Welcome to live coverage of Stage 12 of the Tour de France!
Stage 12: Briançon-Digne-les-Bains, 187 km
As we join the race in progress, there is a group of thirteen escapees: Schreck (T-Mobile), Lombardi (CSC), Arrieta (Illes Balears), Merckx (Davitamon Lotto), Giunti (Fassa Bortolo), Garate (Saunier Duval), Vicioso (Liberty Seguros Wurth), Halgand and Hushovd (Credit Agricole),
Pellizotti (Liquigas), Moncoutie and O'Grady (Cofidis) and Casar (Francaise des Jeux). Hushovd and O’Grady just caught this group a few minutes ago.
There are no more intermediate sprints left out on the roads today, so Hushovd and O'Grady are out after a stage result. The leaders have just under three minutes advantage on the peloton.
Manuel Beltran (Discovery Channel) had been suffering from a bad knee, but then he crashed hard today. After trying to carry on, he had to abandon the race! That's a big loss for Discovery. No news yet as to the extent of Beltran's injuries, other than that he aggravated that already-troublesome knee.
Another shocker: The man leading the Green Jersey competition, Tom Boonen (Quick Step-Innergetic), did not start the race today. Boonen suffered yet another hard crash early in the stage yesterday, and his earlier crashes had given him a very bad back. That last crash yesterday was just too much, and he couldn't continue. That means Hushovd is in the Green Jersey and O'Grady is his biggest
1354 CEST - 100 km left. The lead to the peloton is 2' 40" behind the thirteen men in the break. The break is about to crest the first Cat 2 climb of the day, the 12.3 km Col Saint-Jean.
Today's stage is one that Armstrong says is surprisingly hard and dangerous. With two Cat 4 climbs, one Cat 3 climb, and two Cat 2 climbs, it's not as hard as yesterday, but it's the perfect stage for a group like this to get away.
The course is 187 km between Briançon and Digne les Bains. Near the top of the Col Saint-Jean, the Saunier Duval rider (and Spanish Champion) Juan Manuel Garate goes off the front of the break to take maximum points.
This break is full of strong men, many of who can climb well. However, nobody here is a GC threat, so the break will likely stay away until the finish (at least part of the break).
1407 CEST - 90 km left. The gap has gone up to 4' 14". It has been steadily growing. Discovery completely doesn't care, because despite the quality riders in the break, none even remotely pose a threat to Lance. Unlike when Rasmussen attacked on Stage 9 and Vinokourov attacked yesterday.
"Mad" Bradley McGee (FDJeux.com) had a go early in the stage. He has been ailing since a crash on Stage 6, suffering from cramps that he says have affected his pedaling power. That's the kiss of death when heading into the mountains of the Tour, and he lost big time over the past couple of days despite feeling his injury was improving. Good to see he felt good enough to try an attack today.
His mate Sandy Casar, a good climber, is the highest placed man on GC: he's in 31st at 17' 29". I doubt that he'll gain more than a few minutes by the end of the stage, but this break could move Casar up enough to make him a threat for the top ten.
So Vinokourov's monster break for a well-earned stage victory again has some buzzing about the rumor that he will sign with Discovery Channel next year. Some say that this was a factor in why Discovery didn't try harder to chase him down. Of course, that is pure speculation, and there are lots of other reasonable explanations. The most obvious is that Discovery didn't want to chase back someone who is no longer a direct threat to Lance, though they wanted to keep his time gains in check. Instead, they just did what they had to do and no more. This saves energy for the team, and keeps men who are bigger threats (like Ullrich) from attacking. Oh, and Vino is a friggin' animal and is very very hard to chase down when he's on the attack like that.
So there are reports now that Beltran has suffered some kind of head injury, that he struck his head when he fell. Nothing life-threatening, but serious enough to make handling a bike a danger.
T-Mobile's Mario Kummer concurs with Armstrong - "Today’s stage is not to be underestimated. It may not have as extreme a mountain profile as the last two stages, but the constant up and down could prove dangerous."
1421 CEST - 83 km left. The gap is 4' 44". All right, now here's a puzzler: despite having the very talented Axel Merckx in the break, the Davitamon-Lotto team has now come to the front to raise the pace in the peloton. There is still a Cat 2 and Cat 4 climb ahead, so they can't be thinking of setting up McEwen, can they? And what the hell are they doing chasing with a very solid rider like Merckx up the road? If I were Merckx, I'd be giving a lot of people an earful tonight over this.
Unless Merckx is feeling badly and has reported this to his team, it really is not a very professional move to chase a break with a teammate in it.
Well, there are lots of ups and downs today, and not all the ups are categorized climbs. The riders are slogging up a climb that isn't categorized, and sprinter Angelo Furlan (Domina Vacanze), who has suffered a couple of crashes in the race this year, is off the back with a teammate.
Casar has accelerated on this climb, and he is now alone off the front of the break. He has quite a gap.
The two French teams Cofidis and Credit Agricole have two men each in this break. It's Bastille Day, the French independence day (for my fellow Yanks, it's their version of the 4th of July). That means the French riders and teams are especially motivated.
I'd expect that O'Grady and Moncoutie (Cofidis) and Halgand and Hushovd (Credit Agricole) would be driving the break to try to catch Casar, who is now on a slight downhill section before the Cat 4 Col du Labouret, a short 2.2 km climb with an average 3.2 gradient.
Despite the loss of Beltran, Discovery Channel must be grateful that Davitamon-Lotto is crazy enough to be chasing right now. The gap is down to 4' 16". Oh, Furlan has just withdrawn from the race. Earlier, Robbie Hunter (Phonak) also withdrew. That's two less sprinters in the race.
1433 CEST - Well, Casar has now been brought back into the break. Not surprisingly, Halgand and Hushovd are driving the break.
Now O'Grady moves up to the front... there is a little bit of looking at each other and posturing going on. They must be on a climb, as an enthusiastic fan is sprinting trying to stay with the riders. But the gradient isn't high, and the men in the break fly by him very quickly.
1435 CEST - 74 km left. Van Summeren is driving the chase in the pack for Davitamon-Lotto. He is one of three Davitamon riders driving the chase.
The gap for the break is 4' 15". They are flying on a long, gradual descent that goes on for about 25 km before the road kicks up again with the Cat 2 Col du Corobin (12.4 km at 4.5%). That climb should see some serious attacking by the climbing types. Hushovd will be hard pressed to keep with the break.
So if the Kazakh rider Vinokourov ended up leading Discovery Channel in the Tour next year, he would likely co-captain the team with Yaroslav Popovych of Ukraine. If he doesn't retire, the team would probably also have the timeless Russian, Slava Ekimov. The Cold War scholar in me can help but appreciate the irony of the biggest American team potentially being led by three men with Russian names from countries that used to be in the Soviet Union. What would Nixon and Reagan say? Would they think it's a victory of some sort, or a defeat? Oh who cares, that would be a kick-ass team.
Armstrong has made it to Paris in the Yellow Jersey with as few as six teammates by his side, but his victory laps around the Champ Elyseés usually have had the full eight teammates. Beltran is a great climber, and will be missed in the Pyrenees for sure by Discovery. Good thing for them that George Hincapie is now climbing as well as men like Azevedo and Savoldelli.
1453 CEST - 70 km left. The gap is 4' 04". So is Davitamon-Lotto really chasing? McEwen is way behind in the points competition, but with Boonen out of the race, he might like his chances to make a comeback against men like Hushovd and O'Grady. But both those men are up the road right now. So maybe McEwen is trying to ride for the Green Jersey now. Still, Merckx won't be happy about it.
Tomorrow is a flat stage, one that will suit McEwen much better than today. If I were him, I'd save my teammates for the chasing tomorrow. But as anyone who has ever seen me ride a bike can attest, I'm not McEwen. Nor am I Armstrong, for that matter. Think about if Armstrong were riding in a Baywatch episode, where they have all the action in that slow motion mode... that's what I look like when riding.
1458 CEST - 53 km left. The riders are flying on the descent, but will soon be on that Cat 2 climb of the Col du Corobin.
The gap is down to about 3' 30". The men in the break are still pulling through, but not everybody seems happy. Arrieta makes some annoyed hand gestures like he thinks some of the others are being lazy, you know, holding the fingers together and then waving them around.
Joseba "Enough about That Crash" Beloki (Libery Seguros) is riding near the back of the peloton. He hasn't been feeling great the last couple of days in the mountains, but he is still in the race. This is the first time since that infamous 2003 crash in the Tour that he has been able to hang in a race at this level.
1506 CEST - 46 km left. Okay, so now McEwen has called off the dogs and it's the Discovery Channel boys back catching bugs in their teeth at the front of the peloton. Armstrong is looking, well, like Armstrong in that Yellow Jersey near the front.
The riders roll through the town of Digne les Bains for the first time. They will roll up a couple of climbs, and then come back down to finish in the same city. Well, slap my ass and call me Suzy, McEwen has put his Davitamon-Lotto boys back on the front again. The gap has gone up to over 4' again. I give up, I can't figure out what the heck those guys are about today.
Hmmm... the further into the race it gets, the more Americans show up on the side of the road. Lots of American flags and Lance shirts are visible near the finish line, again. I must say I was in amongst them about this time last year, as I was on that trip with Yellow Jersey Tours.
1516 CEST - So the thirteen men in the break are still cooperating well at this point as they head up the Col du Corobin. And as soon as I say that, Arrieta attacks!
Now a Cofidis rider attacks. Is it O'Grady? Yes it is, and Hushovd counters. Well, I must say, this is a bit ugly... watching sprinters attack each other off the front of the race on a climb. Sort of like watching those climbers Weening and Klöden sprint the other day.
Now O'Grady and Hushovd are keeping an eye on each other. Remember, these two were on the same team for a couple of years and developed an intra-team rivalry... O'Grady was the established sprinter who wanted the team's support, and Hushovd was the young gun who wanted to ride and sprint for himself.
O'Grady eventually left Credit Agricole for Cofidis. So now that rivalry is on again, except that now they are on different teams and don't even have to pretend to play nice anymore. And the Green Jersey is at stake.
38 km left. So the break is splitting a bit. As the climb gets harder, Moncoutie (Cofidis) has put in a serious attack from that break. O'Grady and Hushovd have been dropped (not surprisingly) by the other men.
Chasing is a group of about eight with Garate leading the way for now.
Now it's Merckx driving the chase, Halgand on his wheel, and Giunti (Fassa Bortolo) after that. Shreck is off the back of the pack. So Hushovd is way back on the climb, and Lombardi and O'Grady are actually doing okay trying to chase back to the break. They could rejoin on the descent. Hushovd looks toasted, as does Stephan "Ogre" Schreck.
Pellizotti (Liquigas) is now on the wheel of Merckx, who is riding very powerfully up the climb. "The Big Cootie" Moncoutie is still off the front of the break, though.
1530 CEST - Well Vicioso is now struggling off the back of the Merckx group. Moncoutie has a gap of about 30" on the chasers. Now Giunti is being dropped, as is Arrieta. Wow, Merckx is bringing the pain on this climb!
Pellizotti was coming off the back, but luckily the top of the climb came... oh wait, the climb isn't over... it is just a downhill bit before the end of the climb, which is quite steep.
1533 CEST - 34 km left. Moncoutie pushes along solo trying to be a French hero on Bastille day. Six men are in a group chasing: Arrieta, Merckx, Garate, Halgand, Pellizotti, and Casar at 30". Vicioso is a few seconds further back.
Then Lombardi and O'Grady are chasing... and Hushovd and Schreck are the stragglers a ways back. Meanwhile, the peloton could give a toss. The Davitamon-Lotto boys have pulled off the front, for good this time, and the Discovery Channel boys noodle over 6' behind Moncoutie.
Well, a French fan carrying a French flag nearly soils himself when he sees the Frenchman Moncoutie coming solo up near the top of the climb. The fan runs alongside screaming frantically, and Moncoutie raises his pace to save his ears. Surprisingly, Pellizotti is being dropped by the Merckx group.
Moncoutie is looking strong. He's won a stage of the Tour before like this, on a long solo attack from a breakaway group. The fans are thick near the top of the climb, and everyone — Americans, Norwegians, Dutch, Germans — all identifiable by their flags — cheer Moncoutie on with all their hearts. Moncoutie crests the climb. Behind, Merckx is driving a group still, with Garate, Halgand, Arrieta, and Vicioso in tow. The gap is about 35".
Well, this is quite a serious descent... the road looks dodgy, with some crazy corners and looking narrow. Despite being repaved recently, the pavement still doesn't look to inspire confidence. This road is about as wide as a single lane... the surface of the road looks a bit melty, not good. But it's not as bad as what the riders will face in the Pyrenees.
Hushovd is behind O'Grady by 10". So that will be an interesting subplot all the way to the line today. Whew! Moncoutie is flying down this hairy descent.
1545 CEST - There is a bit of regrouping in the chase behind. Eight men are in the group. Hushovd is almost back up to O'Grady's group. Looks like all twelve chasers might regroup by the bottom. Moncoutie is still solo. O'Grady is with Schreck and Lombardi trying to catch the chase group of eight men, led still by Merckx.
Well, in the peloton over 6' back, Pavel "The Gavel" Padrnos sets the pace. Men are coming off the back despite the fact that the pace in the peloton isn't that high.
So Moncoutie has 30" over the Merckx group of eight. Then it's another 1' 30" to the group of four containing O'Grady and Hushovd, so it will be hard for these sprinters to rejoin the break.
1549 CEST - 23 km left. Moncoutie holds his 30" lead over the eight chasers. The peloton is now 7' 39" back, stretching a bit as they curl up for a nap.
Pellizotti and Giunti are not with the Merckx group... they are about 20" back. That Merckx group contains Arrieta, Garate, Vicioso, Halgand, and Casar.
Pellizotti is back up to the Merckx group again. Giunti has been picked up by the O'Grady group.
Heras is now having a mechanical off the back of the peloton. He is by the side of the road with a mechanic, who is monkeying with his rear wheel.
1557 CEST - 17 km left. With the final climb of the day approaching, Moncoutie still holds about a 30" gap over the group of Merckx, Pellizotti, Arrieta, Vicioso, Garate, Casar, and Halgand. At 2' 05" behind Moncoutie is the group with O'Grady, Hushovd, Giunti, Schreck, and Lombardi. Then it's 8' 12" to the (yawn...stretch...) peloton.
Well, Casar will be the big GC winner of the day. He'll move way up on GC from his current spot in 31st at 17' 29". The chase group of seven is closing on Moncoutie on a relatively flat and straight section of road.
So the final climb is the Cat 4 Col de l'Orme, a 2.7 km climb at 3.9% average gradient. I think that means "mountain of the worm," seriously. David "Big Cootie" Moncoutie is still driving alone, but the gap is shrinking.
"Orme" means worm in some Germanic languages, though in French it is the word for "elm."
Garate now accelerates... he is marked quickly by Halgand and Merckx. Now it's back to work in the chase. Merckx is doing a lot of work here. He led most of the last climb, and now he's leading up this final climb. Well, now Vicioso has a dig and Merckx has to counter. This group is breaking up. They still haven't caught the Big 'Coutie.
1608 CEST - 9 km left. Well, Moncoutie is now looking good again. He picked up time on that climb and his gap is still a good 30" over the Merckx group. The chase of seven men is working well together now, realizing they must cooperate if they want to race for the win instead of 2nd.
1513 CEST - The peloton is 9' 44" behind. Vicioso attacks, and he's marked by Casar. Garate now leads the others back up. With this monkeying around, they aren't going to catch Moncoutie. So it will be the "Big Cootie" Moncoutie picking up the first French win of this Tour, and on Bastille Day no less. He'll be a national hero, on the cover of every newspaper tomorrow.
He did the same thing last year, but not on Bastille Day. When I got to France last year, Moncoutie had just won a stage and his picture was everywhere.
4 km left. 28" still for Moncoutie. He is looking strong. The fans along the road are going crazy. So Vicioso and Merckx try to attack, but to no avail.
The break has brought back no time for the last several kilometers. Moncoutie is having an inspired finish to this stage. 2 km left.
The gap is now 29" for Moncoutie. He's going to win for sure now.
Final Kilometer. Wow, the fans are thick on the roads shouting "Allez, David, allez!!" Moncoutie smiles. He has 32" now. He's actually stretching his lead.
He pumps his fist, looks over his shoulder to be sure, and crosses the line. David Moncoutie has won on Bastille Day! Vive la France! Vive le Cofidis!
Here comes the sprint for 2nd. Arrieta leads it out. Casar is coming around on the left... Vicioso is challenging, but it looks like a French 1-2 as Casar takes it. After crossing the line, he says he owes it all to Bingen Fernandez...just kidding.
So now come the sprinters... Schreck is on the front, trying to drop everyone. He's got three ace sprinters with him. O'Grady and Hushovd are going for the points. Now Lombardi goes! O'Grady is on his wheel, now O'Grady is driving to the line, but Hushovd comes around him on the left to take...9th.
So the French producers are now focusing the camera on Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom), the French hero of last year's race.
Hushovd will don the Green Jersey tonight, and looks to be the favorite to win this competition now. But O'Grady is going to make him work for it, as this stage indicates.
Boonen's knee was banged up in that crash yesterday, and adding that to his wrecked back, he had to pull out before today's stage. That left the path clear for Hushovd. Bad luck for the young Belgian, but you can be sure he'll win a Green Jersey or two in the future. Hushovd will have them partying in the midnight sun up in Norway with his success.
So the peloton is finally coming into town... and now they are under the 1 km banner with 9' 39" gone by. McEwen will try to get maximum points to keep himself in the Green Jersey ballpark.
McEwen comes across easily to "win"...14th spot. SuperFast Fred Rodriguez gave McEwen a great leadout there. You can bet we'll be seeing that combination tomorrow as well.
Someone nudges Armstrong and tells him that they've crossed the line and he has to wake up to go to the podium ceremony.
1. David Moncoutie (France) COF 4h20’06"
2. Sandy Casar (France) FDJ at 57"
3. Angel Vicioso (Spain) LSW m.t.
4. Patrice Halgand (France) C.A m.t.
5. Jose Luis Arrieta (Spain) IBA m.t.
6. Franco Pellizotti (Italy) LIQ m.t.
7. Axel Merckx (Belgium) DVL m.t.
8. Juan Manuel Garate (Spain) SDV m.t.
9. Thor Hushovd (Norway) C.A at 3’15"
10. Stuart O’Grady (Australia) COF m.t.
So tomorrow is a flat stage, perfect for a McEwen-Hushovd-O'Grady showdown. Then Saturday sees a nasty stage, a 220.5 km monster that has a cluster of four climbs (three Cat 4s, one Cat 3) in the middle of the stage before the long slog up the Above Category Port de Pailheres and the finish on the top of the Cat 1 Ax-3-Domaines. You can bet the GC men will be going after each other again that day.
Well, well, here comes Moncoutie out onto the podium. The crowd is quite ecstatic. Moncoutie smiles very largely, holding up his flowers and beaming.
No change to the top 15 spots in the General Classification.
Virenque is on the podium to award Rasmussen the Polka Dot Jersey... he raises the Dane's hand, but likely thinks it's a good thing he retired, cause this Danish guy can friggin' climb.
Hushovd pulls on the Green Jersey, and the Norskies in the crowd go nuts. Lots of big blonde Viking types following the race these days, with the success of Hushovd and Rasmussen. Another Viking invasion of France, this. By the way, did you know that Norman is the word in Norwegian for Norwegian? It means the men from the north... and those Vikings who invaded that section of France (Normandy) gave it that name.
Well, that concludes our live coverage for today. Thanks for reading, and please join us again tomorrow. Results to come.