|Welcome to live coverage of Stage 13 of the Tour de France!
Stage 13: Miramas-Montpellier, 162 km
Well, today the 162 riders face a relatively flat stage of 173.5 km from Miramas to Montpellier. There is one Cat 4 climb early, and then it's just wind and little rollers the rest of the day.
As expected, the first part of the race saw attack after attack until a five-man group finally got away. The group got a gap of 8' 50", but that has come down a bit now. The group consists of Chris "Cracker Jack" Horner (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Thomas "No Doubt" Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom), Ludovic Turpin (AG2r-Prevoyance), Carlos Da Cruz (FDJeux.com), and Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo).
Davitamon-Lotto has been leading the chase of this group of very strong riders. They have been getting help, for some reason, from Lampre-Caffita. Before the stage, McEwen said that he expected a break to stick today, because he only has four guys who can work to chase a break and with Boonen out, they'll have a hard time finding allies.
Valverde (Illes Balears), the man in 5th overall wearing the White Jersey, has abandoned the race! What a stunner! He has some tendonitis, but still... that's a big surprise.
Valverde (Illes Balears), the man in 5th overall wearing the White Jersey, has abandoned the race! What a stunner! He has some tendonitis, but still... that's a big surprise. His manager yesterday was not optimistic that Valverde could continue today, as his knee has been bothering him since the team time trial and has not improved. The team decided that he could work toward the Vuelta if the kneee was not better overnight. The fine young rider is visibly upset as he sits in his team car. Very tough...
The gap of the break is down to just over 6'. At the first intermediate sprint of the day, Voeckler took the top spot while Da Cruz was 2nd and Turpin was 3rd. On the only climb of the day, Horner, led the way with Da Cruz 2nd and Turpin 3rd.
Well, Lampre's sprinter Glomser abandoned on stage 10 in the mountains, so I have no idea why they would want to work with Davitamon-Lotto to help chase down this break. Maybe they got bored and have nothing else to do. Maybe Davitamon will owe them later. Who knows?
1518 CEST - 86 km left. So the gap is coming down quickly. It is now only 5' 33".
1526 CEST - 81 km left. The riders roll through some corn fields. It's a pretty, if a bit cultivated, part of France. The gap is holding at just over 5'. It is still Davitamon-Lotto and Lampre-Caffita chasing.
There are about seven men on the front of the peloton driving the chase of the five men in the break. Frankly, over time, those seven are going to fade as there are no reserves for Davitamon... those men they have chasing are it. Cofidis or Credit Agricole will have to come up to help the chase if this is going to come back together, because these five men off the front are very very strong.
Escapee Voeckler's team is one of not too many intact teams left in this race: the teams with all their riders still are Rabobank and Gerolsteiner, Euskaltel, Cofidis, Bouygues Telecom and T-Mobile.
Bradley McGee (FDJeux.com) is hanging in the peloton taking it easy today. He's been having problems with cramping in his hamstrings since a crash on Stage 6. He's trying to get his legs back before the big mountains to come. Like us McGee says he was completely purplexed as to why Davitamon-Lotto was leading the chase in the peloton yesterday while they had a very strong rider (Merckx) in the break. On his website, McGee said that he imagined it was a bit quiet at the Davitamon dinner table last night.
For my part, I'd imagine the opposite... that Merckx would be giving people an earful.
1537 CEST - 71 km left. The lead is down to 3' 53". There is a tailwind today, so the riders are flying.
It's good to see Voeckler, who was struggling earlier in the race, out on the attack like this. Horner is the best-placed man in the group on GC, in 29th at 15' 22".
For those of you worried about Manuel Beltran, Johan Bruyneel said that he is fine and that the tests at the hospital were negative for any serious head injury. Bruyneel said that Beltran was clearly loopy after hitting his head in that crash, not even remembering that he had crashed. Also, he had no power in his legs while riding, so they pulled him out of the race, following the race doctor's advice.
Today, Beltran is fine: he has a bit of a headache, and he's upset at being out of the race, but physically he's got no problems. Beltran was suffering from some tendonitis in this right knee as well, so hopefully he will now have time to heal up before riding the Vuelta a España.
1549 CEST - 65 km left. The gap is holding at 3' 44". Could the chase be tiring? The peloton is strung out a bit, and there won't be another chance for the sprinters for quite a while. I have to think that Cofidis and Credit Agricole will come up to ride for Hushovd and O'Grady soon.
The five men off the front, Flecha, Horner, Turpin, Voeckler, and Da Cruz are working well together on this windy stage. The gap has shrunk a bit more now, down to 3' 30".
So it is blistering hot in France today. It is the south of France, so that is to be expected. The pavement is a bit melty and sticky. It should stay this way for the Pyrenees. Some think that Lance is susceptible to the heat because of that dehydration debacle in a 2003 Tour time trial, but Lance grew up in Texas. That is some hot country down there.
He grew up riding in the heat, so he has no problem with these conditions. Ullrich also excels in the heat. Should be interesting to see if this weather has an effect on the race in the days to come.
Davitamon-Lotto, with the help of Lampre (who must be working for Commesso), still drive the chase. The gap is down to 2' 43". Armstrong and his boys have had it easy since the break went away... and now Lance is joking with the cameraman about something.
Maybe Lance is discussing the spectacle of seeing sprinters like Hushovd going on the attack in the mountains over the last couple of days. Brave, but not exactly soaring like an eagle up the climbs.
Johan Van Summeren, a very tall man, is on the front for Davitamon-Lotto. In reserve at the back of this train is Cadel Evans, their GC man. Also in reserve is Fred Rodriguez, who will be McEwen's leadout if it comes down to a sprint.
Of course, Rodriguez would be a big threat to McEwen in the sprints... if he were on a different team. But Rodriguez is working in the Tour for the fast Aussie who already has two stage wins.
With the gap coming down, it looks like now the impetus has left the break a bit. They are still taking turns, but don't seem to be pulling as hard as before. The gap has just dipped under two minutes.
So with the loss of Beltran yesterday, this will be the first time Armstrong's team has lost a rider since the 2001 Tour. Over the last three years, he's had all his mates with him when he crossed the line in Paris. With the Pyrenees coming up, men like Hincapie and Savoldelli will have to step up and pick up the slack where Beltran would be. Still, I think they're up to it... those guys have been amazing in this race so far, with Hincapie riding like a climber.
With Valverde out of the race, Botero (Phonak) is now into 5th on GC and Leipheimer is into 6th. Both men will be looking to go well in the Pyrenees to attempt to move further up. Botero has finished as high as 4th in the Tour, so he's been in this territory before.
The Discovery train is sitting in behind the big Davitamon-Lotto train on the front of the peloton. Not far behind Discovery is Ullrich and his T-Mobile mates. Ullrich is another who will likely do well in the Pyrenees. He'll have recovered from that somersaulting crash on Stage 9. Ullrich is now in 9th on GC at 4' 02", and frankly, he can move up several spots if he has his "A" game in that final time trial.
Ullrich has won stages in the Pyrenees before. In fact, on a stage in 1997, he destroyed the field in the Pyrenees en route to his victory in Paris by over 9 minutes.
Floyd Landis is also right in there behind Popovych at the back of the Discovery train. With Valverde out, Popovych will be in the White Jersey again. Landis, 11th on GC at 4' 16", is another who will likely attack in the Pyrenees.
With the tail wind, the race will come across the line earlier than expected today. Oh geez, Rasmussen now even has a helmet that is white with big red polka dots. Well, I guess that's better than having that Polka Dot Jersey clash with the usual orange and blue Rabobank kit.
33 km left. The gap is down to 1' 00", so it won't be long now before the break is pulled back in. Great chase by Davitamon-Lotto, who have been doing it without help now for the past several kilometers.
Voeckler is stretching his legs, looking over his shoulder. He can see the peloton coming. It'll be over soon.
Lots of the people along the road are scantily clad... the heat has people naked and roasting themselves as red as apples today. They shout encouragement at the riders as they roll by, taking a break from their sun-bathing and picnics in the fields.
1639 CEST - 27 km left. The peloton is now leaving the five-man break out there to fry: the gap is still 56". If they bring them back too soon, then there will be a flurry of counterattacks that would be hard for the sprinters' teams to control. Now Credit Agricole and Cofidis are finally, mercifully, putting men near the front to help the Davitamon-Lotto boys.
So Horner will have to take a stage win in the mountains... his efforts on the flats look like they're coming to naught. Likewise, the arrow will not fly today either...
Moreau, the Credit Agricole rider who is 3rd on GC, is keeping himself near the front. He's been getting lots of press in France, where he's seen as the only hope of getting a Frenchman on the podium this year. It's been a while since France has had a man on the final GC podium... I think it was Virenque several years back. Virenque was 2nd in 1997, the year Ullrich destroyed everybody.
21 km left. Da Cruz has attacked the break, and in the peloton, Servais Knaven (Quick Step)—freed from having to work for Boonen—has launched an attack as well. Knaven has about 50 meters. Fassa Bortolo and FDJeux.com are at the front now setting the pace.
The break is back together, but the gap is not much: it's at 40". Knaven is trying to bridge up to the break. He doesn't seem to be pulling away from the peloton fast enough, but we'll see.
Knaven is turning it off... he's not getting the gap he wants. Davitamon-Lotto sets the pace in the peloton again.
17 km left. The gap is still about 30". There is a little uphill section, and Flecha hits the gas.
Hmmm... The break is almost over as they hit the 15 km banner. The Discovery Channel is now setting a hard pace in the peloton... they are likely trying to keep Lance out of trouble as the race rolls through this city with all the traffic furniture. Chavanel (Cofidis) tries to jump away.
The crowds in Montpellier are large and - for the most part - fully clothed. The corners are hard, and there are lots of little annoying bits of stuff in the road. Okay, now Chavanel has caught the pack. They have six men, but now they are all looking at each other. Horner comes to the front to set the pace now. He pulls off, wanting somebody else to come through. Voeckler attacks! Da Cruz marks him. The peloton is still hovering behind at about 10". Chavanel goes again.
Horner is digging deep trying to bridge... Flecha and Da Cruz tried to bridge and failed, so Horner is the only one who has bridged the gap! 11 km left. Great power riding from Horner to catch Chavanel, who has fresher legs!
Horner pulls through to take his turn, working well with Chavanel. Discovery is still in control of the front of the peloton... and they won't care if these two riders stay away.
So it's Horner and Chavanel pulling away from the field! This now has a chance of succeeding... Chavanel digs deep... Horner is on his wheel, sticking with that acceleration. This gap is now growing! 8 km left. The sprinters' teams need to come to the front, or this break will succeed. The gap is 18".
Now the gap is 12" to the four chasers, and 25" to the peloton! Commesso counterattacks from the peloton! This is strange... after all that chasing, Davitamon-Lotto is letting this stage slip away.
Amazing ride by Horner, to stick with Chavanel when nobody else could. A Domina Vacanze rider has bridged to the four chasers left from that original break. Now those men all sit up as the peloton swallows them up. But Horner and Chavanel are still away. Horner is smiling! He loves this!
Gerolsteiner and Liquigas-Bianchi have one man each on the front, then it's Discovery in the peloton... but that's a pretty weak chase. FDJeux.com now lends a man, but this isn't going to bring back Horner and Chavanel! The Big Hink, George Hincapie, is 3rd wheel in the peloton. He will set a stiff pace, but he won't care to chase down these two men off the front. The lead is now 16" with 4 km left.
Whatever happens, this has been a brilliant and brave bit of riding by Chris "Cracker Jack" Horner, and Chavanel's attack was perfectly timed... rare to see an attack like this actually work!
3 km left 15" is the gap. It still might work... There is a long uphill shunt, and these two men are still away. T-Mobile is now putting a man on the front, and they won't care to chase that hard either...
Oy vay! Final Kilometer!. The break is still away with a good gap! But here comes the peloton! It will be so friggin' close. Chavanel is leading out, Horner on his wheel... the finish is in sight...
Aw crap! The peloton has them! And McEwen wins the stage.
So Horner did hold on for a top ten finish, nice work that. And Fast Freddie on the podium today as well! The fact that Hushovd was only 5th will allow McEwen and O'Grady to move up in the Green Jersey competition. Armstrong was 33rd at the same time. All the big GC men were in that group.
So that's the third stage win for McEwen. Hushovd still in green with 164 points, O'Grady in 2nd with 150, McEwen in 3rd at 142. It's getting tighter...
Tomorrow, the first 80 km are quite flat. There are intermediate sprints at 50 km and 78 km. If a big break doesn't go early, those will be some hotly contested intermediate sprints... likely as hot as a normal sprint finish at the end of a stage. Then the sprinters will take a back seat as the GC men come to the fore for three Cat 4 climbs, a Cat 3 climb, an Above Category climb, and the uphill finish up the Ax-3 Domaines.
McEwen smiles big on the podium. McEwen shakes his head in disbelief... he gives the thumbs up to a couple of his mates crossing the line just now, their hard work earlier being paid off by McEwen's great victory.
Armstrong puts on the Yellow Jersey again. On the podium, he looks relaxed. Tomorrow will be another day where the whip will come down.
That will do it for our live coverage today, so thanks for joining us and please be with us tomorrow!