Stage 7: Bagnoles de l'Orne - Avranches = 173 km.
We join the race with Renier (Bonjour), Van Bon (Domo) and Morin (CA) with a lead of about 3.30 on the ONCE lead peloton. This makes Franck Rénier virtual maillot jaune on the road. The lead at the time is 4.45.
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Magenta Telekom is setting the pace in the peloton. Both Renier and Morin are Bretons. Van Bon announced his breakaway attempt yesterday evening on Dutch radio in a broadcast called: the evening stage.
One of the last riders of the bunch is Aart Vierhouten. He is suffering from some stomach problems, which will make him useless to help McEwen in a possible sprint.
Zabel and Telekom changed tactics after this week's stages...they planned to have a rider present in each attack. Today so far that failed.
Alexandre Shefer, injured in yesterday's stage, will leave the hospital in Alencon later today - after a head scan proved to reveal no problems. He has a fractured right wrist.
Martinez comes back to the bunch after a puncture.
Another injured rider, Marco Pinotti of Lampre, was flown back to Italy. He will have to undergo some surgery on his nose.
ONCE has taken over the lead of the bunch. The lead increases to close to 5 minutes.
The result of the the first Sprint de Saint-Georges-des-Groseillers: 1-Rénier, 2-Van Bon, 3-Morin, which occured after 30 kilometres in this 176 kilometre stage.
The sunny weather has attracted lots of people to watch this Saturday's stage.
Well, it is the home land of French cycling - do you think the breakaway has a chance across the rolling bocage countryside, Anita?
Igor Gonzalez de Gonzalez de Galdeano is cruising relaxed, paced by Jorg Jaksche.
Well, with today's communications, all riders know exactly what pace to set to achieve their goals. The teams with sprinters know what work lays ahead for them to close the gap, in time, not too early.
Karsten Kroon stops along the roadside to change wheels, due to a puncture. He comes back to the back of the bunch easily.
The region visited today by the Tour de France has a lot of history in it. Nearby are the beaches of Normandy, where the Canadians, Americans and Brits landed to free Europe from German occupation.
Lots of the cities and villages today's stages goes through suffered some heavy bombing at the end of World War II.
Armstrong spoke of his regret that the youngsters were forgetting their history lessons and the terrible conflicts that took place.
The riders reached the half way mark at 88 kilometers. It's cozy inside the bunch, riders chatting amongst each other.
The sun is out and the temperatures comfortable for the riders with a slight headwind. Good day for a bike race!
These two French cyclists decided to give it a try today, the rest will probably try tomorrow on the French national holiday, le quatorze juillet. Today's stage is a bit different from those the last days. Last week they rode sort of straight on in the direction of the Atlantic Ocean.
King of the Mountains news: The first three over the Cote du Mont Pincon were Anthony Morin (Credit Agricole), Franck Renier (Bonjour), and Leon Van Bon (Domo) after 57 kilometres.
Today the stage is 3/4 of a circle...which makes the wind a factor. The gap is now over 5 minutes, 5.17 at the last calculating point. The gap is now over 5 minutes, 5.17, at the last calculating point. The leading riders reached the feedzone.
Van Bon is a former trackie, used to riding much on souplesse. In his 8 Tour starts, Van Bon was only able to reach Paris once.
In former years he had to go home due different injuries.
Another puncture, this time Didier Rous...also another fall victim, after only 200 metres in the prologue.
A bit over 78k to race. In the last part of this stage riders will suffer some headwinds.
Current gap is 5.08.
In Avranches in 1993 the Tour team time trial was won by the GB-MG team.
Gap has decreased to 4.55.
Mariano Martinez, dad of the smallest rider in this years Tour, himself rode 10 Tours de France.
Mariano was holder of the polka dot jersey.
Gap decreased to 3.56.
The finish in Avranches is 1,300 meters long. The final 200 meters is a slight rise; it will be a test for the toughest.
Third and last bonus sprint.
The passing order at the line at the last bonus sprint: Renier, Van Bon, Morin. Renier gains 3 x six = 18 bonus seconds. The bunch is calculated, decreasing the gap of the breakaway group.
Avranches once hosted a finish of the Tour de l'avenir; that stage was won by sprinter Marcel Wust.
Wust is currently managing the Coast team - who have risen to 4th best in the UCI rankings - but not good enough for the Tour de France apparently.
Erik Dekker seems to be recovering more and more from his bad fall in Milan-San Remo; he now is more present up front in the bunch. Yesterday he attacked too, together with Van Bon. Which was not appreciated by some riders...who were at the time having a pipi-stop.
Of course the 13th of July is a sad anniversary for British cycling fans - for it is the anniversary of Tom Simpson's death. He died on July 13th 1967 on Mont Ventoux.
The same mountain will have to be climbed again this year.
Less than 61 k. to race.
Indeed the Ventoux stage, a week on Sunday, will be a defining moment of the race.
The distance remaining leaves the current gap to be most likely insufficient to reach the finish line before the peloton does.
The Ventoux stage will be followed by some other heavy climbing in the French Alpes.
Of which les Deux Alpes and La Plagne finishes are going to be epic.
A great shame then that Coast are not here to challenge in the mountain stages. They would have added another dimension to the race
Puncture for Brochard.
The former world champion clearly wants to win a stage - the finish might suit him today.
He now is escorted back to the bunch by amongst others Patrice Halgand.
While Jalabert has said he may now retire, he may change his mind if he gets a victory today or tomorrow.
There are a lot of riders from the Festina 1998 team in today's race. Brochard, Rous and Virenque; Moreau too.
There still is some bad blood between the ones who pleaded guilty at the beginning, for instance Virenque. Zulle stated that they coldly greet one and other but as far as he is concerned "Virenque can drop dead."
There are a number of people who feel like that about Virenque; but a million French housewives who would disagree.
Not only housewives in France, some 16 or 17 year old females in La Douce France and Germany as far as I know...
Vaughters was involved in a fall, tried to go on, but had to change his bike and now is trying to get back to the bunchs' tail.
Current gap 3.40
Bruyneel said yesterday that Monday's time trial was not so important this year.
Still Van Bon, Renier and Morin in the lead.
Because of the mountains in the following week - the Postal have a three week strategy apparently.
It for sure did not result in big differences in the overall standings. Much unlike Euskadi-Eusdkatel, who has set their goals on winning a stage more than a good classification in the overall.
Ten years ago Van Bon and Dekker both competed in the Olympics, both have had a fine career since.
Dekker finished second in the Barcelona Games in 1992, behind the sadly deceased Fabio Casartelli. Casartelli died after a terrible fall on the Portet D'Aspet.
Although it would seem this season if the Rabobank did not have bad luck they would have no luck at all.
This mountain is to be climbed in the 12th stage between Lannemezan and Plateu de Beille.
The race will pass his monument on stage 12 - his teammate vowed to win the stage when it passed last year- he did - Lance Armstrong, that is.
He (Mr. Armstrong) did win the Toulouse stage in the same Tour Casartelli died, declaring the win to his teammate.
And conducted the orchestra as he came down the finishing straight...
Talking about former riders, it looks like more used-to- be riders are present than current pros in France.
There are lots of them working with television (like Gerrit Solleveld from Holland and Sean Kelly from Ireland) or in the commercial caravan...like Stephen Roche is with Coeur de Lion Cheese.
ONCE is still defending the yellow jersey, but has no real sprinter amongst them.
Jonathan Vaughters is now making his way back to the peloton - the pace 41 kilometres an hour for the race so far.
He is back in the bunch after riding a pursuit for 13k.
While the pink of ONCE lead the race - they are not allowed to wear their normal yellow of course because of the maillot jaune.
In recent years they did change costumes from yellow to pink or black.
Guerini of the Telekom team seems to be riding very comfortably so far - always seems near the front of the peloton.
Former rider Claude Criquelllion is now team director at Lotto - his car has number 13 in the race. The car is wearing that number upside down...because of superstition...
Time to have a look a the yellow jersey holders Once team:
21 Joseba Beloki (Spa)
22 José Azevedo (Por)
23 Alvaro Gonzalez de Galdeano (Spa)
24 Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (Spa)
25 Jörg Jaksche (Ger)
26 Isidro Nozal (Spa)
27 Abraham Olano (Spa)
28 Mikel Pradera (Spa)
29 Marcos A. Serrano (Spa)
There is a rule too that a rider who has number 13 as a backnumber and is superstitious does not have to wear this number.
There are and has been a lot of superstition going on in years gone by. For instance current Dutch national trainer and former world champion Gerrie Knetemann always refused to wear number 13.
Udo Bolts this year - who has no contract with Telekom for next season.
José Azevedo is a good example of the strength of the Once, very experienced and always wins a race or two each year. He is a former World champion (Duitama, Colambia) and former Vuelta winner.
This season is Olano's last one - he will devote more time to his family.
Azevedo last year won the NK tijdrijden - know anything about that race, Anita?
Azevedo did win some more time trials so far...
And he was a bit of a prologue specialist in his early career.
Once, CSC, Postal and Telekom at the front of the peloton.
Jörg Jaksche, the German rider for the Once has had an excellent season too so far.
Jaksche stated about Ullrich: He is no Indurain or Armstrong. Jaksche too said in his interview with german sport 1: I'm paid for my job to help Gonzalez de Galdeano and Beloki...
The overall win is a goal for the Spanish team.
But he still seems a very popular rider with the German fans.
As Jaksche stated too, their strength is they have TWO almost identical strong riders with Beloki and Gonzales de Galdeano.
Serrano is a very strong rider too - he won the Vuelta a Castilla last year - another excellent support rider.
Jaksche himself has his share of German fans, shown on his homepage www.joergjaksche.com, which is available in English too.
Beloki and Gonzales de Galdeano must take every opportunity to attack...if the race is going to be exciting -
Now Alessio takes over the lead of the bunch, trying to get their sprinter Christian Moreni in a good position. The lead decreases slowly. 3.20 with 30 k. to go.
Former rider Sean Kelly agrees with Zabel that there were too many people at the sprint finish yesterday - he is not surprised by Zabel's reaction.
Moreni won the second stage in the 2000 Giro d'Italia
and wore the pink jersey for some time. He said he was feeling quite good in the beginning of this tour. Acted really cheerful during the Luxemburg stages.
Also in the Once team, Igor's brother Alvaro - third in the national time trial of Spain - both brothers on the podium.
Igor himself at first was not really interested in riding a bike. His brother started racing; Igor did not like it at all. They originate from Vittoria in Spanish Basque region.
Alessio now lead the peloton - gap at 27k is 2.45....2.42.
With their breakaway both Credit Agricole and Bonjour (with Renier and Morin) got their share of media attention.
Aart Vierhouten is in trouble. Due to the increase of the pace of the bunch Aart Vierhouten, sick, has to let the peloton go. He can count himself lucky the bunch did not go crazy right from the start.
While only Alessio is trying to close the gap, the chances of the three up front are increasing. Domo too sure must like the media attention Van Bon gets...but must also be heading for the victory. Van Bon probably will try to leave his two companions behind in the last k.'s. The bunch is not getting that well organised so far.
Isidro Nozal Vega is probably the least know rider for the Once - but he has had one success this season too - 3rd stage of the International Alcoendas.
Nozal has raced some good races in the past already - he did well some years ago in the Tour de Suisse.
The pace seems to have fallen out of the peloton -
In this years Tour of Germany too he competed in a great way, helping his leader Gonzales de Galdeano to the win.
Leipheimer shows up in the front of the bunch. Less than 2 minutes between the leaders and the bunch.
22 kilometres to go - surely not enough...the gap now 1.58''
Renier has now 292 kilometres of riding in the breaks so far in this tour and is ahead of Durand. Which seems an odd sight - Brochard must be going to try something...
Jean Delatour has taken over the commands in the bunch
this tour and is ahead of Durand.
Gap 1.40 at 21 k.
Huge crowds with just 20 k to go.
Dekker has found his place again at the end of the bunch.
The gap down to 1.33''
With their national team leaving the soccer world cup after only three matches, the French seem to have found a new favourite sport all over.
The sprinters (Zabel, McEwen, Freire) still hide in the bunch.
Stephane Augé for the Delatour team might fancy his chances today as well - while the three breakaway men are beginning to look very tired.
From now on it's one long downhill towards the coast, towards Avranches, headwinds and the bunch is getting more and more organised in his chase to retrieve the breakaways. 1.10 gap and decreasing.
The leaders in the front almost can feel the bunch coming back.
The riders are into a headwind now - not very strong but it gives the peloton a big advantage over the escapees.
The gap now is 1.15
Zabel amongst the first 20 of the bunch, accompanied by Fagnini and German Champion Danilo Hondo, not that bad a sprinter himself.
He orginates from track racing and lives with his wife and daughter Lara in Cottbus near the German-Polish border. He has suffered his part of bad luck this year when he had to pull out of the Giro because his mother died.
15 k. to go; gap 1.10.
Can they hold the lead or will it be a mass-sprint again? The leaders hope for less determination of the bunch.
The last 2k. are not that easy.
Osa suffered a puncture. Gap now 50''
The riders pass a group of fans with the star and stripes - although today it seems mainly the tri coleur on the roadside.
Osa uses the car well to inspect his brakes while he gets a bit of a tow.
Osa is using all the oldest tricks in the books, taking advantage of everything to get as easy as possible back to the bunch.
52 seconds gap between Van Bon, Renier and Morin and the bunch.
The road is now quite narrow - could be dangerous for the peloton.
Telekom shows their colours up front. Alessio have put men back into the front of the peloton. Brochard too has directed his riders to set the pace together with the magenta-racers.
10 k. to race for the leaders. The leading trio under the 10 kilometre kite.
45 secs - they will surely get caught...as the speed of the peloton noticably increases.
Telekom will not chase for the entire ten k. to go.
They are using the three men up in the lead as a mouse making the cat jump.
9 kilometres to go
...but not until the time is right for the main cat at Telekom, Zabel.
The three escapees are still working together.
The riders are now in the saddle for almost 4 hours.
Delatour and Telekom doing the work at the front. Bolts is now setting the pace. He thought he would have a nice easy July, but had to replace the injured Vinoukorow.
Zabel ominously near the front, nicely protected.
Gap now is 35 seconds.
Vinoukorow's wife just had twins, btw.
Will it be someone who places an surprise attack in the last k.?
Delatour must be hoping for Brochard to have a big day.
CRASH - big crash. 20 riders down.
Agnulotto, Aldag, Moreau, Pena AND FREIRE. Freire is down
in the ditch, sits in the grass. Freire holds his back
No chances in the sprint left for him. 18 seconds to go 4 kilometres.
Rous seems badly hurt. 15 seconds gap to the first part of the bunch. Rous looks like a rider with a broken collarbone.
The tour does not wait. The peloton can now see the breakaways. Renier and Van Bon attack.
10 seconds gap. Another crash! Van Bon looking over his shoulder, sees the bunch coming. Jalabert falls. Armstrong falls, on his bike again, he is chasing back!
Fassa attacks,Van Bon back in the bunch, Basso if I see it correct, it is a tough climb.
Velo? Velo - Euskatel attacks, Euskatel trying to get to the Fassa-rider, Velo and Etxebarria in the lead.
1 km to go!
McGee wins the stage!!!! McGee storms past! Armstrong loses 30 seconds, but the gaps are open. Armstrong - the man from Austin - is no happy camper today. As well as Heras, Rubiera and Jalabert and Pena and Moreau.
I was surprised how slow the Postal reacted to Armstrong's crash - they are not used to it happening.
Moreau seems to try to get the part Hamilton played in the Giro.
How many times I can kiss the asphalt in three weeks. Van Bon loses time too.....8 CA men and Pena struggle home.
A stage with two big crashes in the last 10 k.
Freire is not home in Avranches yet. Moreau loses about 4 minutes in this stage.
Moreau crosses the line with a dejected looking team around him - always a sad sight to see a team nurse its leader home.
So is Serpelini of Lampre, Agnolutto of Ag2R, and Eddy Mazzoleni of Tacconi. Still no sight of Friere. Serpelini was not the Lampre rider, it was Brazilian Pagliarini. Freire is near the finish now. An amazing day's bike racing - now the world champion limps home. What will this mean for him, for his back injury - still holding his back.
Will he go on until Paris - a sorry sight. Or have to leave in one of the coming stages? He sure does not look happy, losing over 6 minutes - I wonder if any of the Postal team are injured - most of them seem to have fallen.
Van Bon comments: It looked like my day today, but it did not go all the way. I hope there will be another chance. With one rider placed at 3.30 minutes in the overall we knew it would be hard. It's a very hard tour for us - we have three good sprinters - there were the wrong riders with me in this escape.
Mcgee beats Kirsipuu, Horillo, McEwen, Zabel and O'Grady.
Funnily enough someone posted on the message board that Armstrong did not seem to crash very often - and I thought the comment was tempting fate.
Igor Gonzales de Galdeono still in yellow. Armstrong down to 8th; 34 seconds down - the top 7 are all ONCE riders.
Results coming in a few minutes...
Stage result: 4.10.56 all riders same time:
Bradley McGee (Aus-FdJ)
Jaan Kirsipuu (Est-A2r)
Pedro Horrillo Munoz (Spa-Map)
Robbie McEwen (Aus-Lot)
Erik Zabel (Ger-Tel)
Stuart O'Grady (Aus-C.A)
Jan Svorada (Cze-Lam)
Baden Cooke (Aus-FdJ)
Fred Rodriguez (Usa-Dff)
Thor Hushovd (Nor-C.A.)
Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (Spa-One) 27.39.59
Joseba Beloki Dorronsoro (Spa-One) 0.04
Jörg Jaksche (Spa-One) 0.12
Abraham Olano Manzano (Spa-One) 0.22
Isidro Nozal Vega (Spa-One) 0.27
José Azevedo (Por-One) 0.28
Marcos Serrano Rodriguez (Spa-One)0.30
Lance Armstrong (Usa-Usp) 0.34
This concludes the live coverage of Stage 7. Thank you for joining us and watch for further reports on the aftermath of today's stage.