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July 25 - Stage 17 - Aimé-Cluses, 142 km
Today is the final day in the Alpes, and I think after the week they've had, the peloton will be glad to see the last of the mountains!
Today the riders face 3 1st category climbs and one 2nd Category climb, and it will be a day of vigilance for Lance Armstrong's US Postal team. Speaking yesterday of today's stage, Armstrong told reporters: "Tomorrow is a complex stage. It's up and down all day without any flat sections. It's almost the same stage where I cracked in 2000, and it will be another hard day."
The stage ends in a long descent, so it will be hard for a significant breakaway to keep a lead; but look for opportunists looking for stage wins and those just outside the top spots looking for a jump up the GC to give it a real go. If a break goes off that doesn't threaten the Maillot Jaune, it will stay away, as Armstrong turns his attention to the only real obstacle to his fourth victorious ride into Paris: Saturday's uphill time trial.
Today's principle difficulties:
Km 31.5 - Cormet de Roselend - 19.1 km at 5.9 % - 1st Catagory
Km 70.0 - Col des Saises - 15.3 km at 6.0 % - 1st Catagory
Km 96.5 - Col des Aravis - 11.7 km at 4.9 % - 2nd Catagory
Km 121.5 - Col de la Colombière - 11.8 km at 5.6 % - 1st Category
We join the action with a breakaway, Frigo (TAC), Aerts (LOT), Laiseka (EUS), Guerini (TEL) and Gutierrez (KEL). Their lead is about 50 seconds in front of a chasing group of Jalabert (CST), Hushovd (CA), Sandy Casar. Jorg Jaksche (ONCE) has joined the chasers as well.
There's a second chase group of nine riders behind them.
George Hincapie punctured earlier today and was forced to change bikes. He has successfully rejoined his teammates.
The leaders have 50 seconds on the first chase group. USPS has shown signs of fatigue, with Landis dropped already, and Heras forced to work in the first climb of the day.
Landis has rejoined his mates in the peloton.
In the 9 man break: Konecny, Mouncoutie, Chavanel, Baguet, Serrano, Nozal, Bruseghin, Hagland, Lefevre, and Blanco. Rabobank is helping Postal with the chase.
Massimo Donati, of Tacconi Sport has retired today.
Laiseka looks like he is being dropped by the break. It's been a pretty lackluster tour for him.
Laiseka has rejoined his companions. Sandy Casar and Larent Jalabert lead the first chasing group.
05:55 PDT. The peloton is 3' 25" behind the leaders. The large chase is 1' 55" behind. Jalabert's group is a mere 55" behind.
The first man over the Col de Saises picks up 30 climber's points, but there is no one in this group who threatens Jalabert in that competition.
The Rabobank-assisted chase has now closed the gap to the leaders to 2' 25" with 80km to go. The Jalabert group has slipped a bit, dropping to 1' 10" behind the leaders.
Frigo, Guerini and Aerts carry on. Laiseka and Gutierrez have been dropped by the leaders.
Guerini better be on the lookout for photographers. On the Alpe d'Huez a few years back, he was on a solo breakaway when a fan looking through his camera lens took Guerini down just near the finish. He still managed to hold on for the win, though.
It's a complicated situation on the road: Frigo, Aerts and Guerini are chased by Laiseka and Gutierrez, who have been dropped by the leaders. Behind them, Jaja, Hushovd, and Casar are close to eating up the two Spaniards. Behind that, the big chase of 9, and then the peloton.
The time gaps keep yo-yo-ing with the attacks. Now Frigo, Aerts, and Guerini are 1'45" ahead of the Jalabert group and 3' 40" up on the peloton due to their latest acceleration. The group of nine is about to get caught by the peloton.
Rabobank continues to assist Postal in the chase. Perhaps Leipheimer has some ambitions for today?
Tour News: The tour's worst crash victim, Michael Sanstod (CST) will be released from the hospital today, but still won't be able to travel for a few days.
Unai Osa has attacked, as has Azevedo! Carlos Sastre has joined Jaja's group out of nowhere!
Lance Armstrong and Botero have chased. Heras is just joining the yellow jersey group. Ivan Basso joins the chase, and Rumsas is with them as well. Leipheimer is on the front of the peloton, taking matters into his own hands!
06:11 PDT. There seem to be attacks coming in every group. There are men scattered all over the mountain. The leaders are really brawling, as are the men off the front. What a crazy stage!! The time checks are changing too quickly to report right now.
We are fixing for a big showdown, as the attack from all the Spanish riders everyone's been talking about for the whole tour seems to be underway at last! For the first time in the tour, Armstrong and his team are under pressure.
The big time gap is about 3' 40" between the leaders and the Yellow Jersey group, but there are men everywhere in between.
Joachim (USP) is trying to ride up to the Yellow Jersey group! A brave ride by the big Postal domestique. He should at least be close enough to rejoin on the descent if he doesn't bonk before the top.
Basically, here's what's happening: THE SHIT IS HITTING THE FAN!!
Tyler Hamilton and David Extebarria have joined the Armstrong group, which is a veritable who's who of this tour.
Cresting the climb, Armstrong sits up to stuff newspaper under his jersey to prepare for the descent.
06:19 PDT. Two Posties are at the front of the peloton as they near the top. There is a slight rejoining amongst the leaders. It's Landis and Joachim on the front, looks like. Now they are over the top on the descent.
Aerts lead Frigo and Guerini over the summit of the Col de Saises.
Wow, Robbie Hunter is in that small peloton with the Yellow Jersey!! Great ride for the Mapei rider who will join Rabobank next season.
06:20 PDT. The group of the Maillot Jaune is at 4'09" from the leaders.
Looks like the groups have re-coalesced on the descent. There are still the three leaders off the front--Frigo, Guerini, and Aerts--but the Jalabert group looks to be over 10 riders strong, and the peloton is growing as well. Yesterday's stage winner, Michael Boogerd has joined the group of the Maillot Jaune.
The Jalabert group is about 2' 40" behind the leaders.
A lot of Posties at the front of the growing peloton now.
62 Km to the finish. Chavanel has faded back from his group to the Armstrong group. Armstrong is rallying his troops.
The Posties look to have completely regrouped on the front of the small peloton. Incredible. What a performance. Yesterday, Armstrong, asked by Frankie Andreu to characterize this year's tour, called this year "the year of the team." Armstrong said that he would not ride many more tours, but that he hopes he will be able to ride them with "these 8 guys."
Jalabert is leading the descent in the large chase group of 15 riders. The chase includes his teammate Sastre, who had that great ride yesterday. Jalabert is working now to help his teammate climb up the GC, where Sastre is currently 11th.
The riders are heading through the feedzone at the foot of the next climb.
More News from the sick bay: Apparently Oscar Sevilla's tragic abandonment yesterday was due to Bronchitus. Get well soon, Oscar!
US Postal doesn't take much interest in the feed zone, pressing on with the job in hand. Lance Armstrong rides to the front to chat with Landis and his troops. They are starting to roll up the climb now.
The three leaders have a three minute lead on the nearest chasers. Jalabert has sat up, having worked hard for his teammate and gained some mountain points for himself. He gives up his group, leaving Sastre to press on with the chase. Jalabert has the KOM Jersey sewn up, and does not need to contest the climbers' points now.
06:46 PDT. The lead group consists of Guerini, Frigo, and Aerts. They have a 3' lead over a large chase group. The chase group consists of Sastre (CST), Azevedo and Serrano (ONE), Hushovd (CA), and 8 others. The peloton, including the Yellow Jersey, is 5' 50" behind the leaders.
The Sastre group had shed Laiseka, Casar and Baguet, as Sastre sets a strong pace.
Laurent Jalabert is now 1 minute ahead of the peloton, which is led by Armstrong and USPS. He will be swept up soon. The peloton still has 9 Posties on the front of it. The pace is relatively slack in the peloton, and it still has a large number of riders. No attacks yet on the climb.
6:55 PDT 47km left, as the leaders charge to the top of the Col des Aravis.
Rabobank is back at work at the head of the peloton. Jalabert and another dropped escapee, Eddy Mazzoleni, are moments away from capture.
The leading Trio crests the top of the climb. Meanwhile, the Postal and Rabo-led peloton still crawls up the slopes. Nobody seems interesting in attacking up this climb, unlike the last.
Over the summit of the Col de Aravis it's Aerts, Guerini and Frigo.
Jose Gutierrez (KEL) is in with the Sastre group, along with Hushovd, Serrano, Azevedo, Moncoutie (COF), and a few riders who are no threat in the GC.
Jaja and Mazzoleni are joined by Laiseka; they are 40 seconds ahead of the peloton. Unai Osa (BAN) is also in that chase group.
US Postal continues to carry Armstrong around on a silver platter, but they have lost Benoit Joachim, who was put into difficulty on the last climb. The eight Posties are still on the front of the race as they near the crest of the climb.
Laiseka is dropping back to the peloton with Jalabert and Mazzoleni. Another dismal day for the Euskaltel-Euskadi boys.
The Postal-led peloton has caught Jalabert's little group.
Correction! It is Jaksche (ONE) in the chase group, not Azevedo. That would explain why the peloton isn't chasing.
The last big climb of this year's tour de France is only a few Kilometers away. Frigo, Aerts and Guerini are just now hitting the bottom of the slopes of Col de la Columbiere.
07:13 PDT. There is approximately 31km to go, as the leaders now start the slow ascent of the Columbiere.
The chase group is almost 4' behind the leaders.
Leipheimer's Rabo boys are chasing in the peloton now. Sastre is in 11th, a little over 2' 30" behind him... Actually Sastre is exactly 2' 29" behind Leipheimer on GC. Moncoutie, who is also in the break, is in 13th on GC 4' 55" behind Leipheimer.
28 km to go.
Basso should be worried too...he's in 10th, and they (Sastre and Moncoutie) pose a more immediate threat to his position.
Sastre is getting some assistance from Moncoutie. Baguet is just now being picked up by the now Rabobank-led peloton.
Frigo is looking good at the front with his bleached-blonde hair. He is working well with Aerts and Guerini.
Sastre and Moncoutie are doing all the work in the chasing group. No one else is even pulling though.
07:30 PDT. The peloton is really whittled down now. Joachim is going off the back, his work is done. There are about 30-40 riders, including all the big leaders. Michael Boogerd is riding hard on the front for his team leader. Another tough day in the mountains for the Dutchman.
Botero attacks!! He is flying up the hill... Botero can climb, but he can also descend like a bomb... this could be a good move!
Sandy Casar joins Botero!
Botero is going at it like a boxer again. He is hammering up that hill! Casar has been dropped by Botero, who pushes on! Botero is 6'33" from the leaders. Azevedo (ONE) is 4th on GC has also attacked in pursuit of Botero (7th on GC).
George Hincapie continues to lead the chase for Postal. He is amazing this year! George Hincapie has been Lance Armstrong's only consistent teammate in all three of his tour victories, but this has to be his best ride in the tour ever.
Botero is driving it. He may not make it up to the leaders today, but he is turning this tour around for a beleaguered Kelme in these last days in the mountains.
07:34 PDT. This is a blistering attack from Botero, who is flying on his Look bike after the chase group, which is still led by Moncoutie and Sastre. Azevedo looks to have been brought back to the peloton.
Rubiera and Heras have taken up their places in front of Armstong. It's starting to look serious! Armstrong is barking orders to his Posties. He looks comfortable, as usual.
The leading group of Frigo, Guerini, and Aerts are nearing the summit of the last climb with a big lead. They will have to stay away for the 20km descent, then sort out the winner amongst themselves.
The leaders have a 4' 05" lead now. Frigo, Guerini and Aerts are starting to eye each other for the stage victory. It is unlikely that they will be caught today.
Botero passes Isidro Nozal like he's on a motorcycle!
If Botero stays away, he could climb back up to as high as fourth in the GC tonight! A great comeback after his horrible day on Ventoux, where he lost 13 minutes to Armstrong and big time to the rest of his rivals.
Botero is only one minute off the Sastre group. He is pounding up the climb. The crowds are huge and cheering wildly for the leaders.
Lots of big green hands, flags, various team jerseys, and shouting greet the leaders near the top of the climb.
The crowd is parting only with difficulty, the motos are carving a path for the riders!
Mario Aerts is first over the crest of the climb.
Sastre and Moncoutie continue to struggle on up the climb with their group. Botero one minute behind.
Botero is now passing his teammate Gutierrez, who will now pace him.
The three leaders are bombing down the descent!
Thor Hushovd looks like he's in difficulty and Botero is right on Hushovd's tail. Botero goes over the summit in his inimitable style, and begins his daredevil descent.
Botero was once a mountainbiker, and will go down this hill like a bat outta hell.
07:49 PDT. Boogerd leads the Yellow jersey group to the top. Armstrong takes the lead over the top onto the descent. Frigo is speeding down, but he can't keep up with Aerts or Guerini. Richard Virenque crests the climb.
Frigo has caught up with Aerts and Geurini on a relative flat, but the rollercoaster is far from over.
Jaksche and Serrano of ONCE have been dropped by Sastre and Moncoutie on the descent.
Aerts is putting the fear into his Italian breakaway mates on the descent.
Botero is at 4'05" from the leaders, and seems to have caught the Sastre group.
08:00 PDT. Guerini, then Frigo, rejoin Aerts. Armstrong has led out the descent in the peloton to push the pace.
Armstrong is a world class descender, who learned his skills from Sean Yates when a young rider with the Motorola squad. Yates is legendary as one of the all-time greats going downhill.
Beloki has caught up with Armstrong on the descent, and they are taking a sensible line, but trying to keep Botero's lead down.
Frigo has gone to the front of Aerts to control the pace. They have 2km left. Guerini has been sitting on for two kms... he's thinking of his finish.
Guerini is preparing to fly off the front.. Aerts is twitchy! Guerini goes!
At a km to go, Guerini went too early. Aerts now leads.. they're all jockeying for position... Guerini goes again! Aerts is in front now... Frigo and Guerini. Frigo strikes!
Frigo wins! Followed by Aerts and Guerini.
This is the tour of redemption it seems, for some riders.
Now to see how what happens between the chase and the peloton in the battle for the GC... Botero has joined the chase group.
Botero and his teammate lead the Sastre group. He only needs a minute and a half to jump into fourth place.
David Moncoutie has slipped the nets and is heading for the line alone!
No sign of the peloton yet. The cameras are all with the chase group, it seems. Moncoutie will gain time on the GC today, and is doing the French proud as he comes to the line. Botero and his group pass just behind him.
So the Yellow Jersey group was led out to the line by Boogerd, and it crosses the line. Armstrong jumps over Boogerd to cross the line.
Botero made it into 4th!! And Sastre will be 10th tonight.
That concludes our live coverage today! Thanks for joining us this morning!
Stage 17 Results
1 FRIGO Dario ITA TAC 4h 02' 27"
2 AERTS Mario BEL LOT 00' 00"
3 GUERINI Giuseppe ITA TEL 00' 02"
4 MONCOUTIE David FRA COF 02' 55"
5 HUSHOVD Thor NOR C.A 02' 58"
6 LEFEVRE Laurent FRA DEL 02' 58"
7 OSA Unai ESP BAN 02' 58"
8 SERRANO Marcos ESP ONE 02' 58"
9 JAKSCHE Jorg GER ONE 02' 58"
10 SASTRE Carlos ESP CST 02' 58"
11 BOTERO Santiago COL KEL 02' 58"
12 GUTIERREZ José Enrique ESP KEL 03' 14"
13 BROCHARD Laurent FRA DEL 04' 36"
14 MANCEBO Francisco ESP BAN 04' 36"
15 LEIPHEIMER Levy USA RAB 04' 36"
16 HAMILTON Tyler USA CST 04' 36"
17 BELOKI Joseba ESP ONE 04' 36"
18 KIVILEV Andrei KAZ COF 04' 36"
19 RUBIERA José Luis ESP USP 04' 36"
20 GOUBERT Stephane FRA DEL 04' 36"
21 BOOGERD Michaël NED RAB 04' 36"
22 GONZALEZ GALDEANO Igor ESP ONE 04' 36"
23 RUMSAS Raimondas LTU LAM 04' 36"
24 ARMSTRONG Lance USA USP 04' 36"
25 AZEVEDO José POR ONE 04' 36"
26 HERAS Roberto ESP USP 04' 36"
27 BASSO Ivan ITA FAS 04' 36"
28 NOZAL Isidro ESP ONE 04' 55"
29 CHAVANEL Sylvain FRA BJR 04' 56"
GC After Stage 17
1 ARMSTRONG Lance USA USP 72h 50' 25"
2 BELOKI Joseba ESP ONE 05' 06"
3 RUMSAS Raimondas LTU LAM 07' 24"
4 BOTERO Santiago COL KEL 10' 59"
5 AZEVEDO José POR ONE 12' 08"
6 GONZALEZ GALDEANO Igor ESP ONE 12' 12"
7 MANCEBO Francisco ESP BAN 12' 28"
8 HERAS Roberto ESP USP 12' 54"
9 LEIPHEIMER Levy USA RAB 13' 58"
10 SASTRE Carlos ESP CST 14' 49"
11 BASSO Ivan ITA FAS à 15' 04"
12 MONCOUTIE David FRA COF 17' 12"
13 BOOGERD Michaël NED RAB 17' 32"
14 VIRENQUE Richard FRA DFF 22' 40"
15 LELLI Massimiliano ITA COF 24' 56"
16 OSA Unai SP BAN 24' 57"
17 GOUBERT Stephane FRA DEL 25' 04"
18 HAMILTON Tyler USA CST 25' 50"
19 KIVILEV Andrei KAZ COF 26' 39"
20 VOGONDY Nicolas FRA FDJ 26' 43"
21 RUBIERA José Luis ESP USP 29' 46"