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Tour de France stage 17 – live (part 1)

Stage 17: Pau > Col du Tourmalet (174 km)

Hello! Welcome to my live-blog for stage 17, the final stage in the Pyrenees this year and possibly the decisive moment of the entire Tour. Today we start in Pau, where stage 16 finished before yesterday’s rest day, and finish on top of the legendary Col du Tourmalet for only the second time in its storied history.

Here is the profile of today’s stage, which is scheduled to start at 12.30 local time (11.30 UK time):

Today’s four climbs are:

13.5 km: Côte de Renoir (category 4), 2.2 km, 6% average gradient

56.5 km: Col de Marie-Blanque (category 1), 9.3 km, 7.6 %

117.5 km: Col du Soulor (category 1), 11.9 km, 7.8 %

174 km : Col du Tourmalet (hors catégorie), 18.6 km, 7.5%

10.40 am: Here are the current top ten riders in the general classification:

1. Alberto Contador (Astana) 78:29:10

2. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) +0:08

3. Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +2:00

4. Denis Menchov (Rabobank) +2:13

5. Jurgen van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +3:39

6. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) +5:01

7. Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) +5:25

8. Joaquín Rodríquez (Katusha) +5:45

9. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) +7:12

10. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) +7:51

Obviously, the focus of attention will be on the top two, but don’t ignore Samual Sánchez and particularly Denis Menchov, who are battling it out for third and will certainly consider second place a possibility if they can make up time on either of the leaders today.

10.55 am: Apparently it’s wet and miserable in Pau, according to our resident RadioShack weather forecaster Andreas Klöden on Twitter:

Oh no, woke up this morning and it rains and storms. Today last mountain stage, 3 hard climbs. Could be very cold today 😦

I’m now getting a mental image of the riders being greeted by black clouds and biblical floods on the Tourmalet.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could get mid-race updates from the riders? Or do the French have a law about not using your mobiles while on the road? I’m just saying …

11.25 am: With the 172 remaining riders now rolling towards the official start, here are the top five riders in the points classification:

Green jersey leader Thor Hushovd

1. Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) 191 pts

2. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) 187

3. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) 162

4. José Joaquín Rojas (Caisse d’Epargne) 149

5. Robbie McEwen (Katusha) 138

There are two sprint points today, at 33 km, and then at 32.5 km from the finish between the Col du Soulor and the Col du Tourmalet.

Expect Thor Hushovd and Alessandro Petacchi to contest the first sprint while Mark Cavendish enjoys the scenery from the rear of the peloton. The second will be irrelevant in terms of the green jersey contenders, who by then will be suffering silently at in the gruppetto.

And here are the current standings in the King of the Mountains competition:

Polka dot jersey leader Anthony Charteau

1. Anthony Charteau (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) 143 pts

2. Christophe Moreau (Caisse d’Epargne) 128

3. Damiano Cunego (Lampre) 99

4. Sandy Casar (FDJ) 93

5. Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step) 92

There is a maximum of 73 points available for the climbers today: three at the summit of the Renoir, 15 each on the Marie-Blanque and Soulor, and then a massive 40 going to the stage winner at the summit of the Tourmalet.

Realistically, the polka dot jersey comes down to a head-to-head between Anthony Charteau and Christophe Moreau, both of whom can be expected to participate in any early breakaway today to target points on the first three mountains. Don’t be surprised if Bbox sneak a second man into the escape to act as a spoiler too.

Remember, the Tourmalet is the final categorised climb of this year’s Tour, so at the end of today we will know who the winner of the polka dot jersey is.

11.30 am: Here are some more weather updates. Here is ITV Cycling on Twitter:

Very overcast in Pau as the riders roll through. The rain is holding off but it has been really coming down in the past 48 hours. Umbrellas are out on the roadside and many riders are wearing arm warmers and waterproofs as they approach the start of racing.

And commentary doyen Phil Liggett too:

The Tourmalet is beneath a storm and very cold. This will be a very difficult day. Feel sorry for the campers. Even the sheep want cover.

Sylvain Chavanel

11.35 am: No surprise that the attacks have started immediately. Sylvain Chavanel has initiated the first breakaway attempt. Twice the yellow jersey in this year’s race, the Quick Step rider has had an extremely active Tour. New contract, please? I’m not going to cover all the early breaks, but I’ll pop back in a while once things have settled down a bit.

Jens Voigt

In the meantime, here’s everyone’s favourite hard-working team man, Jens Voigt, being interviewed immediately after finishing stage 16 on Tuesday, where he crashed heavily on a descent for the second year in a row. Link

Last year’s crash also happened on stage 16 – maybe it’s his unlucky number?

Or maybe it’s an unlucky number for Saxo Bank? Rider number 16 in this year’s race: Fränk Schleck.

12.00 pm: So, we now have an established break of seven riders: Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), Kristjan Koren (Liquigas-Doimo), Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha), Marcus Burghardt (BMC), Rubén Pérez Moreno (Euskaltel-Euskadi), and Juan Antonio Flecha and Edvald Boasson Hagen (both Sky). Their lead over the fourth-category Renoir was just over three minutes.

There are no Saxo Bank, Astana or Rabobank riders in the break, but Pérez could potentially come into play later to support Samuel Sánchez.

Christophe Moreau

Interestingly, there is also no Christophe Moreau, who starts today 15 points behind Anthony Charteau in the King of the Mountains competition. Looks like he will gamble everything on a high finish on the Tourmalet, which carries double points today as the final climb of the stage.

A secondary escape group tried to bridge the gap, but they were shut down quickly by an Astana and RadioShack-led peloton.

12.35 pm: Here’s a bit more information about the Col du Tourmalet.

The highest point on this year’s itinerary at 2,115 metres, the Tourmalet featured on the Tour’s first visit to the Pyrenees 100 years ago. Since then, the race has climbed over the summit 73 times, making it the most frequently used pass on the Tour.

However, only once before (in 1974) has a stage finished on the summit, with Jean-Pierre Danguillaume claiming that singular honour, so today’s winner will be joining an exclusive club.

The Tourmalet has, of course, already featured in this year’s Tour, having been climbed in the opposite direction on Tuesday’s stage 16. In the direction the race will attack the mountain today, it is an 18.6 km slog with an average gradient of 7.5%

And as we know, it is likely to be decisive – or at least play a significant role – in determining the ultimate fate of the yellow jersey.

Update: Apparently it’s Remi Pauriol (Cofidis) and not Chavanel who is the seventh man in the escape group. Oops.

12.45 pm: A couple of updates from the first climb and sprint of the day:

Carlos Sastre

Côte de Renoir (category 4): 1. Kolobnev (3 pts), 2. Pauriol (2),  3. Flecha (1).

First intermediate sprint: 1. Boasson Hagen (6 pts), 2. Flecha (4), 3. Kolobnev (2).

Everyone is now on today’s second climb, the first-category Marie-Blanque. The leaders have a lead of nine minutes on the peloton, with Carlos Sastre in between attempting to come across. And the weather is deteriorating.

1.05 pm: The lead group passes over the summit of the Marie-Blanque without anyone contesting the points. The first three were:

Col de Marie-Blanque (category 1): 1. Flecha (15 pts), 2. Koren (13), Pérez (11).

If nothing else, Sky are at least reminding us they are still in the race after the promise of their first week fizzled out rapidly. That Boasson Hagen, though – he is a real talent.

The peloton is around 8:30 behind, with Astana setting a steady tempo which is rapid enough to be gradually shelling riders out of the back on the upper slopes of a climb which exceeds 11% in places. There goes Petacchi. And Sky’s Steve Cummings. It’s going to be a long afternoon in the gruppetto for these guys.

Sastre is now just 1:20 behind the seven leaders, and will hope to catch them before they start climbing the Soulor.

It’s not getting any drier out on those roads either, and it’s reasonably foggy too. There will be some nervous descenders in that peloton on the way down.

1.25 pm: The race computers are saying that the peloton workload is split as follows: Astana 98%, Saxo Bank 2%. I don’t think that needs any further explanation.

The rain-jackets are on as the peloton tip-toes its way down the damp descent of the Marie-Blanque, holding the gap to the leaders at around the 8:30 mark. It doesn’t look like much fun, this. Still, the scenery’s nice, and it’s not far to the feed zone. Speaking of which: lunch-time. Back in a bit.

1.55 pm: The peloton has just passed through the feed zone. We’re in a quiet phase at the moment, with the gaps remaining steady.

I’ve just seen the Specialized bikes Andy v Alberto TV ad on Europsort. It’s quite funny, but neither will be winning any Oscars any time soon.

I’ve spotted a fair number of Union Jacks by the side of the road already today. Nice to see.

2.05 pm: Here are my thoughts on what I expect to happen on the Tourmalet.

Andy Schleck needs to gain time on Alberto Contador ahead of the time trial. If he can finish today with a minute’s advantage he will feel he has a chance, but ideally he needs at least 90 seconds. Hence he will have to attack earlier than he did on the climb to Avoriaz on stage eight.

The Tourmalet is actually quite a steady climb with relatively few sharp changes of gradient. There is a notable kick-up near the end of the sixth kilometre which comes at the end of a short stretch which is relatively flat. There are also big inclines in kilometres 11 and 13; these are the last big opportunity for Schleck to try to distance Contador by then.

So my guess is that Astana, who have worked quite hard at the front of the peloton throughout the past few days, will try to dictate a reasonably quick tempo on the Tourmalet’s lower slopes to make attacks difficult. At the same time, watch for Saxo Bank to move to the front and set up a drive with Jens Voigt (assuming he is fully recovered from his crash on Tuesday), Jakob Fuglsang and Chris Anker Sørensen at around six kilometres to try to isolate Contador from his teammates. Schleck will then launch his all-or-nothing attack somewhere in the final seven kilometres.

Should Schleck succeed, there is still no need for Contador to panic, as he can afford to concede a little time. And with two very steep sections near the summit, should he have dropped back, he will have opportunities to regroup and recover any deficit as Schleck inevitably starts to tire himself. Contador does not need to win today; at worst, he needs to minimise his losses.

My guess – and it is no more than that – is that Schleck’s attack will succeed, but will net him no more than 30 seconds. So he would then wear the yellow jersey in Saturday’s individual time trial, only to lose it to the Spaniard’s superior ability against the clock.

One final note. Neither contender can afford to ignore Menchov or Sánchez. The Russian in particular is a fine time-trialer, and while Contador and Schleck do not need to completely man-mark these two, if they allow them to escape up the road, work together and gain a minute’s advantage – as they did on Ax 3 Domaines – we will be looking at a genuine four-horse race for the yellow jersey. It would not surprise me if Menchov and Sánchez worked in tandem early on the climb, hoping that the other two will be too preoccupied watching each other.

2.10 pm: I loved this latest entry from Jens Voigt, who is keeping a Tour diary for Bicycling. Here is what happened to him on Tuesday:

About two kilometres into the descent [of the Peyresourde] my front tire blew and I went down. Let me tell you, about the only place that feels good right now is my right ankle. The rest of me is all road rash. Plus I’ve got five stitches in my left elbow and then there are some ribs that are not in the right place! I may have to get x-rays, but I hate x-rays (the radiation), and plus, if I’ve got a fractured rib, what can anyone do about it?

The first team car was behind Andy Schleck, and the second had decided to go up ahead to hand out water bottles at the foot of the next climb. As a result I had no bike, because mine was shattered.

So then the broom wagon pulled up and was like, “Do you want to just get in?” And I said, “Oh no, I don’t need YOU!” But there I am with blood spurting out my left elbow and no bike. Finally, the race organizers got me a bike, but it was this little yellow junior bike. It was way too small for me and even had old-fashioned toe-clip pedals. But that is the only way I could get down the mountain, so I had to ride it for like 15-20 kilometers until I finally got to a team car with my bike.

And that’s why so many of us love Jens!

2.20 pm: The leaders are now on the penultimate climb of the Col du Soulor (category 1). Sastre is 4:44 behind, with the peloton now starting to close at 7:21, as Astana start to crank up the pace.

That’s it for this part of the live-blog. For coverage of the climax of today’s stage, please go to part two here.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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