacchi in position. Yellow jersey Cancellara was pulling for over 2 kilometers, but for no good result. McEwen took it. He just jumped out from the field with about 200 meters to go, going far faster than the others. Thor Hushovd's 2nd place earns him a 12 second time bonus and the Yellow Jersey.


Stage 3, Tuesday, July 6: 210 km, Waterloo - Wasquehal

Km 14.0: Bruineput, 0.7 km climb at 9.4%, 4th Cat
Km 61.0: Muur (Geraardbergen), 1.0 km climb at 7.2%, 3rd Cat

Results. Live report below results. In the first section of pave, Postal's Ekimov took a huge pull, causing several splits. Mayo and Moreau were caught in the back and were never able to regain the front group:

1. Jean-Patrick Nazon (Ag2R) 4hr 36min 45sec
2. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) s.t.
3. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) s.t.
4. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) s.t.
5. Kim Kirchen (Fassa Bortolo) s.t.
6. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) s.t.
7. Jaan Kirsipuu (Ag2R) s.t.
8. Alessandro Bertolini (ALessio) s.t.
9. Fabio Baldato (Alessio) s.t.
10. Jose Enrique Gutierrez (Phonak) s.t.
12. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank s.t.
At 5 seconds becuase of a split in the lead group during the sprint: Ullrich, Voigt, Heras, Simoni, Armstrong, Julich, Hamilton
At 3 minutes 53 seconds: Botero, Moreau, Mayo, O'Grady, Moncoutie, Bettini

GC after Stage 3:

1. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) 13hr 42min 34sec
2. Fabian Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo) @ 1sec
3. Jens Voigt (CSC) @ 9sec
4. Jean-Patrick Nazon (Ag2R) @ 12sec
5. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) @ 16sec
6. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) @ 22sec
7. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) @ 23sec
8. Jose Enrique Gutierrez (Phonak) s.t.
9. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 24sec
10. Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) @ 25sec
11. Bobby Julich (CSC) @ 26sec
12. George Hincapie (US Postal) s.t.
18. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 31sec
20. Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) @ 32sec
42. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 43sec
57. Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) @ 51sec
71. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 56sec
92. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) @ 3min 44sec
94. Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) @ 4min 14sec
101. Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) @ 4min 23sec

Points (Green Jersey)

1. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) 93 points
2. Jean-Patrick Nazon (Ag2r) 85
3. Jaan Kirsipuu (Ag2R) 74

Climber (Polka Dot Jersey)

1. Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) 19points
2. Janeck Tombak (Cofidis) 14
3. Jens Voigt (CSC) 9

Young Rider (White Jersey)

1. Fabian Canellara(Fassa Bortolo) 13hr 42min 35sec
2. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) @ 27sec
3. Michele Scarponi (Domina Vacanze) @ 32sec

Team GC:

1. US Postal 41hr 8min 56sec
2. Fassa Bortolo @ 4sec
3. CSC @ 6sec

Stage 3 Live Report:

There were a couple of casualties from yesterday's crashes. Domina's super leadout man Fagnini as well as Cofidis' Frederic Bessy could not start today. That puts the peloton at 185 riders.

This stage has a few kilometers of mild cobbled pave. 64 kilometers before the finish there is a 2.8 km section and at the 25 km to go there is a 1.1 km section. This is the first time since 1985 that the Tour has included cobbled sections used in Paris-Roubaix. The main GC men will be nervous. Their goal will be to come out of this stage with their collarbones intact. As in the Spring classics, there should be some hard racing to get to the front before these sections.

At least the cobbles should be dry. It's mostly sunny, 70F (21C) with only the mildest breeze from the east.

Km 76: In the third kilometer Jens Voigt (CSC) and Bram de Groot (Rabobank) took off. They now have a lead of 4min 10sec. At Km 39 their lead had been over 6 minutes. Credit Agricole is at the front, protecting Thor Hushovd's Yellow Jersey.

Paolo Bettini won the field sprint for third place over the two categorized climbs, so he has tightened his grip on the Polka-dot Climber's Jersey. Richard Virenque took 4th in the Muur de Geraardsbergen climb, so we know how he plans to spend this Tour. Virenque plans to be wearing the Dots in Paris.

The racers have been really cooking with gas. The average speed for the first hour was 46.8 km/hr.

Km 93: Voigt and de Groot have a lead of 5min 38sec. The second hour was raced at 42.6 km/hr. The average for the first two hours is 44.5 km/hr. Voigt is currently 5th in GC at only 23 seconds. That will concentrate the attention of Credit Agricole.

Km 121: Voigt and de Groot have extended their lead to 6 minutes, 34 seconds. Credit Agricole remains at the front doing the work. Just behind them is US Postal, Euskaltel, Phonak and T- Mobile. The contenders are staying up front and watchful. Ullrich is clearly visible in the first group of riders. T-Mobile's Botero is about at the front, then Guerini and then Ullrich.

Levi Leipheimer flatted. 4 Rabobank riders including Dutch road champion Erik Dekker dropped back and motored him back into the peloton.

Km 134. Voigt and de Groot have had their lead shaved to 5 min 34 seconds. US Postal is leading the pack and stringing it out. With about 10 kilometers to the first section of cobbles, they want Armstrong up front and out of trouble and are willing to pay for that privilege in watts. Alessio's Magnus Backstedt flatted and got a perfect wheel change. He was back on his bike and chasing before the following caravan had passed. Jens Voigt did a bike swap to get one that is better suited for the cobbles. Many riders have stouter wheels with fatter tires today.

Km 145: A big crash at the front. US Postal rider Noval went down. Iban Mayo is back up and chasing alone with shredded shorts. I was just about to post that the riders at the front were looking nervous, constantly looking around for their team leaders. As the domestiques were looking arond, their bikes were swerving slightly, a perfect recipe for disaster.

The Voigt-de Groot lead just went under 4 minutes.

Km 151. The lead is down to 2min 19sec. Hincapie led the Postal squad and the peloton into the first section of cobbles. Ullrich and Armstrong are fine and up front. Mayo has almost his entire team pulling him back up to the field.

Km 156: Ekimov went to the front of the peloton and took a monster pull that split the pack a million ways to Sunday. A Rabobank rider went to the front near the end of the pave section to try to slow down the Posties and protect de Groot, who is now less than 2 minutes up the road with Voigt.

After the pave section, Ullrich and Armstrong are in a lead split and are working to put the big hurt on the Spaniards Heras and Mayo who are back chasing. Hot spit! This is bike racing.

Km 165. Voigt and de Groot have been caught. There has been a terrific chase. Leiphimer and Heras made it up to the front Armstrong/Ullrich/Hamilton group. Mayo and the Yellow Jersey, Thor Hushovd, are about 2 minutes back. There is still another section of pave to go.

Credit Agricole's Christophe Moreau is in the chase group. I would expect that he is CA's GC man. Postal with help from T-Mobile and Phonak are pounding the big meat, doing their best to end Mayo's threat to Tour victory today. Even if Mayo makes up to the peloton, Euskaltel will be drained the day before the team time trial.

Km 177. The Tour reports that Roberto Heras is in the second group with Mayo, Hushovd and Moreau. But Paul sherwin on OLN just spotted Heras in the front group. The gap is growing, not shrinking. It's up to 2min 6sec. Robbie McEwen is in the first group. He will surely be thinking of winning the stage, the time bonus and the Yellow Jersey today.

Km 189. The second section of pave is finished with a lot less drama than the first. Stuart O'Grady went down, but was back up instantly. Alessio's Martin Hvastija is having a go off the front. The Mayo/Moreau chase group is now 2min 30 seconds back.

Km 194. It looks like the Mayo/Moreau has about given up. There are very few Euskaltel riders working to close the gap. Stuart O'Grady had more bad luck. As he was chasing to get back to the front group, a railway crossing was closed. The gap back to Mayo is now 3min 2sec.

4 km to go. The lead group is compact after some abortive attacks. In the Mayo chase group, Euskaltel is back at the front working to limit the day's losses.

The finish: Fassa Bortolo and the Gerolsteiner kept the speed terribly high through the winding streets leading up to the slightly uphill finsh. Ag2R's Jean-Patrick Nazon just pipped Erik Zabel at the line. It was close. And somehow, McEwen came from nowhere and nailed 3rd place. He may have the Yellow by a second. We'll have to wait and see. It looks like the Mayo group came in about 3min 52 seconds later.


Stage 4, Wednesday, July 7: 64.5 km, Cambrai - Arras (Team Time Trial)

Stage 4 :

Updates and stage information below the results:

Results. The number in parenthesis is the actual time difference that will be added to the rider's times under the new rules for team time trials (I hope I got that part right).

1. US Postal 1hr 12min 3sec
2. Phonak @ 1 min 7sec (20sec)
3. Illes Balears @ 1min 15sec (30sec)
4. T-Mobile @ 1min 19sec (40sec)
5. CSC @ 1min 46sec (50sec)
6. Rabobank @ 1min 53sec (1min)
7. Liberty Seguros @ 2min 25sec (1min 10sec)
8. Euskaltel @ 2min 35sec (1min 20sec)
9. Saeco @ 2min 36sec (1min 30sec)
10. Alessio @ 2min 57sec (1min 40sec)
11. Quick Step @ 3min 29sec (1min 50sec)
12. Credit Agricole @ 3min 32sec (2min)
13. Ag2R @ 4min 5sec (2min 10sec)
14. Brioches La Boulangere @ 4min 17sec (2min 20sec)
15. Domina Vacanze @ 4min 22sec (2min 30sec)
16. Gerolsteiner @ 4min 36sec (2min 40sec)
17. Fassa Bortolo @ 4min 52sec (2min 50sec)
18. Lotto @ 5min 19sec (3min)
19. Cofidis @ 5min 34sec (3min)
20. RAGT @ 5min 37sec (3min)
21. FDJ @ 7min 34sec (3min)

GC after Stage 4:

1. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 14hr 54min 53sec
2. George Hincapie (US Postal) @ 10sec
3. Floyd Landis (US Postal) @ 16sec
4. Jose Azevedo (US Postal) @ 22sec
5. Jose Luis Robiera (US Postal) @ 24sec
6. Jose Enrique Gutierrez (Phonak) @ 27sec
7. Viatcheslav Ekimov (US Postal) @ 30sec
8. Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) @ 36sec
9. Santos Gonzalez (Phonak) @ 37sec
10. Bert Grabsch (Phonak) @ 41sec
11. Jens Voigt (CSC) @ 43sec
12. Oscar Sevilla (Phonak) @ 44sec
13. Manuel Beltran (US Postal) @ 47sec
15. Mikel Pradera (Illes Balears) @ 55sec
16. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) s.t.
17. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) @ 57sec
18. Bobby Julich (CSC) @ 1min
19. Francisco Mancebo (Ille Balears) @ 1min 1sec
20. Kurt-Asle Arvesen (CSC) @ 1min 4sec
 

Points (Green Jersey)

1. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) 93 points
2. Jean-Patrick Nazon (Ag2r) 85
3. Jaan Kirsipuu (Ag2R) 74

Climber (Polka Dot Jersey)

1. Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) 19 points
2. Janeck Tombak (Cofidis) 14
3. Jens Voigt (CSC) 9

Young Rider (White Jersey)

1. Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) 14hr 56min 7sec
2. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) @ 48sec
3. Fabian Cacellara (Fassa Bortolo) 2 1min 11sec

Team GC:

1. US Postal 42hr 20min 59sec
2. Phonak @ 1min 13sec
3. T-Mobile @ 1min 44sec
4. CSC @ 1min 52sec

Stage 4 introduction:

The weather is not planning to be friendly to the racers today. It is expected to rain in the afternoon, sometimes hard. It should also be windy with strong gusts.

The teams will go off in 5 minute intervals in reverse Team GC order. Euskaltel, who had their entire team in the second group in yesterday's stage will go first, then Credit Agricole. Fassa Bortolo, CSC and finally US Postal should be the final 3.

As expected, the riders who lost a lot of time were very upset with the inclusion of the pave in yesterday's stage. Also the Spanish press thinks US Postal was unsportsmanlike in their attack on the first section of the pave when Mayo was trying to regain the field after crashing. I think with riders everywhere falling in the leadup frenzy to the cobbles, it would have been impossible to implement any aggresive strategy if it were required that all attacks wait until the pack was intact. If a racer feels like waiting, that's his choice. But it's a race. I would expect that there will be less reluctance to attack Armstrong now when and if he has problems.

There is a new rule that substantially limits how much time a rider can lose in the team time trial. It's about as complex as the IRS code. The time for the team is that of the 5th rider across the line. The most any team can lose to the winning team is 3 minutes. The most the second place team can lose is 20 seconds. Third place can only lose 30 seconds. Got your green eyeshade?

At lot has been written about this rule, most of it negative. Here is my view:

I might submit that this rule goes to the heart of Tour de France culture and it's origins.

The Tour's founder, Henri Desgrange, felt very strongly that the winner of the Tour should be the victor by virtue of his own efforts. He detested the idea that a weaker rider might win because he had a stronger team or that a better rider might fail to win because his team was not strong enough.

It all came to a head in the 1929 tour when an ailing Maurice Dewaele was nursed through the final stages and eventual overall victory by his powerful Alcyon team. This enraged Desgrange.

The next year, trying to solve the problem, Desgrange did away with trade teams and switched to a national team format. This did not bring about the resolution Desgrange sought, but it demonstrates the seriousness with which this question was viewed.

In the 21st century, we don't take these concerns as seriously as Desgrange did, but the strength of the Tour culture cannot be ignored.

The race: It's raining. It doesn't seem too windy. With the teams using rear disc wheels, that is a mercy. Leaving the town of Cambrai the riders are taking the corners very carefully. The white lines painted on the roads are very slippery. It looks like the teams are waiting to get on the open road before pouring on the coals.

So far, it looks like the teams have chosen to ride single rather than double pace lines. US Postal's director Bruyneel has already said that his team will be using a single line.

T-Mobile just took off. Several of the riders looked rather tightly wound. As they rolled off to start, one rider's rear wheel slipped on a white line. That must have been a scary moment.

Euskaltel has finished. The finish is terrible on a raining day with corners on cobbles. As RAGT came into the final corner on the cobles, some of the riders pulled their feet out of the clips.

US Postal is off. They quickly and neatly formed a line with Ekimov taking the team through the first corner. Eveyone is now either in the barn or riding in the rain.

T-Mobile's Guerini punctures. They don't wait.

Phonak loses a guy. Tyler holds things up. They are back together.

Phonak gets another flat.

CSC has a three man pileup in a corner. Basso needs a new bike.

US Postal loses Noval. He crashed yesterday. He must be hurting.

Oh no. Phonak gets another flat. It looks like they are down to 6 riders.

Now that's riding! Liberty Seguros has caught FDJ, who started 5 minutes ahead of them.

Phonak is down to 5 riders and they are hauling! At the third time check they are in 2nd place.

Tyler and his band of 4 brave Phonaks crossed the line and have set the best time so far.

Postal crosses the line with the fastest time. They came in about 1 whole minute faster than Phonak! Armstrong is solidly in Yellow.


Stage 5, Thursday, July 8: 200.5 km, Amiens - Chartres

Km 70.0: Mont des Fourches, 1.8 km climb at 4.3%, 4th Cat

Results:

1. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) 5hr 5min 58sec
2. Jakob Piil (CSC) s.t.
3. Sandy Casar (FDJ) s.t.
4. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) s.t.
5. Magnus Backstedt (Alessio) @ 3sec
6. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) @ 12min 33sec
7. Janeck Tomback (Cofidis) s.t.
8. Thor Hoshovd (Credit Agricole) s.t.
9. Rene Haselbacher (Gerolsteiner) s.t.
10. Jean-Patrick Nazon (Ag2R) s.t.

GC after Stage 5:

1. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) 20hr 3min 39sec
2. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) @ 3min 13sec
3. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 4min 6sec
4. Magnus Backstedt (Alessio) @ 6min 3sec
5. Jakob Piil (CSC) @ 6min 58sec
6. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) @ 9min 35sec
7. George Hincapie (US Postal) @ 9min 45sec
8. Floyd Landis (US Postal) @ 9min 51sec
9. Jose Azevedo (US Postal) @ 9min 57sec
10. Jose Luis Rubiera (Us Postal) @ 9min 59sec
11. Jose Enrique Gutierrez (Phonak) @ 10min 2sec
12. Viatcheslav Ekimov (US Postal) @ 10min 5sec
13. Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) @ 10min 11sec
21. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 10min 30sec
23. Bobby Julich (CSC) @ 10min 35sec
24. Francisco Mancebo (Ille Balears) @ 10min 36sec
26. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 10min 43sec
31. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 10min 52sec
38. Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) @ 11min 20sec
73. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 12min 57sec
95. Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) @ 15min 2sec
181 Classified finishers

Points (Green Jersey):

1. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) 113 points
2. Jean-Patrick Nazon (Ag2R) 101
3. Jaan Kisipuu (Agr2R) 88

Climber (Polka Dot Jersey):

1. Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) 19 points
2. Janeck Tombak (Cofidis) 14
3. Jens Voigt (CSC) 9

Young Rider (white Jersey):

1. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) 20hr 3min 49sec
2. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 4min 6sec
3. Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) @ 10min 49sec

Team GC:

1. CSC 58hr 5min 51sec
2. Alessio @ 2min 4sec
3. Brioches La Boulangere @ 3min 16sec
4. FDJ @ 6min 12sec
5. US Postal @ 10min 41sec

Stage 5 preview:

Lance Armstrong will tie Miguel Indurain's 60 days in yellow today. Ahead of both of them are Bernard Hinault at 78 and Eddy Merckx at 96 days. Jacques Anquetil sits behind them all at 51 days in the lead.

Wet and windy for today. At the 30 kilometer mark the riders were having their rain vests brought up to them.

The only categorized climb, the Mont des Fourches carries only 3 points for the winner. Paolo Bettini has a 5 point lead in the competion for the spotted jersey, so he can't lose it today.

185 riders started today. Eddy Seigneur of RAGT finished outside the time limit in yesterday's team time trial. Also, Fassa Bortolo's Marco Velo had to quit after crashing in stage two. He broke his collarbone and severely cut his shoulder when he landed on a broken bottle. This is a serious loss for Fassa Bortolo because his is the designated final lead-out man for Alessandro Petacchi. For all the crashes in yesterday's rainy, slippery team time trial, no one was seriously injured.

Blood tests were administered to 33 riders, all were found to be OK.

The race:

Km 60: After a flurry of attacks, a break managed to establish itself by about the 20th kilometer. The pack has let them have their way for now. Their lead is 12min 15sec. Postal is riding at the front and seems unworried. For now, while they are all excellent racers, none in the break are threats to the general classification:

Thomas Voeckler (Brioches la Boulangere) is 59th in GC @ 3min
Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) 120th @ 6min 49sec
Sandy Casar (FDJ) 131st @ 7min 16sec
Magnus Backstedt (Alessio) 141st @ 9min 9sec
Jakob Piil (CSC) 144th @ 10min 12sec

Km 82. Clearly the US Postal team is living up to its promise of not working to defend Armstong's Yellow Jersey. The lead is up to 14min 30sec with 118 km to go. If the sprinter's teams want a piece of this stage they had better think about closing the gap.

Km 90. The gap is now 15min 43sec. Quick Step has sent a couple of riders to help the chase. These guys may be gone.

Km 111. The winds and the higher pace has caused some havoc in the peloton. The gap is down to 15min 8sec. Gerolsteiner, Lotto and Fassa Bortolo are helping at the front. The peloton has split and regrouped and is now split into three groups again. Bradley McGee is in trouble as is Mario Cipollini. The rain has stopped for now.

There has been a crash at the front of the peloton. Several US Postal riders are involved, but not Lance. Petacchi and Rabobank's Boogered might have gone down.

Km 121. The pace of the chase has eased with the crash. The gap to the 5 breakaways is now 16min 11sec. Petacchi and Boogerd seems to be up and OK. Most of the Fassa Bortolo team went back to pace Petacchi.

The Petacchi group is back in the peloton. It's wetting up a bit again and the wind is blowing. It's a charming summer day in France. Postal is leading the peloton.

Km 127. The gap has risen to 16min 52 seconds. The 5 riders in the break are ridng well together, no one is missing his turn at the front. Tyler Hamilton is being paced back up to the peloton by a bunch of Phonaks. Probably a flat, he wasn't caught in the crash. It's drying out again. Jackets and booties are coming off.

Well, heck! FDJ has just reported that Bradley McGee has abandoned the Tour because of back problems.

Km 150. The gap is 15min 13sec. Postal is leading the field in the rain.

Km 162. The gap is 14min 41sec. Thomas Voeckler, barring misfortune, will be in yellow in about 37 kilometers.

Km 174. The gap is back up to 15min 15sec. The 5 riders in the break look really tired. Voeckler, in his French Champion's jersey is starting to rock his shoulders. The pack seems very uninterested in much of anything except getting the stage over with. At one point the speed of the Postal-led peloton was measured at 30 km/hr. If Voeckler gets the yellow with a 10 or 12 minute lead, he should be well able to keep it until next Friday with the ride over the Aspin and the climb to La Mongie.

Km 180. A crash in the middle of the peloton. The pack was going rather slowly through a right hand corner that might have had a reverse camber. There was a super-slick place and the riders just had their bikes slide out from under them. McEwen, Bettini and Kessler, among others, went down. No one seems hurt. The gap up to the break is 14min 41sec. The riders in the break can see the towers of the cathedral of Chartres. They are going straight into a strong headwind that has the flags by the road straight out.

Km 190, 10 to go. Ok, now it's started. Backstedt attacks his breakaway companions. Piil grinds slowly back up to him, bringing the others. Voeckler counters and he's caught.

5 km to go. The attacks and counters are constant now. The gap is staying over 14 minutes so the pack has really given up as the breakaway riders slow and speed up.

Piil goes, O'Grady goes after him. Voeckler, behind Backstedt and Casar has to go around and bridge.

Now it's O'Grady, Voeckler and Piil.

O'Grady goes! Voeckler and Pill are working to catch him but he has a nice gap.

2 km to go. Piil and Voecker bridge back up.

BAM! Voeckler goes. O'Grady drags Piil back up to him

The finish. While the 3 slow down to play cat and mouse, Backstedt and Casar arrive.

Backstedt takes the responsibility to get the race going again and lead it out. O'Grady takes it with Piil 2nd and Casar 3rd.

Voeckler is in Yellow, but we don't know by how much. The pack is a ways back. There was a crash in the middle of the field on the roads leading into town. No one seemed to be hurt.

Robbie McEwen won the field sprint, with the pack coming in 12minutes 36 seconds after the break.


Stage 6, Friday, July 9: 196 km, Bonneval - Angers

Stage 6 Results:

1. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) 4hr 33min 41sec
2. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) s.t.
3. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) s.t.
4. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) s.t.
5. Baden Cooke (FDJ) s.t.
6. Sergio Marinangeli (Domina Vacanze) s.t.
7. Jerome Pineau (Brioches La Boulangere) s.t.
8. Julian Dean (Credit Agricole) s.t.
9. Janeck Tombak (Cofidis) s.t.
10. Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2R) s.t.

GC after Stage 6:

1. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) 24hr 37min 30sec
2. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) @ 3min 1sec
3. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 4min 6sec
4. Magnus Backstedt (Alessio) @ 6min 6sec
5. Jakob Piil (CSC) @ 6min 58sec
6. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) @ 9min 35sec
7. George Hincapie (US Postal) @ 9min 45sec
8. Floyd Landis (US Postal) @ 9min 51sec
9. Jose Azevedo (US Postal) @ 9min 57sec
10. Jose Luis Rubiera (Us Postal) @ 9min 59sec
11. Jose Enrique Gutierrez (Phonak) @ 10min 2sec
12. Viatcheslav Ekimov (US Postal) @ 10min 5sec
13. Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) @ 10min 11sec
21. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 10min 30sec
24. Bobby Julich (CSC) @ 10min 35sec
25. Francisco Mancebo (Ille Balears) @ 10min 36sec
26. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 10min 43sec
31. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 10min 52sec
39. Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) @ 11min 20sec
73. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 12min 57sec
94. Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) @ 15min 2sec
179 Classified finishers

Points (Green Jersey):

1. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) 115 points
2. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) 113
3. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) 111
4. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) 107
5. Jean-Patrick Nazon (Ag2R) 101
6. Jaan Kisipuu (Agr2R) 89

Climber (Polka Dot Jersey):

1. Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) 19 points
2. Janeck Tombak (Cofidis) 14
3. Jens Voigt (CSC) 9

Young Rider (white Jersey):

1. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) 24hr 37min 30sec
2. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 4min 6sec
3. Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) @ 10min 49sec

Team GC:

1. CSC 71hr 46min 54sec
2. Alessio @ 2min 4sec
3. Brioches La Boulangere @ 3min 16sec
4. FDJ @ 6min 12sec
5. US Postal @ 10min 41sec

Stage 6 preview:

There are no categorized climbs on stage 6. Therefore Paolo Bettini's Polka Dotted Climber's jersey is absolutely safe for another day. Excepting the time trial stages, today and Stage 14 are the only remaining stages without rated climbs.

The weather should not be as bad as yesterday. There should be wind and some showers, but it should clear up by the finish.

In addidtion to Bradley McGee, Brioches La Boulangere rider Maryan Hary will not start today. He missed the time cutoff yesterday. Alessandro Petacchi crashed yesterday. No broken bones, but he's pretty bruised. He is going back to Italy today. Mario Cipollini is also withdrawing from the race because of crash injuries. That makes a total of 8 Tour starts for Super Mario. He has never managed to finish the Tour de France.

The Race:

Km 32: There was a crash involving Armstrong in the early kilometers. He was up and chasing with the help of his teammates immediately and rejoined the pack. There were a flurry of escape attempts and now one looks like it might stick. Six riders have a gap of 30 seconds:

Carlos Da Cruz (FDJ)
Alessandro Bertolini (Alessio)
Marc Lotz (Rabobank)
Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo)
Jimmy Engouvlent (Cofidis)
Kurt-Asle Arveson (CSC)

I don't think any of them can be considered GC threats.

Km 49: The lead is up to 2min 50sec. The best placed rider in the break is Arvessen. He is in 25th place in GC, down 10min 39sec. Brioches La Boulangere is at the front working to protect Thomas Voeckler's lead. They look like they will need some more help to do that. The riders in the break can all pound the big ring rather well.

Km 73: The gap is at 4min 9sec. Quick Step is helping a bit in the chase.

Km 97. The gap has grown to 4min 25sec. The speed increased in the second hour to 44.3 km/hr. The average speed for the first two hours combined is 42.9km/hr. The racing seems to have taken a slight pause as the race passes through the feed zone and riders in both the break and the peloton empty their bladders. Everyone is regrouped and racing again.

Km 105: Lotto has come to the front to join Brioches and Quick Step. They poured on a bit of gas and the peloton is strung out. The gap has come down to 3min 57sec. The 6 riders in the break are doing a beautiful textbook circular paceline with nice, short pulls. No one seems to be avoiding his share of the work. The wind is either in the rider's faces or a crosswind. It is predicted that towards the end of the stage it could switch to a tailwind.

Km 129. The gap has grown to 4min 27sec. Lotto has pulled off the front to go back and pace Robbie McEwen back into the field. He must be having stomach problems because the braces of his bib shorts are flying. He's now safely with the peloton and is fixing his shorts and getting the suspenders under his jersey.

The pace is getting whipped up again and the field is strung out. The sky is clear. The roads have been a bit wet, but no rain has fallen on the racers.

Km 138. The gap went down fast. It's at 3min 37sec. Ag2R and Gerolsteiner have sent some riders up to help. The paceline at the front of the field looks crisp and fast. I don't think the six guys out front will make it. After being denied yesterday, the sprinters want a piece of today's action.

Km 146. The gap to the 6 breakaways is 2min 52sec. A few drops did fall earlier. There are big, nasty-looking black clouds hovering behind the peloton. I'm sure they want to beat them home.

Km 160, 35 to go. The gap just fell under 2 minutes. The 6 breakways are still working hard, but they must know that they will be caught.

Km 171. Jimmy Engoulvent took off and won the last intermediate sprint. In doing so the break lost Bertolini and Arvesen. The break is down to 4, Engoulvent, Flecha, Lotz and Dacruz. It doesn't mean a whole lot at this point, the gap is 1min 39sec.

Km 178. And maybe I'm wrong. The gap is staying at 1 min 37sec. Brioches has pulled its men off the front. Voeckler's Yellow Jersey is safe. Armstrong has nothing to fear from the 4 riders up front. Only the sprinters have a dog in this fight. Lotto is working, but I wonder if it's enough.

Km 184, 12 to go. Ok, now the pack is working with Gerolsteiner, Lotto, Credit Agricole among the others taking hard pulls. The gap just fell to 1min 8sec. The 4 breakways are not giving up. They continue to work together, doing their best to stay away.

Km 187, 9 to go. The pack can see the break now, about 30 seconds up the road.

5 Km to go. Flecha (Fassa Bortolo) attacks the break and gets away. He has a lot of steam left and actually increases his lead to 17 seconds over the pack. They're in the streets of the city and he's out of sight.

3 Km to go. Flecha has 13 seconds. The other 3 breakways have been caught. He's alone out there, but looking very strong.

1 km to go. He's caught. the sprinters will have their romp.

The finish. With the hard chase, things are a bit disorganized at the front. Quick Step's Tom Boonen takes the sprint easily with Stuart O'Grady second. There is a bad crash at the 1 km to go banner. It look like someone hit the right-hand barrier. According to Tour rules, everyone should get the same time if the accident happens with 1 kilometer to go. Robbie McEwen's shorts are all ripped up. A Gerolsteiner rider is still on the gound with a photographer in his face taking pictures. Armstrong crosses the line with Hincapie and I think Hamilton.

1. Tom Boonen
2. Stuart O'Grady
3. Erik Zabel.

Stage 7, Saturday, July 10: 204.5 km, Châteaubriant - Saint-Brieuc

Km 113.5: Côte de Dinan, 1.1 km climb at 4.3%, 4th Cat
Km 149.0: Côte de Saint-Aide, 1.0 km climb at 6.0%, 3rd Cat

Stage 7 Results:

1. Filippo Pozzatto (Fassa Bortolo) 4hr 31min 34sec
2. Iker Flores (Euskaltel) s.t.
3. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) s.t.
4. Laurent Brochard (Ag2R) @ 10sec
5. Sebastien Hinault (Credit Agricole) s.t.
6. Michele Scarponi (Domina Vacanze) s.t.
7. Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) s.t.
8. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) s.t.
9. Scott Sunderland (Alessio) s.t.
10. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) s.t.
43. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) s.t.

GC after Stage 7:

1. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) 29hr 9min 14sec
2. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) @ 3min 1sec
3. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 4min 6sec
4. Magnus Backstedt (Alessio) @ 6min 6sec
5. Jakob Piil (CSC) @ 6min 58sec
6. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) @ 9min 35sec
7. George Hincapie (US Postal) @ 9min 45sec
8. Floyd Landis (US Postal) @ 9min 51sec
9. Jose Azevedo (US Postal) @ 9min 57sec
10. Jose Luis Rubiera (US Postal) @ 9min 59sec
11. Jose Enrique Gutierrez (Phonak) @ 10min 2sec
12. Viatcheslav Ekimov (US Postal) @ 10min 5sec
13. Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) @ 10min 11sec
18. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) @ 10min 18sec
22. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 10min 30sec
25. Bobby Julich (CSC) @ 10min 35sec
25. Francisco Mancebo (Ille Balears) @ 10min 36sec
26. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 10min 43sec
31. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 10min 52sec
38. Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) @ 11min 20sec
69. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 12min 57sec
89. Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) @ 15min 2sec
176 Classified finishers

Points (Green Jersey):

1. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) 131 points
2. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) 130
3. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) 123
4. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) 122

Climber (Polka Dot Jersey):

1. Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) 20 points
2. Janeck Tombak (Cofidis) 14
3. Jens Voigt (CSC) 9

Young Rider (white Jersey):

1. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) 20hr 9min 14sec
2. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 4min 6sec
3. Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) @ 10min 49sec

Team GC:

1. CSC 85hr 42min 6sec
2. Alessio @ 2min 4sec
3. Brioches La Boulangere @ 3min 16sec
4. FDJ @ 6min 12sec
5. US Postal @ 10min 41sec

Stage 7 preview:

Two riders didn't start today. Rene Haselbacher (Gerolsteiner) crashed heavily yesterday in the 1-kilometer to go fall. He broke his nose and some ribs. Christophe Brandt (Lotto) has tested positive for the pain killer methadone from his Stage 2 sample. The "B" sample hasn't been tested. For now, he's been suspended by Lotto.

It shouldn't rain today, but it will still be a bit windy with either cross or head winds.

The race:

Km 62: The stage has been extremely aggressive with numerous attempts to get away. So far, the peloton has been snuffing out each attempt. Currently Erik Dekker (Rabobank) and Thierry Marichal (Lotto-Domo) are away with a 40 second lead.

Gilberto Simoni has been one of those riders who has been the victim of multiple crashes. I think he also lost time in the Team Time Trial when he let himself get seperated from his team in the last kilmoter and so did not get to take advantage of the "stop-loss" rule. He has terrible morale and has said he thinking of quittng. He is struggling off the back of the pack, getting help from his team.

Km 68. OK, this break may have legs.

Erk Dekker (Rabobank) is 133th in GC @ 17min 9sec
Thierry Marichal (Lotto-Domo) is 150th @ 21min 19sec

Now have a lead of 2min 10sec. Neither is a GC threat. Dekker is the current Dutch Road Champion. He is also the wiliest, smartest racer in the pro peloton. When he has good form, he just knows exactly when to disappear. Many riders in the peloton are using this moment of relaxation in the pack when it seems to have decided to let the break go to get rid of the the morning's coffee.

Km 95: The pair have been able to take advantage of the pack's indifference and extended their lead to 6min 41sec. Frederic Guesdon (FDJ) has taken off after them. Oh. He just took off to say hello to the little woman, give her a kiss and go back to work in the pack. The Tour website says that Tyler Hamilton was injured in yesterday's big crash at the end of the stage. A rider ended up on top of him and Hamilton is suffering some back pain. I hope he's OK by Wednesday when they have 8 categorized climbs.

Km 103. The gap is now up to 8min 27sec. I never did find an average speed for the first hour, but it must have been near 50 km/hr. The second hour was much slower, 45 km/hr. The average for the first 2 hours is 47 km/hr.

Km 113. Time to sober up, gents. Party's over. Credit Agricole and Quick-Step have gone to the front to help Brioches La Boulangere bring Dekker and Marichal back to the fold. The lead is already down to 7min 55sec.

Km 134: The gap is down to 6min 22sec. There have been 2 intermediate sprints. O'Grady and McEwen (a fine Tour for the Irish) have been going after the remaining 3rd place in both sprints. McEwen took O'Grady both times. After the first one, they ended up tied in points. Now McEwen is leading in the Green Jersey competition.

There was another crash. Sven Montgomery (Gerolsteiner) got back up on his bike after a careful examination of his shoulder. He rode 10 yards and got off. He just put his head down in his hands on the hood of a car. His anguish at having to again abandon the Tour is awful to watch.

Km 147. The gap continues to go down. It is now 5min 39sec. FDJ, Credit Agricole and Quick Step are doing most of the work at the front of the peloton.

Km 154: There are drops of rain now. Polka-dot Jersey wearer Paolo Bettini and Jerome Pineau (Brioches La Boulnagere) sprinted for the two remaining places with points at the top of the Saint-Aide. Pineau got 3rd and Bettini snatched a single point to add to his total.

Dekker and Marichal now have a lead of only 4min 30sec.

Km 161. CSC is at the front and hammering hard. There is a strong cross wind and there seems to be more rain. The roads aren't flat. The countryside has rolling terrain. Armstrong, Hamilton and Ullrich, sensing the danger, move towards the front. The gap to Dekker and Marichal is now down to 3min 30sec.

Under the blows of CSC, the pack is starting to break up. The riders are forming small echelons in the hard wind.

Km 168. Ullrich, Armstrong, Hamilton, Heras, Voeckler and Mayo are in the front group. Hincapie takes a pull and the peloton has now split in half. CSC continues to pound away. O'Grady is in the second group ,maybe 20 seconds behind the peloton. Dekker and Marichal now have less than 2 minutes lead.

Km 175, 29 to go. Marichal and Dekker have been caught. The gap to the second group is now about 1min 17sec. Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) is the other big-name rider caught in the wrong end of the split. The rest of the big dogs seems to have been up front when CSC hit the front. The chasers are working hard, but it looks like the Armstrong/Hamilton/Ullrich/Voeckler group is pulling away.

Cofidis is at the front of the second group. The gap is down to 35 seconds.

Kilometer 185, 20 to go. The chase group with O'Grady and Moreau have just made contact with the peloton. Off the front are 4 riders with a 15 second lead: Petrov (Saeco), Piil (CSC), Garcia-Acosta (Illes Balears) and Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo).

12 km to go. Telekom, especially Rolf Aldag, is working hard at the front. Erik Zabel must be feeling frisky. Gerolsteiner is also doing its share. The gap to the 4 up front is 10 seconds.

Oh, the breakaways have sat up. They're caught.

6km to go. There is a long climb up into town. The Spanish (Euskaltel, Illes Balears) are trying hard to get away. T-Mobile is working hard to keep it together.

5 km to go. A group of about 6 with Paolo Bettini have a 30 meter gap.

2 Km to go. Brochard is in the group and he takes flyer. He's caught. Iker Flores (Euskaltel) goes and the break is scrambling. The pack is at least 10 seconds back.

The finish. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) took over from Flores and drove the trio of Pozzatto, Flores and himself home. Bettini, Scarponi and the others in the break couldn't take the high heat Flores threw. They were able to just hold off the hard charging peloton. Once it came to the sprint, Filippo Pozzato won easily from Mancebo who had been pulling as hard as he could for the extra GC time.


Stage 8, Sunday, July 11: 168 km, Lamballe - Quimper

Km 51.0: Côte de Mur-de-Bretagne, 1.6 km climb at 8.4%, 3rd Cat
Km 54.5: Côte de Saint-Mayeux , 1.4 km climb at 6.0%, 4th Cat
Km 127.5: Côte de Ménez-Kuz, 1.9 km climb at 3.8%, 4th Cat
Km 142.5: Côte de l'Enseigne Verte, 4.7 km climb at 3.5%, 4th Cat

Stage 8 Results:

1. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole)
2. Kim Kirchen (Fassa Bortolo) s.t.
3. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) s.t.
4. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) s.t.
5. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) s.t.
6. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) s.t.
7. Laurent Brochard (Ag2R) s.t.
8. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) s.t.
9. Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) s.t.
10. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) s.t.
58. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) s.t.

GC after Stage 8:

1. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) 33hr 3min 36sec
2. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) @ 3min 1sec
3. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 4min 6sec
4. Magnus Backstedt (Alessio) @ 6min 27sec
5. Jakob Piil (CSC) @ 7min 9sec
6. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) @ 9min 35sec
7. George Hincapie (US Postal) @ 9min 45sec
8. Jose Azevedo (US Postal) @ 9min 57sec
9. Jose Enrique Gutierrez (Phonak) @ 10min 2sec
10. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) @ 10min 6sec
11. Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) @ 10min 11sec
12. Floyd Landis (US Postal) @ 10min 12sec
15. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) @ 10min 18sec
19. Viatcheslav Ekimov (US Postal) @ 10min 26sec
20. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 10min 30sec
22. Bobby Julich (CSC) @ 10min 35sec
24. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 10min 43sec
29. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 10min 52sec
36. Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) @ 11min 20sec
66. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 12min 57sec
89. Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) @ 15min 2sec
176 Classified finishers

Points (Green Jersey)

1. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) 158 points
2. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) 149
3. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) 148
4. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) 147
5. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) 139

Climber (Polka Dot Jersey)

1. Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) 20 points
2. Janeck Tomback (Cofidis) 14
3. Ronny Scholz (Gerolsteiner) 12
4. Jens Voigt (CSC) 9
5. Jakob Piil (CSC) 9

Young Rider (White Jersey)

1. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) 33hr 3min 9sec
2. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 4min 6sec
3. Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) @ 10min 49sec

Team GC:

1. CSC 97hr 5min 12sec
2. Alessio @ 2min 4sec
3. Brioches La Boulangere @ 3min 16sec
4. FDJ @ 6min 12sec
5. US Postal @ 10min 41sec

Stage 8 preview:

Weather. Another day of the same. Showers, cool temperatures and winds. The wind is from the Northwest, so it will be head and crosswinds.

There were no overnight withdrawls, so we should have had 176 riders roll off the start.

The Race:

Km 64. After the usual flurry of early attacks, a break of 3 riders established itself. They have a 4min 49sec lead on the field:

Jakob Piil (CSC) 5th in GC @ 6min 58sec
Matteo Tosatto (Fassa Bortolo) 64th @ 12min 43sec
Ronny Scholz (Gerolsteiner) 144th @ 21min 46sec

I would expect that Brioches La Boulangere would work to keep Piil from getting too far down the road and endangering Thomas Voeckler's lead.

Robbie McEwen got second in the 1st intermediate sprint, so he is the virtual Green Jersey right now. O'Grady will have to dig up some points down the road to keep his lead in the points competition. McEwen now has 134 points to O'Grady's 131. Richard Virenque scrambled for a single remaining point on one of the climbs, so he is clearly going after the Polka Dot Jersey this Tour.

Km 74, 91 to go. The trio have a lead of 5min 39sec. Brioches la Boulangere is at the front trying to limit the damage until the sprinter's teams decide to pull it back together.

Km 88. The lead is 5min 48sec. Brioches La Boulangere is still doing all the work. Postal and Armstrong are near the front, as usual. Ullrich is right up there as well. CSC has moved up.

Km 100. The gap is down to 4min 43sec. The peloton is strung out. Domina Vacanze has sent a couple of riders to help Brioches La Boulangere.

Km 112. The gap is down to 3min 23sec. The rain is making the riders look pretty miserable.

Now it's 3min 9sec. Domina Vacanze has sent a second rider up to help Brioches La Boulangere.

Km 121. The lead is down to 2min 45sec. The rain is off and on, mostly on. Still, none of the usual sprinter's teams has gone to the front to help Domina and Brioches. Of course, Fassa Bortolo, CSC and Gerolsteiner will not work to bring the group back, they each have a rider in the break.

Quick Step has sent Bramati up to help with the chase, but he hasn't done any work that I have seen.

Km 135. The gap hasn't changed much. It's 2min 32sec. It looks like the only rider pulling the pack is Domina Vacanze's Secchiari. Everyone else seems to be just sitting on. The lead trio seems to be working together very well. No one is missing his turn at the front.

Quick Step's Richard Virenque just got his second flat in 10 kilometers. That was a really fast rear wheel change. Some of these mechanics can really do their jobs.

Km 141, 27 to go. The gap grew back to 2min 45sec. Credit Agricole finally came to the front to do some work as has Quick Step.

Km 148. The gap had momentarily grown to 3 minutes. On the final climb, the 4th category Côte de l'Enseigne Verte, the Quick Step boys cut it down to 1min 45sec. Now it looks like there is a real chase. Voeckler can relax, he will keep his Yellow Jersey over tomorrow's rest day and Tuesday's start in Limoges.

Km 155, 13 to go. Credit Agricole is working hard, porbably to set things up for Thor Hushovd. Quick Step has to have Tom Boonen in mind. The gap is now down to 37seconds. The peloton is strung out with gaps showing. Zabel, Boonen, Bettini and Hushovd are together near the front. The sharks can smell the meat.

Km 158, 10 to go. Contact. The lead trio is caught. And, just as it's happening, a crash in the back. It's thought a dog got loose.

2 Km to go. The speed is terrific. Michael Rogers of Quick Step is stringing things out as the pack goes through the roundabouts.

The finish. As expected, on the rise to the finish line, Paolo Bettini took off. An attentive Robbie McEwen was right on his wheel. Robbie doesn't want to pull through. Bettini doesn't want to do all the work. Not enough gap. They're caught. Then Kim Kirchen took off and got a good lead. Credit Agricole's Thor Hushovd took off after him and came around Kirchen well before the line and took the win.

Results:

1. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole)
2. Kim Kirchen (Fassa Bortolo)
3. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile)
4. Robbie McEwen (Lotto)
5. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile)
6. Tom Boonen (Quick Step)

Rest Day: Monday, July 12. Transfer to Limoges

News: The Tour has ejected two riders from the Tour becuase they are implicated in a judicial investigation in Italy for doping. Martin Hvastija (Alessio) and Stefano Casagrande (Saeco) will not be allowed to start tomorrow's stage. Also, Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2R), who was caught in the crash late in yesterday's stage has to withdraw. He broke his elbow.

Over 100 riders in this year's Tour have crashed. T-Mobile's Rolf Aldag has bandages on both elbows and 1 knee. He's running out of joints to bruise. Others are tired from the high speed combined with the bad weather. Every rider interviewed has welcomed the rest day as a chance to heal and recover before heading to the Massif Central. They'll need the rest. On Wednesday they confront 9 categorized climbs including one of the 1st Category.

Viewers of the Tour on OLN have heard Paul Sherwen figure out how long it will take to catch this or that breakaway. Sherwin is employing a well-known calculation. Les Woodland sent me a note explaining that the late French broadcaster Robert Chapatte reckoned that a breakaway will lose approximately 1 minute every 10 kilometers to an organized, chasing peloton. The French call this La Loi de Chapatte or Chapette's Law.

Les' note also noted that when Mario Cipollini quietly withdrew from the Tour after doing nothing, the French daily L'Equpe ran the following headline: It's Been his Last Tour.

My own feeling is that if Cipollini races next year, I don't think he'll get an invitation to start the race he's never finished.

Besides a motivated group of challengers, Armstrong is fighting Father Time. In the last 50 years only 2 men have been able to win the Tour de France after reaching their 32nd birthday. Armstrong is 32 and turns 33 this September. Tyler Hamilton turned 33 this March.

Here is the list of over-32 winners of the Tour de France:

1903: Maurice Garin, 32 years old.
1919: Firmin Lambot, 33
1921: Leon Scieur, 33
1922: Firmin Lambot, 36
1923: Henri Pelissier, 34
1926: Lucien Buysse, 34
1929: Maurice Dewaele, 33
1948: Gino Bartali, 34
1952: Fausto Coppi, 33
1980: Joop Zoetemelk, 33
1996: Bjarne Riis, 32


Stage 9, Tuesday, July 13: 160.5 km, Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat - Guéret

Km 34.0: Côte de la Croix de Mapertuis (Beaumont-du-Lac), 5.5 km climb at 3.5%, 4th Cat
Km 92.0: Côte d'Aubusson, 3.5 km climb at 4.2%, 4th Cat

Stage 9 Results:

1. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) 3hr 32min 55sec
2. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) s.t.
3. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) s.t.
4. Jerome Pineau (Brioches La Boulangere) s.t.
5. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) s.t.
6. Janeck Tomback (Cofidis) s.t.
7. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) s.t.
8. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) s.t.
9. Sergio Marinangeli (Domina Vacanze) s.t.
10. Inigo Landaluze (Euskaltel) s.t.
17. Filippo Simeoni (Domina Vacanze) s.t.

GC after Stage 8. There should be no change in the top ranks except for Stuart O'Grady's time bonus for 3rd place:

1. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) 36hr 36min 31sec
2. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) @ 2min 53sec
3. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 4min 6sec
4. Magnus Backstedt (Alessio) @ 6min 27sec
5. Jakob Piil (CSC) @ 7min 9sec
6. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) @ 9min 35sec
7. George Hincapie (US Postal) @ 9min 45sec
8. Jose Azevedo (US Postal) @ 9min 57sec
9. Jose Enrique Gutierrez (Phonak) @ 10min 2sec
10. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) @ 10min 6sec
11. Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) @ 10min 11sec
12. Floyd Landis (US Postal) @ 10min 12sec
15. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) @ 10min 18sec
19. Viatcheslav Ekimov (US Postal) @ 10min 26sec
20. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 10min 30sec
22. Bobby Julich (CSC) @ 10min 35sec
23. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 10min 43sec
28. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 10min 52sec
34. Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) @ 11min 20sec
62. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 12min 57sec
86. Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) @ 15min 2sec
172 Classified finishers

Points (Green Jersey)

1. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) 195 points
2. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) 177
3. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) 175
4. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) 170
5. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) 157

Climber (Polka Dot Jersey)

1. Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) 20 points
2. Janeck Tomback (Cofidis) 14
3. Ronny Scholz (Gerolsteiner) 12
4. Jens Voigt (CSC) 9
5. Jakob Piil (CSC) 9

Young Rider (White Jersey)

1. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) 36hr 36min 31sec
2. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 4min 6sec
3. Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) @ 10min 49sec

Team GC:

1. CSC 107hr 43min 57sec
2. Alessio @ 2min 4sec
3. Brioches La Boulangere @ 3min 16sec
4. FDJ @ 6min 12sec
5. US Postal @ 10min 41sec
6. Phonak @ 11min 54sec

Stage 9 preview:

The weather. The riders finally get a little bit of relief. It should not rain, but it will be overcast. It is 20C (68F) at the start with a slight 4 mph (6KPH) breeze from the WSW.

173 riders started the stage.

The start city, St. Leonard de Noblat, is the home town of Raymond Poulidor who never won the Tour de France but came in 2nd 3 times and 3rd 5 times in 14 starts. His nickname was "the Eternal Second", but Joop Zoetemelk was second in the Tour 6 times. Poulidor had the misfortune to have his career span both Anquetil and Merckx. For all of his brilliant riding, Poulidor never spent a single day in Yellow. Today, no one in French cycling is more loved. Les Woodland quotes former Tour winner and later Poulidor's director Antonin Magne, "I know farms in the Limoges area where his picture hangs between Bernadette Soubirous (the 14-year-old who saw the Virgin at Lourdes) and the picture of the family's grandfather."

The stage's moderately lumpy profile should provide ample opportunity for aggressive riding. Both the bigger, stronger men who can turn the big gears (rouleurs) and the sprinters will see this as a last opportunity before the bigger mountains of the Central Massif and the Pyrenees.

The Race:

Km 34. There has been a constant swarm of attacks. Euskaltel has come out swinging as have riders for Fassa Botolo and Alessio. The high speed of the opening kilometers has snuffed out each escape attempt. Big Jaan Kirsipuu was having trouble from the start, dangling off the back of the peloton. He has abandoned. Richard Virenque (Quick Step) won the first Mountains points of the day on the 4th Category Côte de la Croix de Mapertuis.

Km 48. A break has finally managed to stick. Inigo Landaluze (Euskaltel) and Filippo Simeoni (Domina Vacanze) have a gap of 1min 13sec. Neither is threat to the overall lead.

Landaluze is 126th @ 20min 18sec
Simeoni is 169th @ 30min 3sec.

Current Tour leader Thomas Voeckler's Brioches La Boulangere is leading the peloton and several unsucessful attempts to get up to the lead duo have been caught. The average speed for the first hour was 44.9 km/hr.

Km. 61. Landaluze took the first intermediate sprint. More importantly, Robbie McEwen got the 3rd place when he led the peloton across the line. This gave him another 2 points to add to his slim lead over Stuart O'Grady in their fight for the Green jersey. The lead duo now have a gap of 2min 31sec.

Km 74. The peloton has eased up on the gas. The gap to the duo has grown to 5min 25sec. Karsten Kroon (Rabobank) is trying to get up to the breakaways. He's 3min 42sec behind them and 1min 42sec ahead of the pack. Jan Ullrich used this moment of low intensity to stop and have his mechanic adjust his seat post. It took almost a minute. He has a group of pink T-Mobile riders pacing him back up to the field.

Ullrich is back in the peloton.

Km. 84. Ho ho ho! The gap is up to 8min 12sec with Karsten Kroon 5 minutes behind them, dangling in the middle The pack is being lead by Brioches La Boulangere, but they aren't working too hard. The pack is probably thinking about tomorrow's 9 categorized climbs and is conserving its energy. Landaluze and Simeoni are riding hard and well, working together very smoothly.

The breakaways sucked up all the 2nd intermediate sprint points, so there was nothing left for O'Grady and McEwen to fight over.

Km 96. The gap is up to 10 minutes. Kroon isn't making any progress towards Simeoni and Landaluze. The average speed for the first two hours is 45.1 km/hr.

At the top of the second climb, the Côte d'Aubusson, Kroon gave up. He pulled off the side of the road, relieved himself and let the pack catch him. All the Mountains points were taken up by the breakways. None for Bettini or Virenque.

Credit Agricole has come to the front to help the pack chase and the speed has really kicked up.

Km 106. Quick Step has, ahem, stepped up to the plate. Bettini is taking a good, hard pull. The gap has started to drop. It's 9min 9sec. With 54 kilometers to go, Chapette's Law (see the Rest Day posting below) would say that the pack has to really work to have a chance of pulling the lead duo back.

Km 112. Now Lotto has sent some boys to the front. The pack is zooming along at 70 km/hr on a slight downhill section. The gap just fell below 8 minutes.

Km. 120. The snap is coming out of the pulls of Simeoni and Landaluze. Both are beginning to look tired. They are losing twice Chapette's expectation. The peloton is closing at the rate of almost 2 minutes per 10 kilometers. Currently the gap is about 6 minutes with 40 kilmoters to go.

Quick Step and Lotto are taking big, hard pulls. No one is cheerfully talking and smiling. The riders are on the drops and digging in. The peloton is a long, single line.

Km 129. Bam! The gap is now 4min 45sec. Quick Step has even called Richard Virenque to take some pulls. I would have thought he would be protected, to keep him rested, espcially before the first big mountains stage. He clearly has Polka-Dot ambitions. Quick Step must feel that their Tom Boonen has the suds to win today.

Km 138. Oooh, this is going to be close. There are 22 kilometers to go. The gap is 3min 34sec. The roads are heavy, with constant rolling up and down. The riders at the front of the peloton are taking short, hard, crisp pulls.

Now it's 3min 4sec.

20 km to go. Holy Chainstays, Batman! These guys are hauling! Quick Step's big Davide Bramati pounds, then Paolo Bettini. It's down to 2min 40sec.

13 km to go. The gap is 2 minutes. Some Domina Vacanze riders tried to break up the chase and some harsh words were traded. The Domina guys seem to be gone. The lead riders in the peloton were also upset that the motorcycle with the camera was too close and impeding the chase. Postal and T-Mobile are sitting right behind the active chasers.

Now the gap is 1 minute 40 seconds. Gerolsteiner and FDJ are up helping the chase now.

Km 153, 7 to go. A rider hit one of the center barriers and took down CSC's Kurt-Asle Arvesen. Arvesen gets back up and starts riding. I am surprised something like this didn't happen sooner. The gap is about 1 minute. An attack has gone off the front of the field. Fassa Bortolo's Flecha takes two riders with him.

The Flecha group is caught. The gap to the lead duo is under 1 minute. Hot, Hot Hot!

4 km to go. The gap to Simeoni and Landaluze is 39 seconds. The lead in the front of the pack keeps breaking up and re-forming.

2 km to go. 20 seconds. They may make it.

The finish. Awww, what a pair of blockheads. In the final kilometer they started slowing, jockeying for the right position for the sprint. In the last couple hundred meters, Landaluze made Simeoni keep pulling, refusing to take his turn as the raging peloton closed in. The peloton snapped them up just before the line. It was a photo finish, really close. Robbie McEwen looks like he took it.


Stage 10, Wednesday, July 14: 237 km, Limoges - Saint-Flour

Km 39.5: Le Mont Gargan, 3.3 km climb at 3.5%, 4th Cat
Km 67.0: Col de Lestards, 7.0 km climb at 4.7%, 3rd Category
Km 79.0: Côte de Saint-Yrieix-le-Déjalat, 2.7 km climb at 6.1%, 3rd Cat
Km 114.5: Côte de Soursac, 4.4 km climb at 4.9%, 3rd Cat
Km 126.5: Côte de Chalvignac, 3.5 km climb at 6.9%, 3rd Cat
Km 162.0: Col de Neronne, 8.3 km climb at 3.3%, 2nd Cat
Km 173.5: Col du Pas de Peyrol (Le Puy Mary), 5.5 km climb at 8.0%, 1st Cat
Km 189.0: Col d'Entremont, 2.9 km climb at 5.4%, 3rd Cat
Km 205.5: Col de Prat de Bouc (Plomb du Cantal), 8.2 km climb at 6.0%, 2nd Cat

Stage 10 results: The race was finished half an hour faster than the most optimistic projections. Virenque escaped at about kilometer 35.

1. Richard Virenque (Quick Step) 6hr 24sec
2. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) @ 5min 19sec
3. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) s.t.
4. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) s.t.
5. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) s.t.
6. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) s.t.
7. Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner) s.t.
8. Kim Kirchen (Fassa Bortolo) s.t.
9. Michele Scarponi (Domina Vacanze) s.t.
10. Pietro Cauccioli (Alessio) s.t.
11. Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) s.t.
13. Ivan Basso (CSC) s.t.
15. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) s.t.
17. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 5min 26sec
18. Bobby Julich (CSC) s.t.
19. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) s.t.
26. Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) s.t.
44. Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) s.t.
The "Autobus" group of riders dropped on the climbs came in at 24min 24sec.
169 classified finishers.

GC after stage 10:

1. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) 42hr 42min 14sec
2. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) @ 3min
3. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 4min 13sec
4. Richard Virenque (Quick Step) @ 6min 52sec
5. Jakob Piil (CSC) @ 7min 31sec
6. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) @ 9min 35sec
7. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) @ 9min 58sec
8. Jose Azevedo (US Postal) @ 10min 4sec
9. Jose Enrique Gutierrez (Phonak) @ 10min 2sec
10. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) @ 10min 18sec
11. Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) s.t.
17. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 10min 30sec
18. Bobby Julich (CSC) @ 10min 42sec
19. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 10min 50sec
20. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 10min 52sec
26. Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) @ 11min 27sec
48. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 13min 4sec
50. Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) @ 15min 2sec

Points (Green Jersey)

1. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) 195 points
2. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) 185
3. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) 177
4. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) 175
5. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) 163

Climber (Polka Dot Jersey)

1. Richard Virenque (Quick Step) 73 points
2. Axel Merckx (Lotto) 57
3. Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) 36

Young Rider (White Jersey)

1. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) 42hr 42min 14sec
2. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 4min 13sec
3. Michele Scarponi (Domina Vacanze) @ 12min 12sec

Team GC:

1. CSC 126hr 1min 13sec
2. Alessio @ 2min 23sec
3. Brioches La Boulangere @ 4min 4sec
4. Quick Step @ 9min 49sec
5. US Postal @ 10min 48sec
6. Phonak @ 12min 8sec

Stage 10 preview:

Chairman Bill's post-race note: The big guns held their fire today. I wrote the notes below fully expecting a very aggressive stage. I make a habit of being wrong about the future.

This is the day we have been waiting a year for. Today no one can hide. The climbers will finally get a chance to turn their pedals in anger as they spend about six and a half hours in the longest stage of the 2004 Tour. So far, the level of strength that Armstrong, Ullrich, Hamilton, Heras, Mayo, Leipheimer and the others have brought to the Tour has been a cipher. We know they are strong. How strong?

Today is Bastille Day and a Frenchman is in Yellow. Can Thomas Voeckler and his wrung-out Brioches La Boulangere team defend their lead against the certain onslaught? I am guessing that the Euskaltel team will be seeking an early redemption after losing so much time in the first week. From what some of the riders have said in interviews, they are expecting the same and they think the Basque attacks will be the catalyst for the day's action.

Virenque is on the hunt for a record 7th Polka Dot Jersey. From a few dustups earlier, Mayo, possibly too far behind in GC to think about winning the Tour, may be thinking of denying Virenque that particular glory. Mayo may be planning on wearing the spots.

Virenque's technique has been to go off on early, long breakways, gobbling up the big mountains points before the GC men get there. Cyrille Guimard noted that Mayo might be thinking of tagging along. No one's going to let Iban Mayo, the man who out time-trialed Armstrong up Mount Ventoux this Spring, take off. Virenque's life may be a bit more complicated than he had planned.

Note: The Category 1 Col du Pas de Peyrol (Km 173) has a patch of 15% gradient. That should concentrate their attention.

The Race:

Km 139. Under rather nice weather and again no rain, the race started aggressively. Breaks were attempted almost from the gun.

Before km 39 and Mount Gargan, the first rated climb, Richard Virenque (Quick Step) and Axel Merckx (Lotto) got away. Sylvain Chavanel started with them, but was dropped. Over all the climbs Virenque has been picking up the climber's points, exactly as everyone expected. Back in the peloton, current Polka Dot Bettini has been catching the field sprint for 3rd place over each climb. Brioches La Boulangere has been at the front chasing, but not too hard, to protect Thomas Voeckler's overall lead.

At present Virenque and Merckx have a lead of 9min 12sec.

Saeco's Mirko Celestino abandoned the race, so we're down to 171 riders in the Tour.

Km 150. Virenque and Merckx have grown their lead to 10min 45sec. Brioches La Boulangere continues to do the work at the front of the peloton.

Virenque is currently 55th in GC at 12min 35sec
Merckx is 64th @ 12min 57sec

Km 158. Virenque and Merckx are on the second category Col de Neronne. They seem to be pedaling strongly with Virenque in the lead. There are just the fewest wisps of cottony clouds in the sky. The defecit to the pack is 10min 45sec.

Angel Vicioso (Liberty Seguros) has just abandoned. He was a victim of a bad crash earlier in the Tour.

It's still all Brioches La Boulangere at the front of the peloton with Tyler Hamilton's Phonaks right behind. Got any plans today, Tyler?

The peloton has been riding a fair tempo. Up the 2nd category Col de Neronne, the pack is intact with no real pressure showing. The gradient (3.3%) probably isn't steep enough for the climbers to really make use of their better strength-to-weight ratio. Orange Euskies are moving up.

Km 172, 65 to go. Virenque and Merckx are on the 1st Category Pas de Peyrol. The mountain is starting to bite. Virenque gets out of his saddle and starts to pull away from Merckx. Merckx stays seated and just grinds it out.

Km 181. Virenque went over the mountain 35 seconds ahead of Merckx. In the peloton lower down the mountain, Mayo has had TWO mechanicals! Ullrich is at the front of the peloton with Armstrong right by him.

The peloton is wrecked! Armstrong is riding what looks to be tempo for him. Ullrich is there. Riders are getting shelled. Voeckler has been dropped.

Km 188. Voeckler regained the lead group and went over what looked like to be 3rd. The boy has true grit. On the descent Virenque did not wait for Merckx. Virenque is one of the best descenders alive. He still has a 35 second lead on Merckx. The peloton is about 9 minutes behind.

T-Mobile's Matthias Kessler had a horrifying crash and hit a fence post while decending at high speed. He gets up and looks OK. I can't believe it. He's back up and riding.

Km 197. There is one more climb. Virenque is going for the solo Bastille Day victory. Merckx is stuck in the middle, about a minute behind the Frenchman. The pack is about 7 minutes, 30 seconds behind Merckx. The lead pack looks to be about 50 riders and everyone who matters seems to be there: Armstrong, Hamilton, Ullrich.

Sebastien Hinault (Credit Agricole) crashed badly and is being put in an ambulance

Km 203. On the final climb. Virenque is just ticking over nicely. He must have come to the Tour with excellent form because he still looks good on the bike wihtout any sign of struggle. Merckx is now about 4 minutes behinds him, sweat pouring off his face. Merckx is a big boy and I'm sure these mountains have been tough on him. The pack is being led by Brioches La Boulangere. Voeckler in Yellow is right up near the front as are the GC contenders. Looks like not much will be settled today.

It looks like the French will have a good Bastille Day. They should have a Frenchman in Yellow, Polka Dots and a French stage victory. I think Virenque just has to stay upright with his near 8-minute lead on the Yellow Jersey group.

Stuart O'Grady seems to be staying in contact with the front group. He may preserve his second place and be able to go for some Green Jersey points. Robbie McEwen is way back with the giant vikings Hushovd and Backstedt, last I saw.

Oh, and Paolo Bettini was dropped several climbs ago. He was turning squares. His days in spots are over.

Km 215, 22 to go. Merckx has been caught in the descent. Virenque is about 7 minutes down the road. Voeckler looked to be in a bit of trouble in the final kilometer of the last climb. He did go over with the lead group. He should be in Yellow for another day.

Km 224, 13 to go. Virenque is still 6min 45sec ahead of a 50-odd man peloton. He looks tired, but is still pushing his bike along at a really good clip. Merckx was dropped by the peloton. Damn!

It's an uphill finish in St. Flour. Should be interesting.

8 km to go. The lead hasn't changed. Brioches La Boulangere is still at the front doing all the work. Virenque is doing his tongue-hanging-out routine again.

On the flat section Merckx has fought his way back into the peloton. Nice job!

2 km to go. Virenque is on the final ascent to the finish. It looks like a serious climb. When the pack gets here, they should be attacking like crazy to get some time on each other.

Virenque's Finish. He keeps pushing his bike all the way to the top, no showboating. He's been out since about km 35. A fantastic ride and a great victory. Now we wait for the explosion from the peloton.

The finish. With a kilometer to go up the hill, the peloton was rather together. Voeckler pushed himself to the front. Patrice Halgand (Credit Agricole) took his shot and was caught. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) won the field sprint. Erik Zabel was right on his wheel. Armstrong and Ullrich are right up there without any gaps.

Probable finish:

1. Richard Virenque (Quick Step)
2. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) @ 5min 18sec?
3. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) s.t.
4. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) s.t.
5. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) s.t.
6. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) s.t.

Stage 11, Thursday, July 15: 164 km, Saint-Flour - Figeac

Km 6.5: Côte des Ternes, 1.4 km climb at 7.%, 4th Cat
Km 48.5: Côte de Thérondels, 3.8 km climb at 5.1%, 3rd Cat
Km 62.0: Côte de Mur-de-Barrez, 2.3 km climb at 5.4%, 4th Cat
Km 99.5: Côte de Montsalvy, 8.0 km climb at 6.0%, 2nd Cat
Km 148.0: Côte de Bagnac, 1.2 km climb at 7.8%, 4th Cat

Stage 11 Results:

1. David Moncoutié (Cofidis) 3hr 54min 58sec
2. Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo) @ 2min 15sec
3. Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel) @ 2min 17sec
4. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) @ 5min 58sec
5. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) s.t.
6. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) s.t.
7. Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) s.t.
8. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) s.t.
9. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) s.t.
10. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) s.t.
Ullrich, Leipheimer, Mancebo, Mayo, Hamilton, Julich, and Basso all s.t.
49. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 6min 10sec
61. Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) @ 6min 15sec

GC after stage 10 (No change):

1. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) 46hr 43min 10sec
2. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) @ 3min
3. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 4min 13sec
4. Richard Virenque (Quick Step) @ 6min 52sec
5. Jakob Piil (CSC) @ 7min 31sec
6. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) @ 9min 35sec
7. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) @ 9min 58sec
8. Jose Azevedo (US Postal) @ 10min 4sec
9. Jose Enrique Gutierrez (Phonak) @ 10min 2sec
10. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) @ 10min 18sec
11. Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) s.t.
17. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 10min 30sec
18. Bobby Julich (CSC) @ 10min 42sec
19. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 10min 50sec
20. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 10min 52sec
27. Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) @ 11min 44sec
41. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 13min 16sec
51. Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) @ 15min 2sec

Points (Green Jersey)

1. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) 210 points
2. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) 201
3. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) 195
4. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) 186
5. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) 176

Climber (Polka Dot Jersey)

1. Richard Virenque (Quick Step) 84 points
2. Axel Merckx (Lotto) 57
3. Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) 36

Young Rider (White Jersey)

1. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) 46hr 43min 10sec
2. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 4min 13sec
3. Michele Scarponi (Domina Vacanze) @ 12min 22sec

Team GC:

1. CSC 138hr 4min 1sec
2. Alessio @ 2min 23sec
3. Brioches La Boulangere @ 4min 16sec
4. Quick Step @ 9min 49sec
5. US Postal @ 10min 48sec
6. Fassa Bortolo @ 11min 51sec

Stage 11 live updates:

Km 100. It's a warm day, 30C, and almost no wind at all. The stage is like yesterday, only shorter.The road's rising and falling is constant and unrelenting.

T-Mobile's Matthias Kessler, who crashed so spectacularly yesterday did not start today. He managed to finish yesterday's stage, but his injuries including a cracked rib were too severe to allow him to continue. That should make 168 starters.

The race started with a constant series of hammer blow attacks. Postal and Brioches La Boulangere worked to control things. Nothing could get away for the first 50 kilometers. At the second climb, the Côte de Thérondels, the current break got established. Euskaltel's Egoi Martinez was joined by David Moncoutie on the descent. Juan Anotnio Flecha bridged up to them. None are threats to the overall lead:

David Moncountie (Cofidis)is in 60th place @ 18min 20sec
Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel) is 74th @ 27min 19sec
Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo) is 96th @ 32min 2sec

Their lead is 7min 22sec on the peloton.

Km 113, 51 to go. The gap between the lead trio and the peloton is 7min 2sec. Brioches La Boulangere are all at the front controlling the lead. The countryside the Tour is riding through looks just like some of the Central Coast of California, If any of my readers have ridden slightly inland of Cambria, you know exactly what the roads and area look like.

Km 125, 39 to go. Flecha, Moncoutie and Martinez continue to push ahead. their lead is 8min 4sec. A few kilometers ago a farmer let his cows out on the road to move them to another field. For a few seconds, they were leading the pack who had to wait until the cattle turned off the road.

Km 133. The gap is still at 8 minutes. The road is going through a pretty forest with the sun coming through the trees onto the riders. It is very hot with patches of melted tarmac on the road. It makes for slow, hard riding on the sticky road.

Alessio's big Magnus Backstedt has just quit the Tour de France. I'm sure the giant has been going through hell on this hilly roads and was not looking forward to the weekend's appointment in the Pyrenees.

20 km to go. The break just went under the 20 km banner. The pack is still 8 minutes back. In the peloton, Brioches La Boulangere continues to do all of the work. US Postal's Rubiera is in the back of the peloton loading up on water bottles to bring to his teammates. After the riders pass the 20 km banner, they can't take on more food and drink.

When will Flecha take off? He came so close in Stage 6 into Angers. His breakaway buddies have to know what's coming. So far the breakaway riders have worked well together. Moncoutie is looking a bit edgy. He is the lone Frenchman in a Spanish sandwich.

10 km to go. Under the 10km banner, the gap is down to 6min 47sec. A big group of tired riders has been spit out the back of the peloton. They'll motor on in well ahead of the elimination cutoff time. Surely there are no GC contenders there.

Bam! Flecha goes. It's a very weak move. There is a moment's hesitation and then Martinez brings up Moncoutie to to the aggressive Spaniard.

Cofidis' Moncoutie counter-attacks. He's got a big gap. Martinez has Flecha on his wheel. They are watching Moncoutie scoot down the road.

5 km to go. Moncoutie looks good. Flecha and Martinez look tapped. They ride side by side for a bit then start to chase. Moncoutie has a minute lead. It looks like the two Spaniards brought knives to a gunfight.

The finish. Moncoutie makes his way very carefully through the ancient town of Figeac. He doesn't want to crash now. He's won. Ma Fois! Two French victories in a row and a Frenchman in Yellow.

About 2 minutes later Flecha and Martinez came in. They did a side-by-side rather slow drag race with Flecha taking second place. These guys are really tired.

6 minutes after Moncoutie crossed the line, the pack came in. In the lead-in Armstrong was right near the front. He didn't want to get stuck with a time gap with the uphill finish. For a while it looked like Zabel would take the field sprint, but Thor Hushovd dinged him just before the line.


Stage 12, Friday, July 16: 197.5 km, Castelsarrasin - La Mongie

Km 172.0: Col d'Aspin, 12.3 km climb at 6.5%, 1st Cat
Km 197.5: La Mongie (Hill top finish), 12.8 km climb at 6.8%, 1st Cat

Stage 12 Results:

1. Ivan Basso (CSC) 5hr 3min 58sec
2. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) s.t.
3. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) @ 20sec
4. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) @ 24sec
5. Carlos Sastre (CSC) @ 33sec
6. Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) @ 50sec
7. Denis Menchov (Illes Balears) @ 59sec
8. Michele Scarponi (Domina Vacanze) @ 1min 2sec
9. Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) @ 1min 3sec
10. Santos Gonzalez (Phonak) s.t.
12. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 1min 32sec
14. Christophe moreau (Credit Agricole) @ 1min 59sec
16. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 1min 59sec
18. Bobby Julich (CSC) @ 2min 28sec
20. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 2min 30sec
34. Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) @ 3min 27sec
41. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) @ 3min 59sec
166 Classified finishers

GC after stage 12

1. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) 51hr 51min 07sec
2. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) @ 5min 24sec
3. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 5min 50sec
4. Richard Virenque (Quick Step) @ 6min 20sec
5. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) @ 6min 33sec
7. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 6min 33sec
7. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) @ 6min 43sec
8. Jakob Piil (CSC) @ 6min 53sec
9. Santos Gonzalez (Phonak) @ 7min 23sec
10. Carlos Sastre (CSC) @ 8min 11sec
12. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 8min 50sec
16. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 9min 1sec
17. Bobby Julich (CSC) @ 9min 11sec
20. Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) @ 9min 46sec
26. Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) @ 10min 12sec
27. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 10min 49sec
32. Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) @ 12min 6sec
166. Lanterne Rouge, Sebastien Joly (Credit Agricole) @ 1hr 47min 30sec

Points (Green Jersey)

1. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) 210 points
2. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) 201
3. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) 195
4. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) 186
5. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) 176

Climber (Polka Dot Jersey)

1. Richard Virenque (Quick Step) 95 points
2. Axel Merckx (Lotto) 57
3. Christophe moreau (Credit Agricole) 43

Young Rider (White Jersey)

1. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) 51hr 51min 7sec
2. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 5min 50sec
3. Michele Scarponi (Domina Vacanze) @ 9min 25sec

Team GC:

1. CSC 153hr 18min 56sec
2. Brioches La Boulangere @ 12min 19sec
3. US Postal @ 12min 47sec
4. Illes Balears @ 13min 26sec
5. Phonak @ 13min 30sec

Stage 12 Introduction:

The stage will start at Noon, French local time (3:00 AM, Pacific daylight time) at Castelsarrin, northwest of Toulouse. The race heads almost due SSW for the high Pyrenees. VeloNews says that the stage will entail 44.9 kilometers of climbing and 11.2 kilometers of descending. According to the official Tour schedule, they will pass through Sarrancolin, the base of the Aspin, at about 3:30 PM (6:30 Pacific Daylight time). I'm assuming that like all the other stages of this year's Tour, the riders will be aggressive and ride fast from the gun. If they do, they may get there a bit sooner.

The climb to La Mongie is up the Tourmalet, stopping 5 km from the top. Iban Mayo has promised an attack today. The Basques should be there in strength to cheer him on. Armstrong is sitting pretty with a good lead among the known contenders (perhaps unfairly discounting the always surprising Voeckler) going into the mountains. If Armstrong does attack, it should be on the very steepest part of the final climb up to La Mongie. It is a mantra of Chris Carmichael, Armstrong's very smart trainer, that the most effiicient and effective place to mount an attack is when the mountain is steepest. The Tourmalet's lower slopes are over 5%, then it slackens to 2.4%. Over the next 10 kilometers it rears up and has a patch of 10% near the end. According to Carmichael, that's when the hammer should drop. But they may not wait that long.

The Toumalet climb starts out at St. Marie de Campan. This is the famous site of Eugene Christophe's repaired fork. Descending the Toumalet in the 1913 Tour de France, Eugene Christophe broke his fork. There were no follow cars with a quick bike change in those days. He had to repair the bike that he used to start the stage. Those were the rules. He ran the bike down to St. Marie de Campan and, following the draconian regulatons of the time, personally used the forge in a blacksmith's shop to repair his fork. Because a boy had helped with the bellows, Christophe was penalized additional time for getting illegal assistance in his repair.

Lance Armstrong does not think the resulting time splits for this stage will be very large. With a long descent after the Aspin, there should be some regrouping. He doesn't think the climb to La Mongie is long enough and steep enough to really put some time between the contenders.

This is the climb that Armstrong won in 2001, beating Joseba Beloki by 7 seconds. In 1970, a young Bernard Thevenet (Tour winner 1975, 1977) beat Eddy Merckx and Lucien Van Impe to La Mongie by a minute. That day, the stage had covered the Col de Mente,the Peyresourde as well as the Aspin before the final ascent to La Mongie.

Stefano Zanini (Quick-Step) and Pavel Padrnos (US Postal), being in some sort of Italian justice twilight zone in which they have been absolved in the their doping investigtions but their case has not been closed (I hope I have this right), will be allowed to continue racing the Tour. The Tour orgainization wanted to exclude them but the UCI said that they coul continue.

Stage 12 live updates:

Km 90. A break went away at about the 5th kilometer. Once again, none are GC threats. CSC, not having a rider in the break, chased hard. It looks like this one has the strength to stay. The riders have a lead of 4min 5sec. Earlier they had been as much as 4min 20sec ahead. The break riders are:

Kim Kirchen (Fassa Bortolo) 38th in GC @ 12min 59sec
Marcus Ljungqvist (Alessio) 137th @ 42min 15sec
Wim Vansevenant (Lotto) 161st @ 59min 19sec
Frederic Finot (RAGT) 165th @ 1hr 8min 20sec

Km 104. The lead is 4 minutes. Mikel Pradera, suffering from a crash in an earlier stage, has abandoned the Tour. There are now 166 riders left in the Tour. Jean-Marie LeBlanc has said that he hoped riders planning on challenging Lance Armstrong would use some of the transition stages like the last two to shake up the race. Gilberto Simoni showed how to do this in his two earlier Giro victories. It is possible to put a powerful rider and his team on edge with hard, clever, aggressive riding. I haven't seen any of that so far. It looks like the wannabies are planning on making the Tour a test of pure power, waiting for the tough climbs and the time trials. That sure seems like fighting Armstrong on his own turf.

It is raining in La Mongie right now.

Km 120. The gap is 3min 45sec. Brioches La Boulangere had been pulling the peloton with some help from Postal. Right now Postal is doing the work, making sure things stay together.

Km 123. The gap is down to 3 minutes. Brioches and Postal share the work of towing the peloton. Tyler Hamilton got a bike change. His team went back and paced him back into the pack with no trouble.

With the rain, falling temperatures and growing wind at the finish, the domestiques are going back and getting rain jackets and distributing them among their teammates. If it rains on the Aspin, it could make for a bad descent.

Km 135. The 4 breakaways are still riding very well together. As they ride down the road the angry clouds can be seen ahead. The gap is 2min 44sec. They have just passed thorugh Lannemezan, the city that is the gateway to the high Pyrenees.

Average speed for the first 3 hours is 42.6 km/hr.

It's pouring rain at La Mongie and it's headed for the Aspin.

Km 142. It's raining on the 4 breakaway riders. Some of the riders in the peloton are putting on rain gear. The gap is down to 2min 20sec. Now the drops are falling on the peloton.

Km 146, 51 to go. It's ugly. The temperature has dropped to 60F and it's raining hard. The breakaway has only 1min 26sec. The field is strung out in a single line down the road.

Voeckler, like Mayo and Hamilton before him, has changed his bike. I assume it's for a lighter climbing bike.

Km.160. There has been a terrific increase in speed as the teams try to get their important men to the front before the road narrows on the Aspin. The break gap went down almost instantly. The 4 riders have been caught. Armstrong and Ullrich are at or near the front. I haven't spotted Voeckler yet.

At the bottom of the Aspin. Quick Step pounds hard. Virenque plans? Beltran from US Postal moves to the front to try get get some control. The weather is dreadful.

Km 165. Bam! Postal is riding at the front and tossing racers out the back. It looks like all the big boys are in the lead group. Voeckler is there, as is Ullrich.

Km 168. Domina's Simeoni attacked. Christophe Moreau and Richard Virenque bridged up to him and they are not eliciting a reaction from the Postal-led front group. Amazingly Postal's Beltran and Euskaltel's Zubeldia have been dropped from the lead group.

Moreaun and Virenque don't want to work to gether. They cat-and-mouse each other and are caught by the peloton. Simeoni keeps going.

Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) takes off after Simeoni. He's got a good gap and also gets no reaction from the pack. Hamilton is there in the lead group, but a little far back in the pack to really keep an eye on things.

I must have missed Simeoni's getting caught. It's Rassmussen in front by about 10 seconds.

Over the top of the Aspin. Rasmussen keeps his slim lead. Behind him Virenque and Moreau are sprinting like crazed fiends. Virenque looks over his left shoulder as Moreau rides on his right. That costs Virenque as Moreau gets the second place points. The peloton with the important men goes over intact. Hamilton is surrounded by Phonaks at the back of the lead group.

On the descent, Rasmussen is keeping his lead as they go down the twisty, wet roads.

Km 185. Mayo, Voeckler, Ullrich and 5 others seperated themselves from the Armstrong group on the descent. Hincapie was with them, but sat up and waited for his man. Armstrong was probably riding carefully on the dangerous roads. US Postal did a team time trial and closed things up. Rasmussen is still up front.

Km 190, 7 to go. Through the city of St. Marie de Campan. The sun is coming out. The riders are throwing their helmets to waiting mechanics by the side of the road. Rasmussen has a 35sec lead. Postal is at the front of the peloton and it looks like everyone who should be there is there.

On the Tourmalet to La Mongie. Postal's Azevedo and Rubiera are at the front, driving. Rasmussen is caught.

Hamilton is off! He's been dropped and looks bad.

Voeckler is off. So is Virenque. Virenque is pacing his fellow Frenchman and helping him even though they are on rival teams.

Leipheimer's off.

Ullrich is coming off.

Armstrong smells blood. He's moving to the front for an attack.

5 km to go. CSC's Sastre attacks the Armstrong group which looks to be 10 riders at most. Ullrich is 20+ seconds behind. Rubiera, correction Azevedo, is setting a hot pace with Armstrong on his wheel.

Armstrong has lost his teammates. Mancebo attacks. They don't show the catch, but he's not up front.

Armstrong looks around and goes. Only CSC's Ivan Basso can go with him. Basso sits on Armstrong's wheel as Armstrong catches CSC's Sastre.

2 km to go. Armstrong, Sastre and Basso. Then T-Mobile's Kloden and Mancebo. Kloden might become the team leader tonight.

Heras and Julich are back down the road with Ullrich.

Sastre's dropped. It's Armstrong and Basso.

1 km to go. Armstrong and Basso are riding side by side. Mancebo is clawing his way up to the chasing Kloden.

The finish: Basso leads it out and Armstrong does not come around. Basso wins the first moutnain stage. Kloden then comes in followed by Mancebo and then Sastre.

This turns the applecart over. Everything I knew was wrong! CSC's Bjarne Riis had been saying that Basso was underestimated. If Basso keeps this up, Riis was the underestimated man.


Stage 13, Saturday, July 17: 205.5 km, Lannemezan - Plateau de Beille

Km 42.5: Col des Ares, 4.0 km climb at 4.7%, 3rd Cat
Km 64.0: Col du Portet d'Aspet, 4.4 km climb at 9.8%, 2nd Cat
Km 99.5: Col de la Core, 14.2 km climb at 6.0%, 1st Cat
Km 131.0: Col de Latrape, 5.6 km climb at 7.7%, 2nd Cat
Km 146.0: Col d'Agnes, 9.8 km climb at 8.2%, 1st Cat
Km 155.0: Port de Lers, 3.8 km climb at 5.7%, 3rd Cat
Km 205.5: Port de Lers (Hill top finish), 15.9 km climb at 7.8%, H.C.

Stage 13 Results: Classic Armstrong-US Postal Victory. They controlled the race with a high rate of speed that spit out almost eveyone. No particular overt aggression until the end. Then Armstrong went and only Basso could go. That deep well of talent that was supposed to challenge the aging Armstrong seems to be drying up. Bobby Julich, who was doing so well, crashed and finished in the Sprinter-boys Autobus at 42min 40sec

1. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 6hr 4min 38sec
2. Ivan Basso (CSC) s.t.
3. Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner) @ 1min 5sec
4. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) @ 1min 27sec
5. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) s.t.
6. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 2min 42sec
7. Jose Azevedo (US Postal) @ 2min 50sec
8. Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) @ 2min 51sec
9. Pietro Caucchioli (Alessio) s.t.
10. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 3min 43sec
11. Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) @ 4min 29sec
13. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) @ 4min 42sec
19. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 6min 39sec
49. Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) @ 21min 35sec
155. Bobby Julich (CSC) @ 42min 40sec

GC after Stage 13:

1. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) 58hr 27sec
2. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) @ 22sec
3. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 1min 39sec
4. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) @ 3min 18sec
5. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) @ 3min 28sec
6. Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner) @ 6min 8sec
7. Jose Azevedo (US Postal) @ 6min 43sec
8. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 7min 1sec
9. Pietro Caucchiloi (Alessio) @ 7min 59sec
10. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 8min 29sec
11. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 9min 50sec
14. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 10min 47sec
16. Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) @ 11min 49sec
34. Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) @ 27min 35sec

Points (Green Jersey)

1. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) 210 points
2. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) 201
3. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) 195
4. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) 186
5. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) 176

Climber (Polka Dot Jersey)

1. Richard Virenque (Quick Step) 128 points
2. Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) 78
3. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) 77
4. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 76

Young Rider (White Jersey)

1. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) 58hr 27sec
2. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 8min 29sec
3. Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears) @ 14min 5sec

Team GC:

1. CSC 171hr 52min 516sec
2. US Postal @ 5min 52sec
3. T-Mobile @ 8min 7sec
4. Brioches La Boulangere @ 11min 53sec
5. Illes Balears @ 11min 53sec

Stage 13 introduction. This stage is unbelievably difficult. It follows an ESE direction, sort of following the Spanish-French border. The final climb to Plateau de Beille is 18.5 kilometers long. Halfway up, after going down a little valley, there is a piece of 16% gradient.

On Bicycling's web site, Cyrille Guimard, who directed Van Impe, Hinault, Lemond and Fignon, spelled out his puzzlement. Why did so many outstanding riders have so much trouble in Friday's stage? He wrote that not only did the entire Euskaltel team collapse (and on their home turf), but Heras and Ullrich could not keep up even before Armstrong himself had turned on the gas. And how much gas did Armstrong have? Not as much as usual. When he attacked the first time, Guimard noted that several riders went with him.

I don't remember when he could not get away cleanly after getting a, high-speed perfect setup from his team. Postal was powerful and letter-perfect yesterday.

Armstrong said that he let Basso win. Anyone who saw yesterday's stage saw Armstrong dig deeply, attacking his rivals. I believe Armstrong was actually engaged in a bicycle race and was trying to go as fast as he could to gain time and bonuses. I rather tend to think he was unable to drop the young CSC rider. He'll get another shot today.

Now, will Ullrich, Mayo and Heras come back? Their trouble has been attributed to the transition to the high mountains in unstable weather. A bad ride in this stage will not mean the loss of a couple of minutes. It will mean the loss of the Tour.

The race:

Km 96. Tyler Hamilton has abandoned! He could no longer take the pain in his back from a crash earlier in the Tour. Also no longer in the race: Gerrit Glomser (Saeco), Denis Menchov (Illes Balerars), and Haimer Zubeldia (Euskaltel). Sergio Marinangeli (Domina Vacanze) did not start today.

It is sunny with the possiblity of rain later in the day.

At about Km 28, a break went:

Jens Voigt (CSC) 55th in GC at 28min 20sec
Sylvain Chavanel, 36th @ 13min23sec
Michael Rasmussen @ 23rd at 10min 20sec

Rasmussen had to bridge a 2-minute gap to get up to Chavanel and and Voigt who had gone earlier.

They have a lead of 4min 58sec. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) had a nasty crash when his stem broke. He has a new bike and is up and chasing.

Km 104, 102 to go. The gap to the trio is 5min 7sec. They are on the descent of the 1st category Col de la Core. Chavanel is leading the other two with about a 50 meter gap. The peloton just went over the top. Quick Step had been leading the peloton. Francisco Mancebo started to go for the 4th place Mountains point. Christophe Moreau amd Richard Virenque took off past him. Virenque won the sprint.

Yellow Jersey Thomas Voeckler is still in the peloton.

Km 113. Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) has abandoned. US Postal is leading the peloton down the twisty descent of the Col de la Core.

Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) has crashed. It looks like he and another rider on his team collided on the descent. He's standing. Finally the team car gets to him. The mechanic checks out the bike and Heras gets going, joining some riders who were dropped by the peloton as they went by.

Km 121. The gap to the lead trio is 5min 20sec. Roberto Heras and his Liberty Seguros teammates were joined by some Fassa Bortolo riders who had been dropped on the climb, including Fabian Cancellara. They are back in the peloton. Thomas Voeckler has asked for another bike and is up and almost back in the peloton.

Km 126. Both the lead trio and the peloton are on the 2nd category Col de Latrape. Postal is leading the pack with CSC just behind them. The weather is nicer than yesterday so far. Will Ullrich do better under the sun? The gap has grown to 5min 46sec.

Euskaltel's Iban Mayo has been dropped. He's only a few meters ahead of giant Thor Hushovd. He has a couple of Euskies with him. Things are not right with Mayo, obviously. He's a stronger rider than that.

Manolo Saiz, the Liberty Seguros Team director says that Roberto Heras is OK after his crash.

Km 132. Chavanel leads the trio over the top of the Latrap, scooping up more mountains points. Voeckler was dangling off the back of the peloton, then zipped back up. His jersey is completely unzipped. The crowds lining the roads are in shorts. Much nicer than yesterday.

Iban Mayo is really dropped. He's at least 1min 40sec behind.

Km 139. On the 1st Category Col d'Agnes, Chavenel has been dropped by Rasmussen and Voigt. Chavanel looks wrecked. He has a long way to go before he can get off his bike. In the peloton Voeckler has cracked. I don't see his Brioches La Bolangere teammates. They are letting him get home on his own. They know he won't be in Yellow tonight.

And now there goes Heras. He's dropped.

Mayo got off his bike. He was talked into getting back on. He's trying to stop and riders, even from other teams are pushing him. Even Fabian Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo) is trying to get Mayo to keep going as he tries to quit. This is following a great tradition of Spainsh Climbers. Bahamontes tried to quit the Tour, even throwing his bike down a ravine. The bike was fetched and he was made to continue. Bahamontes found that the only way to really quit was to hurl his shoes down the side of the mountain and take the first train out of town.

Km 145. The peloton looks to have about 20 riders with about 4 or 5 Posties. Mancebo tried to get away, but the Postal team was having none of that. Ullrich and Basso are still there. I assume Kloden is there, but I didn't spot him. Postal is doing all the work. They are still on the Col d'Agnes.

Km 150. Rasmussen and Voigt are still 3min 40 seconds ahead of the Armstrong group climbing the Col d'Agnes. The Armstrong group is now an elite set of about 20 riders Among them: Armstrong, Azevedo, Hincapie, Landis, Rubiera, (5 US Postal riders!) Ullrich, Guerini, Kloden (3 T-Mobile), Moreau, Basso, Sastre (3 CSC), Mancebo, Karpets, Totschnig, Virenque, Caucchioli, Leipheimer and Simoni.

Postal is doing all the work.

Virenque and Moreau sprinted for the Mountains points over the top of the Col d'Agnes. Virenque won it easily.

The Yellow jersey has been joined by several riders and is about a minute behind the Armstrong group. On the descent, Voeckler is closing to within about 20 seconds now

Km 163. On the descent after the Port de Lers. Voeckler couln't make it to the Armstrong group before the road kicked up. He's behind them by about 40 seconds. Rasmussen and Voigt are 3min 30 seconds in front with Chavenel only about 30 seconds in front of the Armstrong group. Virenque took the Port De Lers 4th place mountains points.

Km 172. Chavenel has been caught by the peloton. On the descent and the flat run-in to the final climb, a lot of riders including Voeckler, have re-joined the Armstrong group. Rasmussen and Voigt still have a lead of 4 min 14sec.

Armstrong got a rear flat. He tossed the offending wheel aside himself. The mechanic did a super-rapid change and the Posties are back at the front.

Domestiques are going back and getting water for their teammates while they still can.

Km 184. The lead is down to 3min 18sec. The big mountain is only 5 kilometers ahead. The stage has been one of attrition with no real attacks from any of the remaining contenders. No one wants to blow up before the final ascent. We don't have any Eddy Merckx's throwing caution to the winds.

As we approach the Tour's first Hors Category climb, can Voeckler finish within 5min 24sec of Armstrong and keep the Yellow until the Alps?

Km 191. Ok. We're on the Port de Lers to Plateau de Beille. The gap is down to 2min 30sec. Helmets off.

Postal's Rubiera hits the front and the group goes from 30 to 20 almost instantly. Virenque is tossed. Moreau has a flat. He has to change rear wheel with a teammate's. He does it himself and he's very slow.

CSC's Sastre is gone, Now Simoni. We're down to a dozen already!

Km 194: Ullrich is gone. Leipheimer is gone. Kloden and Basso are still there as Rubiera pulls off and Azevedo starts to pull with Armstrong on his wheel.

Voigt and Rasmusen are caught.

10 Km to go. It's down to 3. US Postal's Azevedo, then Armstrong, then CSC's Ivan Basso. Ullrich is chasing. He's passed Leipheimer.

Km 199, 7 to go. Azevedo pulls off. It's Basso and Armstrong. Totschnig is trying to claw is way back up. Just behind him are Mancebo and Kloden.

Ullrich is about 35 seconds behind the lead duo.

5 km to go. Armstrong is doing all the work with Basso on his wheel. Totschnig is about a minute and a half back. Then Mancebo, Kloden and Azevedo another 5 seconds further. Ullrich has lost 2 minutes.

There are some really stupid Armstrong fans running next to him, jumping through the crowds. One insists on patting him on the back. Another has a giant American flag running and jumping. Don't fall. That would be heartbreaking if one of those idiots causes a crash.

2 km to go. The crowds are huge. Now, the duo have the fans safely behind the barriers for the final 2 kilometers. Basso and Armstrong have a short word and coninue wrecking the field. Today, Basso is the one looking stressed by the effort and Armstrong looks far better.

The finish. Basso is leading the last 200 meters. Armstrong zips up his jersey. Just before the line Armstrong jumps. Basso either doesn't or can't answer. Armstrong gets his first individual stage win of the 2004 Tour by winning the most challenging, difficult stage so far. A truly worthy victory, well earned.

Voeckler digs deep in the last 2 kilomters and finds something somewhere and keeps the Yellow Jersey.


Stage 14, Sunday, July 18: 292.5 km, Carcassonne - Nîmes

Stage 14 Results

1. Aitor Gonzalez (Fassa Bortolo) 4hr 18min 32sec
2. Nicolas Jalabert (Phonak) @ 25sec
3. Christophe Mengin (FDJ) s.t.
4. Pierrick Fedrigo (Credit Agricole) @ 29sec
5. Peter Wrolich (Gerolsteiner) @ 31sec
6. Marc Lotz (Rabobank) s.t.
7. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (Liberty Seguros) s.t.
8. Santiago Botero (T-Mobile) @ 37sec
9. Inigo Landaluze (Euskaltel) @ 41sec
10. Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel) @ 43sec
11. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) @ 14min 12sec
12. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) s.t.
13. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) s.t.
14. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) s.t.
15. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) s.t.

GC after Stage 14:

1. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) 62hr 33min 11sec
2. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) @ 22sec
3. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 1min 39sec
4. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) @ 3min 18sec
5. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) @ 3min 28sec
6. Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner) @ 6min 8sec
7. Jose Azevedo (US Postal) @ 6min 43sec
8. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 7min 1sec
9. Pietro Caucchiloi (Alessio) @ 7min 59sec
10. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 8min 29sec
11. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 9min 50sec
12. Carlos Sastre (CSC) @ 10min 3sec
14. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 10min 47sec
16. Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) @ 11min 49sec
35. Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) @ 27min 35sec

Points (Green Jersey)

1. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) 225 points
2. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) 212
3. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) 209
4. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) 198
5. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) 189

Climber (Polka Dot Jersey)

1. Richard Virenque (Quick Step) 128 points
2. Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) 78
3. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) 77
4. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 76

Young Rider (White Jersey)

1. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) 62hr 33min 11sec
2. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 8min 29sec
3. Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears) @ 14min 22sec

Team GC:

1. T-Mobile 185hr 25min
2. CSC @ 5min 28sec
3. US Postal @ 11min 20sec
4. Phonak @ 15min 1sec
5. Brioches La Boulangere @ 15min 1sec
6. Illes Balears @ 17min 21sec

Stage 14 Introduction.

The Pyrenees are behind us. While the supremecy of Armstrong is not a jaw-dropping surprise, the complete collapse of so many of his competitors is. Before Jose Azevedo had taken over the duties of leading Armstrong up to Plateau de Beille, almost every one of the fancied challengers had been dropped. When Azevedo took over, there was only CSC's Basso able to stay with Armstrong and Azevedo. Cyrille Guimard called yesterday a massacre. The race isn't over. With the Alps still to come, there could be more surprises. But barring a bad day for Armstrong it will be a very difficult thing to pull the substantial time needed out of him to take over the lead. While Armstrong cannot drop Basso so far, Basso cannot drop Armstrong. Advantage Armstrong. To date, Basso has not displayed time-trialing abilities that are on Armstrong's level.

The riders transferred yesterday from the mountains down to the famous fortified city of Carcassone. The race has no rated climbs. That does not mean there are no dangers. Armstrong himself noted that there is a reason they have windmills in this area. There can be strong winds that can break up the peloton if there is any pressure at all. This is the last flat road stage before Paris so the sprinters will want to make sure it's together for their romp into Nimes.

The stage follows the Mediterranean coast in an ENE direction.

Monday will be a rest day.

Weather: In Montpelier, 2/3 of the way, it's currently 77F (25C). The winds are in the face or slightly cross. They can possibly approach 40 km/hr today. That would be a real challange to those riders exhausted and trying to maintain contact with the peloton. Clouds moved in overnight, but it should be sunny for the final half of the stage.

There were no overnight retirements. All 160 of yesterday's finishers started today.

The race:

Km 54. After the usual flurry of attempts, a breakaway of 4 riders got away at about kilometer 35 and has been trying to establish it self in the strong winds. Rabobank, who did not get a rider in this break, has been fighting hard to bring them back. At the present time, the gap is 20 seconds. None of the riders are GC threats: Santos Gonzalez (Phonak), Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo), Christophe Edaleine (Cofidis) and Jean-Cyril Robin (FDJ).

Km 62. The gap came down to 10 seconds and Rabobank's master of escape, Erik Dekker, was able to jump across and join the quartet. Now it's 5 riders up front and Lotto and Credit Agricole wants to pull the breakaway back.

The gap has grown to 16 seconds. Quick Step is now working to pull the group back.

There are only 4 teams with their complete roster of 9 riders left in the Tour: Rabobank, CSC, Quick Step and US Postal.

Km 73. Quick Step didn't have a rider in the break so they worked hard and shut it down. The break was caught. Now FDJ's Carlos Da Cruz is having his shot at playing in the wind. Bobby Julich, who crashed yesterday and is riding with a wrapped wrist, has been dropped.

Da Cruz is caught.

Km 82. This break may have legs: Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis), Vincent Garcia-Acosta (Illes Balears), Rolf Aldag (T-Mobile), Savatore Commesso (Saeco), Jan Hruska (Liberty Seguros), Matteo Tosatto (Fassa Bortolo), Julian Dean (Credit Agricole), Nicki Sorensen (CSC), Erik Dekker (Rabobank), Carlos Da Cruz (FDJ), Axel Merckx (Lotto) and Guillaume Auger (RAGT).

Quick Step missed the move again and is trying to bring them back. The gap is 25 seconds. The best place rider in the break is Axel Merckx, 25th @ 20min 13sec.

Km 89. Even though Lotto has Merckx in the break, they want the pack together for Robbie McEwen. The gap is 17seconds.

Shades of 1970. Eddy Merckx's domestique Italo Zilioli was in a break and told by his team director to work. Meantime, Eddy Merckx was hammering away in the peloton to bring the Zilioli break back. This time Axel Merckx is in a break working and his team is trying to bring him back. History doesn't repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme (Mark Twain).

Iban Mayo (Euskatel) is off the back.

Km 99. Most of the breakaway riders surrendered as the pack closed in. Several of them kept on. Others bridged up until it was a group of at least 11 riders. They didn't work well together and were caught.

Km 111. Ok, this is the one that the pack has decided to let go. 10 riders, none of who are GC threats now have a lead of 2min 25sec. Brioches La Boulangere has resumed their position at the front of the peloton, making sure that things don't get out of hand. The best placed rider in the breakaway group is Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel) 37th in GC @ 37min 39sec.

The riders in the break: Santiago Botero (T-Mobile), Nicolas Jalabert (Phonak), Inigo Landaluze (Euskaltel), Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (Liberty Seguros), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel), Aitor Gonzalez (Fassa Bortolo), Pierrick Fedrigo (Credit Agricole), Peter Wrolich (Gerolsteiner), Marc Lotz (Rabobank), Christophe Mengin (FDJ).

Km 118. The gap is now 3min 57sec

Km 125, 67 to go. The gap is up to 6min 14sec. The riders in the break are working well together, looking rather serious. Back in the peloton, there are 5 Brioches La Boulangere riders leading the pack with the Yellow Jersey, Thomas Voeckler right behind them. They all look rather jolly. It is very hot, about 90F.

Km 133. The gap is up to 8 min 20sec. The Brioches boys in the lead look very relaxed and are not pushing the pace hard at all. Voeckler looks very snazzy in his Yellow helmet, jersey, shorts, glasses and socks.

Km 138. The lead is 9min 40sec. The break is doing a very nice circular pace line with each rider taking a short pull. I don't see anyone missing his turn at the front. It's hard to tell, but it looks like Brioches La Boulangere is working a little harder now leading the pack. Their 5 riders are clustered at the front.

Yes, it is faster with the riders strung out in a long line. Michael Boogerd, who is normally a protected rider in the Tour for Rabobank is in the back getting bottles for his teammates. This isn't his Tour. He is sitting in 65th place, down 57min 18sec.

Km 153, 39 to go. The gap is up to 11min 24sec. In a while, the riders in the break, especially thse who can't sprint, will start to get itchy and want to improve thier chances. The attacks should be coming soon.

We haven't had a Spanish stage winner. This must be an unpleasant situation for the world number two cycling nation in the UCI standings. They have two riders in the break. More than that, the two Spanish riders are on the same team, Euskaltel.

Km 163, 30 to go. The gap is 12min 25sec.

Correction: There are FOUR Spanish riders in the break.

Under the 20km to go banner. The gap is 13min 36sec. The break is still together. No attacks yet.

10 km to go Here we go. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano goes. He's nailed back by a fellow countryman, an Orange Euskie. Now Fassa's Aitor Gonzalez goes. A Euskie brings him back.

Fedrigo goes, he's caught.

Fassa Bortolo's Aitor Gonzalez goes again. Menghin tries to close the gap, but he can't. Now the other 9 are looking at each other as the former Vuelta winning sizzles on down the road.

5 km to go. Gonzalez is extending his lead, time trialing on the hoods. The others have finally formed a pace line.

2 km to go. Aitor Gonzalez has 12 seconds and looks perfect. Jalabert and Mengin are away and chasing. Euskaltel has made a complete hash of their chances.

The finish. Aitor Gonzalez comes into town at 33 mph (50 kph). He takes the lone win. Jalabert beats Mengin to the line for second.

The pack comes in 14 minutes, 12 seconds later. Robbie McEwen takes the field sprint and adds to his Green Jersey points.


Rest Day: Monday, July 19: Nîmes

Around Stage 6 I had a chance to talk to Mauro Mondonico, a very astute observer of bicycle racing. He said that the error-free execution by US Postal was stunning and the real story of the Tour. Coupled with their raw horsepower, even in the early stages, they made the other teams appear to be fighting for scraps. After the Pyrenees, I can see no reason to think Mauro's view should in any way changed. Postal has not made any mistakes. They have always had the right men in the right place.

I don't think anyone was prepared for the collapse of nearly every other challenger. The excuses offered up of unstable weather, difficult transitions to the mountains, etc. ignore the basic fact that Armstrong and Postal had to ride in the same weather and on the same roads.

I have certainly been proven wrong. I believed that with Armstrong's approaching 33rd birthday, the inevitable decline that all racers show in grand tours would make itself manifest this year. Like the other riders (except Basso), he wasn't at his best in the climb to La Mongie. But in Stage 13's climb to Plateau de Beille he looked very sharp and very strong.

Ivan Basso sits 1min 22sec behind Armstrong. So far, he has been unable to drop Armstong as Armstrong has been unable to drop him. I don't see how Basso can pull that much time out of Armstrong unless the American has a bad day. Basso's director, CSC boss Bjarne Riis, says that Basso's time trialing has been greatly improved. I think it would take a near miracle for Basso to equal the man who is at times the finest living practitioner of the art of the crono. Advantage Armstrong.

And Ullrich? Why the complete inability to ride as well as last year? Too much weight loss in the final month? Despite his protests to the contrary, it was clear that Ullrich had again allowed himself to get too heavy and out of shape over the winter. He never seems to have tumbled onto the fact that the man he wants to beat maintains his fitness and tries to build a better racer out of the one of the previous year. Ullrich is expected to ride better in the Alps, but even Ullrich himself has acknowledged that even a podium placing will be tough to achieve.

Eric Boyer, L'Equipe's cycling consultant, was blunt (the translation and paraphrase of his remarks is my own):

"They (T-Mobile regarding Ullrich) no longer have any hope. Undoubtedly Jan Ullrich has let pass his last chance to thwart Armstrong. The great difference between the two champions is that the American begins preparing for the Tour de France as of January 1 and the German on June 6. As long as Ullrich will not manage to regulate his weight problems in winter, he will not succeed. One cannot lose five kilos in one month without feeling the effect......It is an inadequate preparation for the Tour de France"

T-Mobile's Andreas Kloden took heat for not sticking with Ullrich on the climb to La Mongie. There was no way Ullrich could climb with Kloden. To have held Kloden back would have been to deprive T-Mobile of any chance of a podium placing for no practical benefit. Ullrich did have Giuseppe Guerini to help him. T-Mobile has little enough to show for a team with a 14-million dollar budget without completely sacrificing everything for the faltering Ullrich.

The big question of the moment is will Thomas Voeckler be able to ride the Wednesday l'Alpe d'Huez time trial in yellow? Tuesday's stage will be hard with 7 rated climbs. In the last 65 kilometers he will have to stay with Armstrong over a Category 2 climb, then a 1, a 3, a 2 and finally a climb up a short category 3 for the finish. I doubt that Armstrong will intentionally attack the young man. So far, he has let the natural attrition caused by this year's high speeds and his own team's furious tempo riding eliminate the competition.


Stage 15, Tuesday, July 20: 180.5 km, Valréas - Villard-de-Lans

Km 15.0: Côte d'Aleyrac, 3.4 km climb at 4.7%, 3rd Cat
Km 38.0: Côte de Puy-Saint-Martin, 3.9 km climb at 3.0%, 3rd Cat
Km 91.5: Col des Limouches, 10.7 km climb at 6.3%, 2nd Cat
Km 127.0: Col de l'Echarasson, 12.0 km climb at 7.4%, 1st Cat
Km 137.0: Col de Carri, 6.2 km climb at 2.6%, 3rd Cat
Km 164.0: Col de Chalimont, 10.3 km climb at 5.8%, 2nd Cat
Km 180.5: Villard-de-Lans - Côte 2000, 2.3 km climb at 5.7%, 2nd Cat
 

Stage 15 Results: Postal, with strong help from CSC was able to neutralize a strong attack from Ullrich on the Col de l'Echarasson. In the final sprint, Armstrong and Basso displayed their superiority with Armstrong getting the win and the Yellow Jersey. This gives Armstrong the coveted position of last starter on tomorrow's L'Alpe d'Huez time trial. He will be able to monitor is own progress and his rivals up the mountain.

1. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 4hr 40min 30sec
2. Ivan Basso (CSC) s.t.
3. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 3sec
4. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) @ 6sec
5. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 13sec
6. Richard Virenque (Quick Step) @ 48sec
7. Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) @ 49sec
8. Jose Azevedo (US Postal) s.t.
9. Jens Voigt (CSC) @ 1min 4sec
10. Carlos Sastre (CSC) @ 1min 24sec
11. Laurent Brochard (Ag2R) @ 1min 58sec
12. Marius Sabaliauskas (Saeco) @ 2min 2sec
13. Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) @ 2min 10sec
14. Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) @ 2min 11sec
15. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 2min 13sec
16. Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner) s.t.
17. Francisco Mancebo (Ille Balears) s.t.
18. Pietro Caucchioli (Alessio) s.t.
32. Bobby Julich (CSC) @ 8min 42sec
86. Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) @ 23min 49sec
157 finishers

GC after Stage 15:

1. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 67 hr 13min 43sec
2. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 1min 25sec
3. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) @ 3min 22sec
4. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) @ 5min 39sec
5. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 6min 54sec
6. Jose Azevedo (US Postal) @ 7min 34sec
7. Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner) @ 8min 19sec
8. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) @ 9min 28sec
9. Pietro Caucchioli (Alessio) @ 10min 10sec
10. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 10min 58sec
11. Carlos Sastre (CSC) @ 11min 25sec
12. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 12min 1sec
44. Roberto Heras (liberty Seguros) @ 51min 22sec
49. Bobby Julich (CSC) @ 56min 53sec
157. Lanterne Rouge Sebastien Joly (Credit Agricole) @ 2hr59min 7sec

Points (Green Jersey)

1. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) 225 points
2. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) 213
3. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) 212
4. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) 204
5. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) 189

Climber (Polka Dot Jersey)

1. Richard Virenque (Quick Step) 172 points
2. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 102
3. Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) 95
4. Ivan Basso (CSC) 91
5. Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) 78

Young Rider (White Jersey)

1. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) 67hr 23min 11sec
2. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 7min 41sec
3. Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears) @ 7min 54sec

Team GC:

1. CSC @ 199hr 34min 26sec
2. T-Mobile @ 55sec
3. US Postal @ 6min 41sec
4. Phonak @ 26min 39sec
5. Illes Balears @ 35min 56sec

Stage 15 preview:

It's a hot, cloudless day with almost no wind. With the crucial l'Alpe d'Huez time trial tomorrow, a lot of the contenders would like to ride as economically as possible. Given the challenging profile of today's stage and the ceaseless, ongoing aggression, it will be hard to take it easy.

The peloton is three riders smaller. Two riders did not start: super aggressive Jakob Piil (CSC) has an injured knee (torn tendon) and can barely walk. Iban Mayo (Euskaltel,) disappointed with his performance and his form, quit. Paolo Valoti (Domina Vacanze) abandoned the race today. That leaves three complete teams, Rabobank, Quick-Step and US Postal. T-Mobile's wunder-racer and top GC man Andreas Kloben crashed but is now back in the peloton.

The Race:

Km 93. It has been very aggressive. There are several groups off the front from a big move that went at kilometer 60. Virenque has been looking to solidify his Polka-Dot Jersey and took the 1st place points of the second category Col des Limouches. Stuart O'Grady is off the front of the lead group which is grouping after the climb. I'll give the situation with the name and times after things become a bt more clear.

In the lead: Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis)

About 6 seconds back, Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole)

30 seconds behind them: Santos Gonzalez, Voigt, Garcia-Acosta, Virenque, Vandevelde, Sunderland Brochard and Rasmussen.

Another unknown distance are Aitor Gonzalez and Charteau. The Armstrong/Voeckler group is about 3 minutes behind O'Grady.

Thomas Voeckler did another one of those mysterious bike changes. The Tour de France site says that Voeckler worries that the glue that holds his tubular tires onto the rims has softened on the long descents. He doesn't want to roll a tire and crash.

Km 118. On the only 1st category climb of the day, the Col de l'Echarasson. Stuart O'Grady's solo effort allowed him to scoop up the win in the second intermediate sprint in his quest to take the Green Jersey from Robbie McEwen. At present, O'Grady is still ahead with Thor Hushovd chasing, 30 seconds back. The Virenque group is about 1 minute behind O'Grady. The Voeckler/Armstrong peloton is 6min 16 sec behind O'Grady.

Km 123. Ullrich has attacked the Armstrong group. Voeckler has been dropped. This is his last day in Yellow. Up front, Rasmussen and Virenque are in the lead. O'Grady has been caught and spit out.

Posties don't seem to be doing anything as Der Kaiser gains an 8sec lead.

Km 125. Ullrich is pounding up the hill, getting out of the saddle, keeping the bike going. He's got 35 seconds. Landis is leading the very small Armstrong group which also has T-Mobile's Andreas Kloden and it looks like Basso with them. I can't believe it, but Francisco Mancebo has been dropped. Postal's response is very measured and controlled. Did Ullrich take page out of the Postal book and engage in disinformation when Ullrich said he was giving up the GC quest and going to ride for Kloden?

Km 132. Ullrich blasted by Gonzalez and Garcia Acosta, telling them to get on his wheel. Ullrich is ticking over a very high cadence. Virenque went over the top of the climb first with his breakaway companion Rasmussen. Armstong is 40 seconds behind Ullrich.

Km 136. Rasmussen and Virenque lead. Ullrich has picked up Laurent Borchard and has Santos Gonzalez with him. The gap between the Ullrich trio and the Armstrong group is 56 seconds. Ullrich is taking fantastic risks to get down the hill fast.

The Armstong group has Sastre, Voigt and Basso, so he's getting help from CSC. Gerolsteiner's Totschnig missed the move.

Km 145. Armstrong has Landis and Azevedo with him for help

Km 150. With lots of hard work from CSC, Armstrong and Basso are slowly bringing Ullrich back. The gap is now 30 seconds.

Km 154. Ullrich is caught. Virenque and Rasmussen are now 46 seconds up the road.

Under the 25 km to go banner on the 2nd category Col de Chalimont. Virenque and Rasmussen are 50 seconds ahead of a slowing Armstrong group. In this lead group are: Armstrong, Azevedo, Landis (all US Postal), Ullrich, Kloden (both T-Mobile), Santos Gonzalez (Phonak), Basso, Sastre, Voigt (All 3 CSC), Leipheimer, Brochard and Sabaliauskas.

Yellow Jersey Voeckler is 6 minutes back.

Km 160. Just as it seemed that Rasmussen and Virenque would be caught, Levi Leipheimer jumped out of the pack. His teammate Rasmussen jumped on his wheel as did Virenque.They have a small gap.

Rasmussen came off almost immediately.

US Postal's Landis continues to do all of the work.

Km 162. Leipheimer and Virenque are caught. Landis pulls off and US Postal's Azevedo goes to work. Here's who's left in the front group: Armstrong, Azevedo, Ullrich, Kloden, Basso, Sastre, Virenque and Leipheimer. Ullrich, Armstrong and Basso have teammates.

CSC's Sastre is helping with the work.

Km 168. Virenque takes the 1st place points on the Chalimont.

10 km to go. Rasmussen and Voigt get back on the back of the Armstrong/Basso/Ullrich group on the descent.

5 km to go. CSC's Voigt is clenching his teeth and working very hard. I wonder what CSC boss Bjarne Riis is planning? He's got three guys up there and he won't waste that bit of wealth without trying some bit of mischief.

4 km to go. Voigt swings off. Bottles are being tossed for the uphill finish.

2 km to go. The climb starts. US Postal's Azevedo gets out of the saddle and lifts the pace. Armstrong is sitting near the back, watching.

1.5 to go. It's Kloden, Ullrich, Armstrong, Leipheimer and Basso. Kloden is leading. Armstrong is in the big ring, cross-chained to the big cog in the back. He's set to pounce. This has Bruyneel's planning written all over it.

The finish: Leipheimer lost contact in the last 500 meters. Kloden with his ripped shorts kept leading. Armstrong jumped and Basso got on his wheel. Ullrich was gapped just slightly. Armstrong clearly beat Basso to the line with an emphatic clenched fist salute. Armstrong now is in Yellow


Stage 16, Wednesday, July 21: 15.5 km, Bourg d'Oisans - L'Alpe d'Huez (TT)

Km 15.5: L'Alpe d'Huez, 13.8 km climb at 7.9%, H.C

Stage 16 Results:

1. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 39min 41.17sec
2. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 61sec
3. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) @ 1min 41sec
4. Jose Azevedo (US Postal) @ 1min 45sed
5. Santos Gonzalez @ 2min 11sec
6. Giuseppe Guerini (T-Mobile) @ 2min 11sec
7. Valdimir Karpets (Illes Balears) @ 2min 15sec
8. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 2min 23sec
9. David Moncoutie @ 2min27sec
10. Carlos Sastre (CSC) @ 2min 23sec
11. Michael Rogers (Quick Step) @ 2min 33sec
12. Jose Enrique Gutierrez (Phonak) @ 3min 4sec
13. Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) @ 3min 5se
14. Maros Serrano (Liberty Seguros) @ 3min 8sec
15. Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner) 2 3min 14sec
16. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 3min 19sec
17. Mikel Astarloza (Ag2R) @ 3min 24sec
18. Juan Miguel Mercado (Quick Step) @ 3min 24sec
19. Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) @ 3min 25sec
20. Floyd Landis (US Postal) @ 3min 34sec

GC after Stage 16:

1. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 67 hr 53min 24sec
2. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 3min 48sec
3. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) @ 5min 3sec
4. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 7min 55sec
5. Jose Azevedo (US Postal) @ 9min 19sec
6. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) @ 9min 20sec
7. Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner) 11min 34sec
8. Carlos Sastre (CSC) @ 13min 56sec
9. Pietro Caucchioli (Alessio) @ 14min 8sec
10. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 15min 4sec
11. Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) @ 15min 27sec
12. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 15min 41sec
13. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) @ 16min 4sec
14. Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) @ 17min 23sec
15. Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) @ 18min 58sec
16. Richard Virenque (Quick Step) @ 19min 32sec
17. Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears) @ 19min 37sec
18. Laurent Brochard (Ag2R) @ 20min 26sec
19. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 20min 28sec
20. Stephane Goubert (Ag2R) @ 20min 55sec

Points (Green Jersey)

1. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) 225 points
2. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) 213
3. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) 212
4. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) 204
5. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) 189

Climber (Polka Dot Jersey)

1. Richard Virenque (Quick Step) 177 points
2. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 142
3. Ivan Basso (CSC) 101
4. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) 96
5. Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) 95

Young Rider (White Jersey)

1. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) 68hr 9min 28sec
2. Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears) @ 3min 33sec
3. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 4min 4sec

Team GC:

1. T-Mobile 201hr 39min 17sec
2. CSC @ 3min 44sec
3. US Postal @ 6min 13sec
4. Phonak @ 29min 12sec
5. Illes Balears @ 41min 21ssec

Stage 16 Introduction:

Since the 2004 Tour route was unveiled, people have been talking about this stage, an individual time trial up the 21 hairpin turns of the famous L'Alpe d'Huez. This is the 24th time the Tour has finished on L'Alpe d'Huez, but the first time the Alpe has been used as a crono site. Fausto Coppi won the first Stage to L'Alpe d'Huez on his way to his dominating 1952 Tour win.

The present record is 36min 50sec, set by Marco Pantani in 1995, but that is for the mountain part only, 13.8 km. Cyclingnews calculates that an extra 2min 10sec should be added to allow for the extra 1.7 kilometers. Pantani's time was set at the end of a road stage. How fast will they go if they are fresh (as fresh as a racer can be after 2 weeks of the Tour)? Armstrong expects the record to fall.

Both Armstrong and Basso met in the Mount Ventoux time trial in June's Dauphine Libere. Armstrong came in 5th, 1 minute, 58 seconds behind Iban Mayo. Basso was 29th, 6 minutes, 43 seconds off Mayo's pace. Armstrong beat Basso to the top by almost 5 minutes. As Armstrong has said repeatedly, you cannot compare perfomances in June with capabilites in the 3rd week of the Tour de France. Ullrich remains a cipher. This should be as exciting and fun a race as has ever been run.

Armstron'g coach, Chris Carmichael, thinks the Tour could be wrapped up here. It might be in that there are so few remaining chances to open up any more time gaps. Before the Tour started, Ullrich said that the real decisive stage will be the monster that comes tomorrow.

The Los Angeles Times says that estimates of race fans who will be lining the road are approaching 1 million fans. The racers will have to time trial through a sea of screaming, flag-waving, race-intoxicated spectators.

There is a big controversy regarding how CSC manger Bjarne Riis handled his men when Ullrich attacked on the 1st category Col de l'Echarasson in Stage 15. CSC had a man off the front (Jens Voigt) while their GC man, Basso (accompanied by teammate Sastre) was riding with Armstrong. Riis told Voigt to hold up and go back and help Postal and Sastre chase down Ullrich. Riis defended himself, saying that he was going for the Basso stage win. I have to agree with Cyrille Guimard who says that an opportunity by the race challengers to isolate Armstrong from his team and put them in a defensive postion was blown. The effect of the CSC tactics were to tighten Armstrong's grip on the race.

The Race:

The first rider is sceduledd to go off at 2:00 PM French local time (5:00 AM Pacific Daylight Time). They will go in reverse GC order in 1 minute intervals until Iker Camino (Euskaltel). Then, starting with Oscarr Sevilla (Phonak), the remaining 22 riders will go in 2 minute intervals. The first rider off will be Lanterne Rouge Sebastien Joly (Credit Agricole).

The Schedule for the final 5 riders, French local time. Add 9 hours for Pacific Daylight time:

Jan Ullrich 4:50 PM
Francisco Mancebo 4:52
Andreas Kloden 4:54
Ivan Basso 4:56
Lance Armstrong 4:58 and should finish about 5:37 PM (8:30 AM PDT).

The riders are using normal, but superlight, road bikes. No aero helmets.

When Armstrong's bike was weighed to make sure it met UCI rules, there was some sort of discussion between a Postal guy and a referee. Is it a couple of grams too light? Yes, by 20 grams. That will get fixed.

Ullrich is off. He has aero clip-ons on his handlebars for speed in the sections where his speed will be higher.

Armstrong is off. No clip-ons. Cotton cycling cap on backwards, very high cadence. He is riding on the tops through a thick sea of barely parting spectators. The size of the crowd is unbelievable. Ullrich is climbing on his clip-ons.

Basso has clip-ons but I don't see him using them.

Ullrich is doing the whole climb so far on his aero bars, turning his giant 177.5 cranks at his slower cadence. Armstrong is out of the saddle a lot of the time.

Ullrich goes through the 9.5 km checkpint at the fastest time of the day.

Kloden goes through the 9.5 km point with the second best time so far, only about 20 seconds slower than Ullrich

Basso goes through the time check in 4th place.

Holy Mackerel! Armstrong is almost right there. Here he comes! He goes thorugh the 9.5 km time check with the best time, about 40 seconds faster than Ullrich. Armstrorng will probably catch Basso in a few kilometers. Armstrong is riding like his bike is on fire!

Ullrich goes through the 12.5 km checkpoint with the fastest time.

4 km to go: Armstrong can see Basso, about 100 meters up the road.

Armstrong catches Basso. Now they are riding side-by-side.

Ullrich crosses the finish with the best time so far, 40min 42.49sec

Armstrong gets out of the saddle and goes harder and faster still. He tosses his bottle. Basso can't keep up. The gap starts to grow.

Armstrong gets on the flatter part of the finishing kilometer. He's on the drops, driving his bike, his pedals spinning like flywheels.

Armstrong wins the stage!

Basso crosses at 42min 4.06sec

The times:

1. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 39min 41.17sec
2. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 61sec
3. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) @ 1min 41sec
4. Jose Azevedo (US Postal) @ 1min 45sec
5. Santos Gonzalez @ 2min 11sec
6. Giuseppe Guerini (T-Mobile) @ 2min 11sec
7. Valdimir Karpets (Illes Balears) @ 2min 15sec
8. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 2min 23sec
9. David Moncoutie @ 2min 23sec
10. Carlos Sastre (CSC) @ 2min 27sec

Green Jersey Robbie McEwen finished with a time of 48min 9sec (and doing a wheelie at the end). There were fears that he would not make the elimination cutoff time, but he looks safe to continue tomorrow.


Stage 17, Thursday, July 22: 204.5 km, Bourg d'Oisans - Le Grand Bornand.

Km 36.0: Col du Glandon, 21.9 km climb at 5.2%, 1st Cat
Km 79.0: Col de la Madeleine (souvenir Henri Desgrange), 19.5 km climb at 7.8%, H.C.
Km 134.5: Col de Tamié, 8.7 km climb at 6.6%, 2nd Cat
Km 157.5: Col de la Forclaz, 8.2 km climb at 8.0%, 1st Cat
Km 191.5: Col de la Croix Fry, 11.5 km climb at 7.1%, 1st Cat

Stage 17 Results: Neither Armstrong nor Basso were ever threatened. T-Mobile's promise to attack never materialized.

1. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 6hr 11min 52sec
2. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) s.t.
3. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 1sec
4. Ivan Basso (CSC) s.t.
5. Floyd Landis (US Postal) @ 13sec
6. Axel Merckx (Lotto) @ 1min 1sec
7. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) s.t.
8. Carlos Sastre (CSC) @ 1min 2sec
9. Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) s.t.
10. Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner) s.t.
11. Jose Azevedo (US Postal) s.t.
12. Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears) @ 2min
13. Oscar Periero (Phonak) @ 2min 5sec
14. Giuseppe Guerini (T-Mobile) s.t.
15. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) s.t.
16. Pietro Caucchili (Alessio) s.t.
17. Richard Virenque (Quick step) s.t.
18. Juan Miguel Mercado (Quick Step) @ 2min 8sec
19. Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) @ 2min 14sec
20. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 2min
22. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) @ 4min 48sec
24. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 4min 48sec
31. Bobby Julich (CSC) @ 8min 18sec

GC after Stage 17, Voeckler stays in White:

1. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 74 hr 4min 56sec
2. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 4min 9sec
3. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) @ 5min 11sec
4. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 8min 8sec
5. Jose Azevedo (US Postal) @ 10min 41sec
6. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) @ 11min 45sec
7. Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner) 12min 46sec
8. Carlos Sastre (CSC) @ 15min 14sec
9. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 16min 25sec
10. Pietro Caucchioli (Alessio) @ 16min 25sec
11. Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) @ 17min 52sec
12. Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) @ 19min 57sec
13. Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) @ 20min 20sec
14. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 20min 41sec
15. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) @ 21min 12sec
16. Richard Virenque (Quick Step) @ 21min 53sec
17. Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears) @ 21min 57sec
18. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 23min 8sec
19. Jose Luis Rubiera (US Postal) @ 29min 10sec
20. Stephane Goubert (Ag2R) @ 29min 33sec

Points (Green Jersey)

1. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) 225 points
2. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) 213
3. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) 212
4. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) 204
5. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) 189

Climber (Polka Dot Jersey)

1. Richard Virenque (Quick Step) 226 points
2. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 168
3. Ivan Basso (CSC) 119
4. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) 115
4. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) 112

Young Rider (White Jersey) It's getting close...

1. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) 74hr 26min 8sec
2. Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears) @ 45sec
3. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 1min 56sec

Team GC:

1. T-Mobile 220hr 17min 9sec
2. US Postal @ 5min 12sec
2. CSC @ 10min 49sec
4. Phonak @ 52min 4sec
5. Quick Step @ 54min 31sec

Stage 17 Introduction:

T-Mobile has been busy since the L'Alpe d'Huez time trial. They went to the store and bought red paint and paint brushes to paint a nice big circular target on the back of the jersey of CSC's Ivan Basso. Both Jan Ullrich and Andreas Kloden have announced plans to salvage this Tour by taking the 2nd and 3rd places on the podium. That means moving a reluctant Ivan Basso from second down to fourth.

This new interest in the lower placing has echoes of 1952 when Fausto Coppi was so dominating that the organizers doubled the prizes for 2nd and 3rd to create a little interest. They won't have to do that this year, but the attention has now become focused on the fight for the runners-up.

At this point Basso is @ 3min 48sec behind Armstrong in the General Classification, Kloden is @ 5min 3sec and Ullrich is down 7min 55sec. That translates to Kloden being only 1min 15sec behind Basso and Ullrich is 4min 7sec off Basso's pace. With possibly the toughest stage of the Tour tomorrow and the 55km time trial on Saturday, T-Mobile thinks they can do it. Bjarne Riis and his CSC men may have a very hard day defending Basso, who looks to be weakening slightly. If Basso falters at all, he will be savaged.

Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears) wants to take the Young Rider's White Jersey from Thomas Voeckler. He has been steadily gaining ground and 3min 33sec behind now. If Voeckler cracks on today's tough stage, he will lose it, Karpets is a pretty good rider.

The nationalistic crowds with the occasional foul-mouth jerk and even some spitting in both the Pyrenees and the Alps have been the subject of no small amount of discourse from upset writers, racers and even the organizers. And rightfully so.

Rowdy hooliganism has a long and storied career in the Tour de France, going back almost to the very beginning. In the 1904 Tour, pistols had to be fired to break up gangs waiting to waylay racers from opposing teams. In the 1950 Tour, after a crash with Jean Robic, Gino Bartali was roughoused by partisan spectators, one of whom brandished a knife. Furious, Bartali talked both the Italian "A" and "B" teams into quitting the Tour, taking the Yellow Jersey, Fiorenzo Magni, with him.

Two-time Giro winner Gilberto Simoni has said that he does not enjoy the Tour de France and will not be coming back. He joins a long list of great Italian riders who did not find the rhythm and style of the Tour to their liking. Francesco Moser, Giuseppe Saronni and Alfredo Binda all packed it in after one try.

The race:

Two racers finished outside the time limit in the Stage 16 time trial and were eliminated: Davide Bramante (Quick Step) and Aart Vierhouten (Lotto).

Not starting today: Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros), ALessandro Bertolini (Alessio) and Laurent Lefevre (Brioches La Boulangere). Already today another racer has abandoned, Janeck Tombak (Cofidis). He reached down to adjust his wheel sensor used for timing and his hand slid into the wheel. He badly sliced his hand and has been driven to the hospital in an ambulance.

It's hot and sunny. The racers are unzipping their jerseys.

Km 70: After the Glandon and halfway up the Madeleine: In the first 10 kilometers of today's stage, a break of 5 established itself: Michele Bartoli (CSC), Rolf Aldag (T-Mobile), Filippo Simeoni (Domina Vacanze), Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) and Ludovic Martin (RAGT). Simoni is the highest ranked member of the break in GC. He's 12th, @ 15min 41sec.

Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) and Richard Virenque (Quick Step) are in pursuit and are closing in on the quintet. In previous stages, since both have been trying to win the Polka Dot Jersey, they have refused to work together. Maybe because Virenque now has such a lock on the competition they have decided that a little teamwork would be in both of their best interests.

The gap between the Simoni Quintet and Virenque/Moreau is 1min 23sec, with the Yellow Jersey peloton about 6 minute behind Simoni.

Km 95. Simoni was the first over the Madeleine, the highest point of this year's Tour, and the winner of the special prime, 5,000 euros for the Souvenir Henri Desgrange. Virenque and Moreau caught the Simoni quintet on the descent of the Madeleine. Filippo Simeoni could not keep up with the break on the ascent and was dropped. It now the leading 6, 7min 35sec ahead of the Yellow Jersey peloton.

Correction, it is CSC's Michele Bartoli who was dropped and has now been absorbed by the peloton.

The Blue Posties are leading the Pack.

Km 111. The lead group of 6 is working well together. The Postal team is clearly not worried about any of the riders up the front and are just keeping things from getting out of hand. Tour organizers are punishing US Postal for putting the Postal following car directly behind Armstrong and in front of the camerman in yesterday's time trial. The Postal team car is last in the Team car convoy. If Amrstong gets a flat, he will have a longer wait to get service. Normally the GC leader's car is first. Postal Boss Bruyneel wanted to have his car nice and close to Armstong for security.

The gap is approaching 8 minutes.

CSC has now come to the front of the peloton and is working to protect Basso's 2nd place. The gap is back down to 7 min 20sec.

Km 120, 84 to go. CSC's efforts have started to bite. The gap of Moreau, Aldag, Simoni, Virenque, Martin and Simeoni to the peloton is down to 6min 45sec.

Km 126. CSC and US Postal have the peloton strung out. The peloton has grown rather large as the riders dropped on the Madeleine have managed to get back on. The gap to the Virenque lead group is down to 4min 35sec. The leaders are on the the 3rd climb, the 2nd category Col de Tamié.

After being dropped by the breakaway, CSC's Michele Bartoli has abandoned the tour de France. That leaves only 2 complete teams, Rabobank and US Postal. There are now 150 riders left in the Tour.

Km 131. Simeoni and Martin have been dropped by the Aldag/Virenque/Moreau/Simoni lead group. It's all Posties at the front of the peloton right now.

Km 133. Virenque was first over the Col de Tamié, scooping up more climber's points. T-Mobile's Aldag is sticking with the group but he sufferin' like a dog on the climbs. Back in the peloton, CSC's Jens Voigt attacked, precipitating a chase by Euskaltel's Iker Flores.

Flores goes by Voigt. Voigt can't get away on the climb and is caught by the pack, but Flores is getting away.

Km 143. One of the early breakaways, Filippo Simeoni has been caught by the peloton. Up front, Iker Flores is trying to bridge the gap up to the leading quartet and Ludovic Martin is also up there in no-man's-land. In the lead, the Virenque/Moreau/Simoni/Aldag group has a gap of about 4min 16sec on the Yellow Jersey peloton. Aldag isn't doing any work. He's up there, I assume, to be ready for a Kloden or Ullrich attack that plans to bridge up to him. It would be nice to see a team race with a bit of nuance and tactical flair instead of turning this into a test of pure horsepower. Any team that's wants to do it that way will get killed by Postal who have all the watts needed to win that sort of test.

Postal is doing all the work. Ullrich and Voeckler are just in sight behind Armstrong.

We're on our way to the very tough Col de la Forclaz.

Iker Flores has caught Ludovic Martin.

Km. 147. Simoni is dancing on the pedals as the leaders are on the Forclaz. He looks better than he has this whole Tour. Aldag is shelled. Flores and Martin are only 39 seconds ahead of the peloton. I don't think their break will survive the Forclaz.

Simoni and Virenque have dropped Moreau. So now it's just the two of them at the pointy part of the race.

Moreau claws his way back to the duo.

Km 153. T-Mobile's Ivanov is at the front, whipping up the pace. T-Mobile's Guerini is also up there. I guess the racing starts now.

Ivanov hammers hard while Guerini and Kloden are trying to get into position. He detaches himself from the group with his efforts. He relaxes a bit when he sees that he screwed up. The now really reduced peloton is back together.

That might have been a probe to see what Postal would do. They didn't react. They just reorgainzed their group and kept on keepin' on.

Km 160. Over the top of the Forclaz. Virenque went over first of his trio. I think he has the Climber's competition sewn up. There aren't enough points left to take his lead away. Aldag became detached near the summit. Flores was caught. There are now about 20 riders with Armstrong, Basso and Ullrich as they crest the summit. Mancebo and Caucchioli had come off, but they have regained the field.

Here are the remaining riders in the Armstrong group. A few more will probably regain contact on the descent befroe the ascent of the Col e la Croix Fry: Armstrong, Azevedo, Landis, Rubiera (4 Posties!), Ullrich, Guerini, Kloden (3 T-Mobile), Gonzalez, Pereiro (2 Phonaks), Basso, Sastre (2 CSC), Mancebo, Karpets (2 IBB's), Leipheimer, Rasmussen (2 Rabobanks), Totschnig, Caucchioli, Flores, Casar and Merckx

Julich and Voeckler regain the Armstrong group. Aldag gets caught and tossed.

Km 172. The gap from the Armstong group to Virenque/Moreau/Simoni is down to 2 minutes 12sec. Postal is doing the work, still.

T-Mobile's Giuseppe Guerini has also rejoined, loaded with water bottles. He'll be a big help if T-Mobile does something on the final climb, the Col de la Croix Fry.

It's not a hill-top finish, so anyone who gets away has to hold it for about 13 kilometers after the summit.

Km 178, the gap is now only 1min 52sec. I'm not as sharp as Bruyneel about this stuff, but I would want to catch the trio before the summit. If a dangerman bridged up to them, he would have the help of two of the finest descenders alive, Richard Virenque and Gilberto Simoni. Having them on a descent and roll into town would be a huge advantage.

Euskaltel's Iker Flores takes another shot at getting away. FLoyd Landis, leading the pack, doesn't blink an eye and slowly reels him back in.

Km 181. CSC's Sastre and Basso go. No good. US Postal's Azevedo drags Armstrong and the rest back up. It looks like Azevedo is the last Postie left to help Armstrong.

Correction: Landis is still there.

Sastre attacks and flies up the mountain and past the lead trio. Vireqnue jumps on his wheel. Moreau and Simoni have been caught by the peloton.

Virenque is too tired from his long break to hold Sastre's wheel.

Virenque is caught. Both he and Moreau are spit out the back as Landis keep the pace high. Only Sastre is off the front.

Km 186. The mountain has taken its toll. Sastre can't get more than 15 seconds ahead of the selct members of the peloton: Armstrong, Landis, Azevedo, Ullrich, Kloden, Periero, Leipheimer, Basso, Totschnig, Rasmussen, Karpets and Merckx

Totschnig and Karpets are sliding off.

Azevedo, Merckx and Rasmussen are gone. Leipheimer is still there.

16 km to go: Leipheimer comes off.

2km from the summit: Sastre comes off.

Near the summit: It's Ullrich, Kloden, Basso and Armstrong led by Landis. No attack. Is everyone's tank empty? Kloden and Ullrich are sitting on. No time gain that way.

At the summit of the Col de la Croix Fry: Landis detached himself a little, followed by Ullrich and Armstrong, then a gap to Basso and Kloden. Armstrong looks at Ullrich to take the lead, but Ullrich will not strand Kloden. They descend together.

1 km to go. Landis attacks! Ullrich chases him down.

Kloden counters. No reaction.

The Finish: Landis digs and and begins chasing Kloden. He closes the gap somewhat.

Armstrong comes off Landis' wheel and does a pretzel sprint, twisting the bike out of shape, so hot is he for the win. He nips Kloden at the line. Ullrich was on Armstrong's wheel, but didn't even hold his wheel. Basso was 4th.

Results:

1. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 6hr 11min 52sec
2. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) s.t.
3. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 1sec
4. Ivan Basso (CSC) s.t.
5. Floyd Landis (US Postal) @ 13sec

Post Stage 18 notes:

Federico Bahamontes, who is currently tied with Lucien van Impe and Richard Virenque at six King of the Mountains titles has made remarks that show a bit of contempt for the approaching 7th KOM title for King Richard. Bahamontes said that there are no real climbers fighting Virenque for the title compared to years past when several great climbers would contend for the crown. Also, he says that the Tour organization is helping Virenque by making sure there are plenty of lead vehicles close to him to give help on his long breaks. He said he believes Charly Gaul was the greatest climber of all time.


Stage 18, Friday, July 23: 166.5 km, Annemasse - Lons-le-Saunier

Km 34.5: Côte de Collonges, 2.5 km climb at 4.2%, 4th Cat
Km 75.5: Col de la Faucille, 11.5 km climb at 6.2%, 2nd Cat
Km 87.5: Côte de Lajoux, 3.7 km climb at 5.4%, 3rd Cat
Km 127.0: Côte des Crozets, 6.3 km climb at 3.7%, 3rd Cat
Km 153.0: Côte de Nogna, 2.2 km climb at 4.3%, 4th Cat

Stage 18 Results:

1. Juan Miguel Mercado (Quick Step) 4hr 4min 3sec
2. Vicente Garcia-Acosta (Illes Balears) s.t.
3. Dimitriy Fofonov (Cofidis) @ 11sec
4. Sebastien Joly (Credit Agricole) s.t.
5. Marc Lotz (Rabobank) s.t.
6. Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo) s.t.
7. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) @ 11 min 29sec
8. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) s.t.
9. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) s.t.
10. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) s.t.

GC after Stage 18, No change top the top 20:

1. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 78hr 20min 28sec
2. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 4min 9sec
3. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) @ 5min 11sec
4. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 8min 8sec
5. Jose Azevedo (US Postal) @ 10min 41sec
6. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) @ 11min 45sec
7. Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner) 12min 46sec
8. Carlos Sastre (CSC) @ 15min 14sec
9. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 16min 25sec
10. Pietro Caucchioli (Alessio) @ 16min 33sec
11. Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) @ 17min 52sec
12. Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) @ 19min 57sec
13. Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) @ 20min 20sec
14. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 20min 41sec
15. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) @ 21min 12sec
16. Richard Virenque (Quick Step) @ 21min 53sec
17. Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears) @ 21min 57sec
18. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 23min 8sec
19. Jose Luis Rubiera (US Postal) @ 29min 10sec
20. Stephane Goubert (Ag2R) @ 29min 33sec

Points (Green Jersey)

1. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) 238 points
2. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) 227
3. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) 221
4. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) 215
5. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) 101

Climber (Polka Dot Jersey) Recalculated after yesterday was found to have errors. I think the judges decided that Armstrong, not Landis was first over the Coix Fry yesterday.)

1. Richard Virenque (Quick Step) 226 points
2. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 172
3. Ivan Basso (CSC) 119
4. Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) 119
5. Jan Ullrich 115

Young Rider (White Jersey) It's getting close...

1. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) 78hr 41min 40sec
2. Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears) @ 45sec
3. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 1min 56sec

Team GC:

1. T-Mobile 233hr 3min 45sec
2. US Postal @ 5min 12sec
3. CSC @ 10min 49sec
4. Quick Step @ 43min 7sec
5. Illes Balears @ 46min 38sec

Stage 18 Introduction:

Three more riders than were mentioned in yesterday's coverage abandoned: Daniel Becke (Illes Balears). Didier Rous (Brioches La Boulangere) and Massimo Giunti (Domina Vacanze). That leaves 147 classified riders in the Tour at the end of Stage 17.

Jan Ullrich had said that yesterday's Stage 17 woud be the decisive one. While Armstrong clinched the Tour in the L'Alpe d'Huez Time Trial, Ullrich probably lost the likely chance to gain a spot on the podium when he came up empty yesterday. I looked at the tape again of T-Mobile domestique Sergei Ivanov's acceleration on the Forclaz with Ullrich and Kloden right there and Guerini scrambling to get up. That could not have been just a probe. Ivanov attacked in what sure looked like an organized (sloppily, granted) set-up. Kloden and Ullrich just didn't have or thought they din't have the suds to go at that moment. After that, US Postal's Floyd Landis kept the pace so high no one could get away. If Ullrich wants a podium place, he will have to take almost 5 minutes out of Basso in Saturday's time trial. Not impossible, but a tall order.

The Race:

Km 74, 92 to go. On the 2nd Category Col de la Faucille, the last and biggest climb left in the 2004 Tour de France. From here on, there are two 3's and one 4 today and then a single category 4 climb on Sunday, the last day.

Since about kilometer 9 a break has been off the front. It contains: Sebastian Joly (Credit Agricole), Vincente Garcia-Acosta (Illes Balears), Dmitriy Fofonov (Cofidis), Juan Miguel Mercado (Quick Step), Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo) and Marc Lotz (Rabobank). The best placed of them is Mercado, 44th in GC @ 1hr 12min 13sec.

The gap is 6min 20sec

There was an odd episode. A while back, Filippo Simeoni was bridging up to the break. He was joined by Armstrong. They made it up to the six. Armstrong was working in the break. Simeoni and Armstrong ended up talking (arguing?). Simeoni is suing Armstrong because Armstrong called Simeoni a liar in his testimony in the Dr. Ferarri doping case. They stopped working and sat up. It is said that Garcia-Acosta asked Simeoni to leave the break because it could not succeed with him in it because Armstrong would stay with Simeoni and the pack would hunt them down.

They have been both caught by the peloton. While Armstrong was in the break the pack (T-Mobile especially) reacted to chase it down.

Surely Armstrong decided that his nemesis was not going to be allowed a day in the suns. Don't mess with Texas.

Km 85. The gap to the leading 6 riders is 6min 54sec on the descent. There is lots of talk going around that this will be Armstrong's last Tour. If he rides next year, he is said to be thinking of riding the Vuelta, the Giro and the Classics. He and Bruyneel are staying very closed-mouthed.

The roads had been a bit moist earlier, but they look dry now.

Postal is all at the front doing a very non-intensive tempo. Thier big man Pavel Padrnos is leading up the 3rd category Cote da Lajoux. Even so, exhausted White Jersey Thomas Voeckler is sitting at the very back of the peloton looking like he's having trouble maintaining contact.To keep his White Jersey he not only has to survive today, he must not let Vladimir Karpets take his remaining 45 seconds lead away in tomorrow's 55 km time trial. That will be a tough order.

Km 107. The gap to the leading 6 is up to 9min 18sec. Postal is still leading and not terribly worried about things. The rest of the pack is content to rest a bit before tomorrow's time trial.

More about the Armstrong/Simeoni feud. According to Le Mond, it goes this way: Simeoni testified that Dr. Michele Ferrari showed him how to use EPO. Armstrong then publicly called Simeoni a liar. Simeoni is now suing Armstrong for defamation. Armstrong has used Ferrari as a consultant in his training.

Km 116. The gap is up to 10min 58sec. To recap, the riders in the break: Sebastian Joly (Credit Agricole), Vincente Garcia-Acosta (Illes Balears), Dmitriy Fofonov (Cofidis), Juan Miguel Mercado (Quick Step), Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo) and Marc Lotz (Rabobank). The best placed of them is Mercado, 44th in GC @ 1hr 12min 13sec.

Km 120. The gap is now 11min 11sec. The peloton has passed thorugh the feed zone. Everyone is getting some chow for the last 46 kilometers. Robbie McEwen is spending a bit of time making sure his jersey is nice and straight and his sleeves aren't bunched. Planning to make sure the photo of the field sprint winner looks good?

Km 124. It's all Postal at the front with Hincapie leading. The break still seems to be working well together. I could not see anyone missing his pulls. The 4th category Cote de Nogna, 15 kilometers from the finish migh be a good launch point for one of the breakaways to try for La Gloire (glorious renown).

Km 133. The gap is down to 10min 30sec. They are safe with no chance of being caught by the disinterested peloton with 34 km to go. The race is going through beautiful rolling forested countryside in the Fench Jura. The break has gone over the penultimate climb, the 3rd category Cote de Crozets.

Km 148, 18 to go. The gap to the 6 breakaways is 10min 30sec. No one in the break has pulled the trigger yet. They must be getting itchy.

Ok, here we go. Sebastien Joly (Credit Agricole) and second-to-last in GC takes off.

Joly's brought back.

Km 152. Quick Step's Mercado drops the hammer. They all watch him go up the hill.

Fofonov starts to chase and the group gets on his wheel.

Garcia-Acosta (Illes Balears takes off and bridges up to Mercado. He makes it. Two big, strong Spaniards now are in the lead.

8 km to go. Garcia-Acosta and Mercado are spinning their 150" gears and flying down the road. They have a 21 second gap on Lotz, Fofnov and Flecha (sorry, I missed his name in the break) have dropped Joly and are chasing hard. Joly hasn't given up.

5 km to go. Joly has made it up to the chasing trio. The gap to the Spanish duo up the road is 29 seconds.

3 km to go: 25 seconds.

2 km. 19sec

The finish. The duo worked solidly without worrying about sprint tactics until about 500 meters. Then Mercado forced Garcia-Acosta to lead, refusing to pull through at the end. They looked back and could see that the chasers were closing, but the gap was good enough to last until the finish. Mercado jumped early and Garcia-Acosta grabbed his wheel. He couldn't come around and Mercado wins.

We await the Peloton. The result is important with the competition for the Green Jersey so close.

A fantastic field sprint. Credit Agricole, Lotto and T-Mobile did the lead-out duties in the final drag to the line. Stuart O'Grady was second behind a teammate. He led it out with the finest of the field on his wheel, Hushovd, McEwen, Zabel, etc. Hushovd won the drag race.


Stage 19, Saturday, July 24: 55 km, Besançon - Besançon (Individual Time Trial)

Stage 19 Results: Armstrong had Basso, His 3-minute man, in sight, but didn't quite catch him. Basso moves to 3rd in GC, Ullrich can't nail the podium

1. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 1hr 6min 49sec
2. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 1min 1sec
3. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) @ 1min 27sec
4. Floyd Landis (US Postal) @ 2min 25sec
5. Bobby Julich (CSC) @ 2min 48sec
6. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 2min 50sec
7. Jens Voigt (CSC) @ 3min 19sec
8. Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears) @ 3min 33sec
9. Jose Luis Rubiera (US Postal) @ 3min 40sec
10. Jose Azevedo (US Postal) @ 3min 49sec
11. George Hincapie (US Postal) @ 3min 56sec
12. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 4min 6sec
13. Santos Gonzalez (Phonak) @ 4min 17sec
14. Aitor Gonzalez (Fassa Bortolo) @ 4min 33sec
15. Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Illes Balears) @ 4min 53sec
16. Viatcheslav Ekimov (US Postal) @ 4min 54sec
17. Carlos Sastre (CSC) @ 4min 56sec
18. Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) @ 4min 58sec
19. Marc Wauters (Rabobank) @ 5min 6sec
20. Jose Enrique Gutierrez (Phonak) @ 5min 13sec
 

GC after Stage 19:

1. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 79hr 27min 17sec
2. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) @ 6min 38sec
3. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 6min 59sec
4. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 9min 9sec
5. Jose Azevedo (US Postal) @ 14min 30sec
6. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) @ 18min 20sec
7. Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner) 18min 46sec
8. Carlos Sastre (CSC) @ 20min 10sec
9. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 20min 31sec
10. Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) @ 23min 13sec
11. Pietro Caucchioli (Alessio) @ 24min 40sec
12. Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) @ 24min 55sec
13. Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears) @ 25min 30sec
14. Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) @ 27min 16sec
15. Richard Virenque (Quick Step) @ 28min 30sec
16. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 29min 12sec
17. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 29min 19sec
18. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) @ 30min 53sec
19. Jose Luis Rubiera (US Postal) @ 32min 50sec
20. Stephane Goubert (Ag2R) @ 37min 30sec

Points (Green Jersey)

1. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) 238 points
2. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) 227
3. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) 221
4. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) 215
5. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) 101

Climber (Polka Dot Jersey)

1. Richard Virenque (Quick Step) 226 points
2. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 172
3. Ivan Basso (CSC) 119
4. Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) 119
5. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) 115

Young Rider (White Jersey)

1. Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears) 79hr 52min 47sec
2. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 3min 42sec
3. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) @ 5min 23sec

Team GC:

1. T-Mobile 236hr 33min 25sec
2. US Postal @ 2min 4sec
3. CSC @ 10min 33sec
4. Illes Balears @ 52min 26sec
5. Quick Step @ 57min 33sec

Stage 19 Introduction:

This will be interesting. While the overall lead has been decided, there are some unsettled accounts. Currently 3rd place Andreas Kloden is only 1min 2sec behind second place Ivan Basso. In this long, 55 kilometer time trial, Kloden has to take 1.13 seconds per kilometer out of Basso to get second place. In Wednesday's L'Alpe d'Huez time trial, Kloden pulled about 1min 20sec out of Basso. Looks bad for Basso.

Now, Herr Ullrich is sitting 3min 59sec behind Basso. He needs to pull 240 seconds out of Basso in 55 kilometers or 4.36 seconds per kilometer. That's a tall order. He beat Basso by 1min 22sec Wednesday. He would not have caught Basso if he had been his 2-minute man. The Tour organizers are thinking it will take around 1hr 10min to complete the rolling, winding course. That's almost twice as much time as Wendesday. This is iffy. Gilberto Simoni thinks Ullrich will do it. I think Ullrich needs a really good day.

The other question is can Ullrich beat Armstrong? Armstrong's form has been just scintillating. I'm betting on Armstrong to win.

I'll stick my neck out. GC podium after the time trial: Armstrong, Kloden, Basso with Ullrich a very close 4th.

1st rider is scheduled to be off at 11:00 AM French local time (2:00 AM Pacific Daylight Time). Last rider off (Armstrong) departs at 4:37 PM (7:37 AM PDT) and should finish around 5:45 PM (8:45 AM PDT)

I have one question. When Lance Armstrong forced Simeoni to leave yesterday's breakaway, he said that by punishing Simeoni he was protecting the interests of the peloton. How was this helpful? It seems that Simeoni only testified about what he knew about Dr. Ferrari and doping. If perfectly healthy 28-year-old racers are dying in their sleep (and they are), it seems that we need more dialog and more openess, not silence. It seems that Armstrong's action will only enforce the code of silence about drug use in sport. Racers who have opened up about their drug use in the past have had a rough ride from the peloton. Think of Bernard Thevenet when he came out with his cortisone use that almost destroyed his liver. He was given hell by both the racers and the press.

Today's Tommy Simpsons are not dying on Mount Ventoux, they are dying at home. Armstrong's petty and vindictive act not only demeaned him, it probably had the effect of setting back the war on doping in sport several years by making sure that any racer who does come clean is vilified and punished.

Post-race comments from other riders that have been published don't seem to support Armstrong's claim to helping racing. David Etxebarria (Euskaltel) was very strong in his negative comments regarding Armstrong's actions saying that the peloton did not like what he did.

The race:

It raining and windy, much like last year's final time trial that saw Ullrich crash. As of late, Ullrich has done poorly in the cold, wet weather. This could wreck his hopes to overtake Basso and put himself on the podium. The race course is an oblong loop so they have a tailwind in the outbound and a headwind coming home. There are no rated climbs, but there is a section of 3.9%. If you will look at the profile above, at kilometer 9 there is a Cote de Morre. "Cote" is French for hill. This is a touch, challenging, long time trial.

The riders will go off in 2-minute intervals until the last 20, who will depart every 3 minutes. Jimmy Casper (Cofidis), being the Lanterne Rouge, or last placed rider in General Classification, goes first. The riders then go off in reverse GC order with Armstong last.

Here are the start times for the last 5 riders:

AZEVEDO José (US Postal) 4:26 PM French local time (7:26 AM Pacific Daylight Time)
ULLRICH Jan (T-Mobile) 4:29
KLÖDEN Andréas (T-Mobile) 4:32:
BASSO Ivan (CSC) 4:35
ARMSTRONG Lance (US Postal) 4:38

The rain seems to have eased up, but out on the course it's very windy. At one point, low barriers, chairs and other debris was blown out onto the course.

The riders are using full time-trial bikes with rear discs, aero bars and front spoked aero wheels. These have to be tough to handle in the wind.

3:20 PM Local time: The wind seems to have eased. There are wet places, but lots of the course is dry.

Karpets is going fast. He'll probably take Voeckler's White Jersey today.

4:20 PM local time: Azevedo just took off. The Big Dogs are starting.

Ullrich starts. He looks calm, not nervous and shaky as in last year's final time trial. The sun is out and it's breezy.

And now Armstrong is on the road and already into his high-cadence time-trial mode. He's seeking his 10th Tour time trial victory.

At the 18 Km time check, Basso is holding his own:

1. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 22min 47sec
2. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 43sec
3. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) @ 47sec
4. Ivan Basso (CSC) s.t!!!
5. Floyd Landis (US Postal) @ 50secs

At the 35 km time check.

1. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 42min 31sec
2. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 46sec
3. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) @ 1min 4sec
4. Floyd Landis (US Postal) @ 1min 29sec
5. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 1min 35sec

At the 40 kilometer time check:

1. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 49min 20sec
2. Jan Ullrich @ 51sec
3. Andreas Kloden @ 1min 6sec
4. Floyd Landis @ 1min 38sec
5. Bobby Julich @ 1min 55sec
6. Ivan Basso @ 1min 58sec

At the 47.5 km time check:

1. Lance Armstrong 59min 17sec
2. Jan Ullrich @ 54sec
3. Andreas Kloden @ 1min 4sec
4. Floyd Landis @ 1min 58sec
5. Bobby Julich @ 2min 19sec
6. Ivan Basso @ 2min 24sec

Final Results: Armstrong had Basso, His 3-minute man, in sight, but didn't quite catch him. Basso moves to 3rd in GC, Ullrich can't nail the podium

1. Lance Armstrong 1hr 6min 49sec
2. Jan Ullrich @ 1min 1sec
3. Andreas Kloden @ 1min 27sec
4. Floyd Landis @ 2min 25sec
5. Bobby Julich @ 2min 48sec
6. Ivan Basso @ 2min 50sec

Stage 20, Sunday, July 25: 163km, Montereau-Fault-Yonne - Paris Champs-Élysées

Km 81.9: Côte de Montfermeil, 0.6 km climb at 7.2 %, 4th Cat.
 

Stage 20 Results:

1. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) 4hr 8min 26sec (39.366km/hr)
2. Jean-Patrick Nazon (Ag2R) s.t.
3. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) s.t.
4. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) s.t.
5. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) s.t.
6. Jimmy Casper (Cofidis) s.t.
7. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) s.t.
8. Baden Cooke (FDJ) s.t.
9. Massimiliano Mori (Domina Vacanze) s.t.
10. Bram De Groot (Rabobank) s.t.
11. Laurent Brochard (Ag2R) s.t.
12. Julian Dean (Credit Agricole) s.t.
13. Fabio Baldato (Alessio) s.t.
14. Jimmy Engoulvent (Cofidis) s.t.
15. Franck Renier (Brioches La Boulangere) s.t.
16. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) s.t.
17. Martin Elmiger (Phonak) s.t.
18. Scott Sunderland (Alessio) s.t.
19. Allan Davis (Liberty Seguros) s.t.
20. Kurt-Asle Arvesen (CSC) s.t.
119. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) @ 19sec
143. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere @ 38sec
147. Sebastien Joly (Credit Agricole) @ 2min 32sec.

Final 2004 Tour de France GC after Stage 20: Armstrong has won the 2nd fastest Tour in history at 40.553 km/hr. Only last year's Tour was faster at 40.940 km/hr.

1. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 83hr 36min 2sec
2. Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) @ 6min 19sec
3. Ivan Basso (CSC) @ 6min 40sec
4. Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 8min 50sec
5. Jose Azevedo (US Postal) @ 14min 30sec
6. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) @ 18min 1sec
7. Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner) 18min 27sec
8. Carlos Sastre (CSC) @ 19min 51sec
9. Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) @ 20min 12sec
10. Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) @ 22min 54sec
11. Pietro Caucchioli (Alessio) @ 24min 21sec
12. Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) @ 24min 36sec
13. Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears) @ 25min 11sec
14. Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) @ 27min 16sec
15. Richard Virenque (Quick Step) @ 28min 11sec
16. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 28min 53sec
17. Gilberto Simoni (Saeco) @ 29min
18. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) @ 31min 12sec
19. Jose Luis Rubiera (US Postal) @ 32min 50sec
20. Stephane Goubert (Ag2R) @ 37min 11sec
147. Lanterne Rouge Jimmy Casper (Cofidis) 3hr 55min 49sec

Points (Green Jersey)

1. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) 272 points
2. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) 247
3. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) 245
4. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) 234
5. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) 227

Climber (Polka Dot Jersey)

1. Richard Virenque (Quick Step) 226 points
2. Lance Armstrong (US Postal) 172
3. Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) 119
4. Ivan Basso (CSC) 119
5. Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) 115
5. Jan Ullrich 115

Young Rider (White Jersey)

1. Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears) 83hr 1min 13sec
2. Sandy Casar (FDJ) @ 3min 42sec
3. Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) @ 6min 1sec

Team GC:

1. T-Mobile 248hr 58min 43sec
2. US Postal @ 2min 42sec
3. CSC @ 10min 33sec
4. Illes Balears @ 52min 26sec
5. Quick Step @ 57min 33sec

Stage 20 Introduction:

A lot of the Tour is settled: Yellow Jersey, Polka Dot Jersey and the White Jersey. Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears) took the Young Rider's lead from Thomas Voeckler with his excellent time trial Saturday. But like last year, there is one more score to settle, the Sprinter's Green Jersey. Here's the score going into the final stage:

Points (Green Jersey)

1. Robbie McEwen (Lotto) 238 points
2. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) 227
3. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) 221
4. Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) 215
5. Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner) 201

Winner of the stage will get 35 points. 2nd place 30, then 26, 24, 22, etc. If Thor Hushovd wins the stage and ends up with 262 points, then Robbie McEwen needs the third-place 24 points to tie and stay in contention. McEwen got third in last year's final stage. Clearly Zabel is also still in play. There are two intermediate sprints complicating things, offering 6, 4, 2 points to the first three riders. This will be a tough, tense ride for the sprinters and their teams. There may be champagne and a relaxed ride for the promenade into Paris, but for Lotto, Credit Agricole and T-Mobile, there's more racing coming.

The Race:

147 riders are left of the 188 starters in the 2004 Tour de France. It looks like we have nice weather for a bike race. It is warm with some clouds in the sky which are expected to clear for the 8 laps up and down the Champs-Elysees.

Km 14: The normal expectation is that the peloton will have a nice, slow ride into Paris with everyone glad the race is about over.

Not today. Someone is burning with resentment. As soon as the official start flag was dropped, Filippo Simeoni (Domina Vacanze) took off on a solo break. Postal went after him and actually caused the peloton to split. Of all the people in the world who Armstrong will not allow some freedom, Simeoni is about at the top of the list. The Italian was reeled in at the 8km point in after gaining a maximum lead of 13sec. Things are back together.

Km 40. Just a nice easy ride in the French countryside. There has been the obligatory champagne quaffing. Armstrong has a specially painted bike today with "Livestrong", the name of his foundation that gives support to cancer patients, on his top tube.

Km. 51. Still just putting along. The first intermediate sprint is at km 86.5. That should be hot. Al Trautwig on OLN called Paris the "City of Lights". Al, it's the "City of Light" because Baron Haussmann demolished many of the crowded narrow streets and opened them up to the sun.

Km 59. Still together. A couple of Posties are in the back loading up water bottles in their special yellow striped jerseys and shorts. The Postal squad is at the front of the peloton.

Km 83. Postal led the field over the last climb of the Tour, the short, 4th category Côte de Montfermeil. Chrisophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) sprinted out at the last moment to take the points for no particular effect since he's so far behind in the mountains competition. Big Thor Hushovd and Robbie McEwen are up near the front of the peloton, getting ready for the intemediate sprint.

Km 88. Credit Agricole had 5 men lined up for a lead-out for Thor Hushovd (with McEwen and Zabel right on his wheel), but they were really disorganized and couldn't keep things together. When they slowed just a tad Robbie McEwen took off with Hoshovd and Zabel after him. Good gap and McEwen easily took it. That was a nice bit of insurance for McEwen as he takes the 6 points. Hushovd gets 4 and Zabel gets 2. Credit Agricole better do a better job in the next two sprints if they want to take the Green Jersey from McEwen.

Km 98. Simeoni goes again. Postal lines up and chases him down. I'll bet Simeoni's defiance plays very well in his home country of Italy.

He goes a couple more times, but Postal is having none of it. The peloton is strung out in a long line from the surprising speed.

Simeoni is probably trying to spoil the Postal plans to lead the peloton onto the Champs Elysees.

Km 104. We're in Paris and things have calmed down now. For now. Thomas Voeckler, now wearing his French Champion's Jersey, is sitting at the back of the peloton. Postal leads.

Km 110. The race is in classic, tour-guide-book Paris now. Postal leads the peloton in front of the Hotel de Ville down the Rue de Rivoli. Only Postal and Rabobank are left with complete teams.

Km 115. We're on the Champs Elysees. Postal lets the other teams take over. Brioches La Boulangere's Sylvain Chavanel has the honor of the first attack. Then some Credit Agricole boys take off. They have Hushovd and McEwen with them. Hushovd and McEwen big-gear sprint up the road and Hushovd takes it. Credit Agricole redeem themselves after making a hash of the first sprint. That win takes care of the first sprint that McEwen won and puts them exactly where they were at the beginning of the stage.

Km 123. A group of 10 has torn itself from the peloton. They are working well together, taking short, really hard pulls. The pack seems to be undecided about what to do. The gap is already 10 sec. The names coming shortly.

It's 36 seconds. Here they are and there's lots of horsepower here: Periero (Phonak), Jalabert (Phonak), Gutierrez (Illes Balears), Flecha (Fassa Bortolo), Bettini (Quick Step), Voeckler (Brioches la Boulngere), Sunderland (Alessio), Astarloza (Ag2R), Kroon (Rabobank) and Merckx (Lotto)

If they stay away, McEwen wins the Green Jersey. Credit Agricole can't let this just go. Also, Pereiro is 10th in GC. He'll set off alarms because he could endanger Levi Leipheimer's 9th place.

Km 129. The gap is 25sec. Credit Agricole is at the front.

Km 136. The gap is 37sec. Gerolsteiner, Cofidis and FDJ have gone to the front to help Credit Agricole. There was a minor crash. Sandy Casar (FDJ) is delayed a bit waiting for a new bike. Teammate Bernhard Eisel waited for him and is now helping him get back. Tough chase, these guys are flying.

Km 143, 20 to go. T-Mobile is helping chase. The gap is 33sec. Eisel and Casar made it back to the shelter of the peloton.

Km 146, 17 to go. The chase is starting to have its effect. Der Kaiser himself, Jan Ullrich, is working at the front. The gap is only 15sec.

10 km to go. Just as the gap was about to be closed, Bettini attacked and dragged his breakaways away from the field. T- Mobile was tired of this. Ullrich hit the front and turned the 200" gear with his monster cranks and shut the break down for good. All together.

Bell Lap. Fabian Cancellara is away with a small gap. Moreau is leading the chasing pack. Caught. Flecha goes. Caught.

Quick Step went to the front and whipped up the pace. Zabel is up there. FDJ is now working to keep the speed up. It's a blitz of sprinters in the front. Boonen goes just a little faster than the others in a drag race to the line. Boonen does a hands up winning salute. McEwen keeps the green. Lance Armstrong becomes the first rider in 91 Tours de France to win 6.


Parcours details

Running from Saturday July 3rd to Sunday July 25th, the 2004 Tour de France will be made up of one prologue and 20 stages and will cover a total distance of 3,360 kilometers.

These 20 stages have the following profiles:

Distinctive aspects of the race


The Teams

Automatic qualifiers for the 2004 Tour:

Fassa Bortolo (Italy)
Quick Step - Davitamon (Belgium)
T-Mobile Team (Germany)
Saeco (Italy)
Illes Balears - Banesto (Spain)
Gerolsteiner (Germany)
Cofidis, le crédit par téléphone (France)
Rabobank (Netherlands)
Liberty-Seguros (Spain)
US Postal Service - Berry Floor (United States)
Team CSC (Denmark)
Alessio - Bianchi (Italy)
Euskaltel - Euskadi (Spain)
Fdjeux.com (France)


Wild Card invitations:

AG2R Prévoyance (France)
Brioches la Boulangère (France)
Crédit Agricole (France)
Domina Vacanze (Italy)
Lotto - Domo (Belgium)
Phonak Hearing Systems (Switzerland)
RAGT Semences - MG Rover (France)

Team Rosters with racing numbers as of Friday, July 2. These could change on Saturday.

US Postal:
1. Lance Armstrong
2. José Azevedo
3. Manuel Beltran
4. Viatcheslav Ekimov
5. George Hincapie
6. Floyd Landis
7. Benjamin Noval
8. Pavel Padrnos
9. José Luis Rubiera

T-Mobile:
11. Jan Ullrich
12. Rolf Aldag
13. Santiago Botero
14. Giuseppe Guerini
15. Serguei Ivanov
16. Matthias Kessler
17. Andreas Kloeden
18. Daniele Nardello
19. Erik Zabel

Phonak
21. Tyler Hamilton
22. Martin Elmiger
23. Santos Gonzalez
24. Bert Grabsch
25. José Enrique Gutierrez
26. Nicolas Jalabert
27. Oscar Pereiro
28. Santiago Perez
29. Oscar Sevilla

Euskaltel:
31. Iban Mayo
32. Iker Camano
33. David Etxebarria
34. Unai Etxebarria
35. Iker Flores
36. Inigo Landaluze
37. Egoi Martinez
38. Haimar Zubeldia

Fassa Bortolo:
41. Alessandro Petacchi
42. Marzio Bruseghin
43. Fabian Cancellara
44. Juan Antonio Flecha
45. Aitor Gonzalez
46. Kim Kirchen
47. Filippo Pozzato
48. Matteo Tosatto
49. Marco Velo

Crédit Agricole
51. Christophe Moreau
52. Alexandre Botcharov
53. Julian Dean
54. Pierrick Fédrigo
55. Patrice Halgand
56. Sébastien Hinault
57. Thor Hushovd
58. Sébastien Joly
59. Benoît Salmon

CSC:
61. Ivan Basso
62. Kurt-Asle Arvesen
63. Michele Bartoli
64. Bobby Julich
65. Andrea Peron
66. Jakob Piil
67. Carlos Sastre
68. Nicki Soerensen
69. Jens Voigt

Illes Baléares:
71. Francisco Mancebo
72. Daniel Becke
73. Vicente Garcia Acosta
74. José Ivan Gutierrez
75. Vladimir Karpets
76. Denis Menchov
77. Aitor Osa
78. Mikel Pradera
79. Xabier Zandio

Gerolsteiner
81. Georg Totschnig
82. René Haselbacher
83. Danilo Hondo
84. Sebastian Lang
85. Sven Montgomery
86. Uwe Peschel
87. Ronny Scholz
88. Fabian Wegmann
89. Peter Wrolich

Cofidis
91. Stuart O'Grady
92. Frédéric Bessy
93. Jimmy Casper
94. Christophe Edaleine
95. Jimmy Engoulvent
96. Dmitriy Fofonov
97. David Moncoutié
98. Janek Tombak
99. Matthew White

Quick Step:
101. Richard Virenque
102. Paolo Bettini
103. Tom Boonen
104. Davide Bramati
105. Laurent Dufaux
106. Servais Knaven
107. Juan Miguel Mercado
108. Michael Rogers
109. Stefano Zanini

Liberty Seguros:
111. Roberto Heras
112. Dariusz Baranowski
113. Allan Davis
114. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano
115. Jan Hruska
116. Isidro Nozal
117. Marcos Serrano
118. Christian Vandevelde
119. Angel Vicioso

Brioches La Boulangère:
121. Sylvain Chavanel
122. Walter Bénéteau
123. Anthony Charteau
124. Maryan Hary
125. Laurent Lefèvre
126. Jérôme Pineau
127. Franck Renier
128. Didier Rous
129. Thomas Voeckler

Alessio:
131. Magnus Backstedt
132. Fabio Baldato
133. Alessandro Bertolini
134. Pietro Caucchioli
135. Martin Hvastija
136. Marcus Ljungqvist
137. Claus Michael Moller
138. Andrea Noè
139. Scott Sunderland

Ag2R:
141. Laurent Brochard
142. Mikel Astarloza
143. Samuel Dumoulin
144. Stéphane Goubert
145. Jaan Kirsipuu
146. Yuriy Krivtsov
147. Jean-Patrick Nazon
148. Nicolas Portal
149. Mark Scanlon

Rabobank:
151. Levi Leipheimer
152. Michael Boogerd
153. Bram De Groot
154. Erik Dekker
155. Karsten Kroon
156. Marc Lotz
157. Grischa Niermann
158. Michael Rasmussen
159. Marc Wauters

Fdjeux.com :
161. Bradley McGee
162. Sandy Casar
163. Baden Cooke
164. Carlos Da Cruz
165. Bernhard Eisel
166. Frédéric Guesdon
167. Christophe Mengin
168. Jean-Cyril Robin
169. Matthew Wilson

Saeco:
171. Gilberto Simoni
172. Stefano Casagranda
173. Mirko Celestino
174. Salvatore Commesso
175. Gerrit Glomser
176. David Loosli
177. Jorg Ludewig
178. Evgueni Petrov
179. Marius Sabaliauskas

Lotto:
181. Robbie McEwen
182. Christophe Brandt
183. Nick Gates
184. Thierry Marichal
185. Axel Merckx,
186. Koos Moerenhout
187. Wim Vansevenant
188. Rik Verbrugghe
189. Aart Vierhouten

Domina Vacanze:
191. Mario Cipollini
192. Gian Matteo Fagnini
193. Massimo Giunti
194. Sergio Marinangeli
195. Massimiliano Mori
196. Michele Scarponi
197. Francesco Secchiari
198. Filippo Simeoni
199. Paolo Valoti

RAGT Semences-MG Rover:
201. Christophe Rinero
202. Guillaume Auger
203. Pierre Bourquenoud
204. Gilles Bouvard
205. Sylvain Calzati
206. Frédéric Finot
207. Christophe Laurent
208. Ludovic Martin
209. Eddy Seigneur

The split by nationality is as follows:

France: 6
Italy: 4
Spain: 3
Belgium: 2
Germany: 2
Switzerland: 1
Denmark: 1
Netherlands: 1
United States: 1