Welcome to live coverage of Stage 17 of the Tour de France!
Stage 17: Pau-Revel, 239 km
This is a typical transition stage, as we now leave the mountains for good. The many short, sharp climbs in the parcours will undoubtedly tire the legs, though ultimately, the Cat 3 Cote de St Ferréol - crested seven kilometres from the finish in Revel - should prove to be a decisive launchpad for any attacks from the escape.
Oh, and the last Tour stage to finish in Revel was in 2000. Who won that day? Erik Dekker...(Twilight Zone music)
So there are seventeen men in the break: Rubiera and Savoldelli (Discovery Channel), Sevilla (T-Mobile), Arvesen (CSC), Dekker (Rabobank), Davis (Liberty Seguros-Würth), Hinault (Credit Agricole), Cioni (Liquigas-Bianchi), Auge (Cofidis), Tankink (Quick Step-Davitamon), Fedrigo (Bouygues Telecom), Righi (Lampre-Caffita), Da Cruz and Lovkvist (FDJeux.com), Grivko (Domina Vacanze), Doumoulin and Gerrans (AG2r-Prevoyance). Whew! A lot of beef up the road, that.
Armstrong has not-so-fond memories of this finish in Revel: early in his career, he lost a two-up sprint for the win to Serguei Outschakov here.
1511 CEST - The break is almost 19 minutes up the road now. In the peloton, Discovery sets the pace. Not a fast pace, mind you... Armstrong and others in the pack seem to be just chatting and goofing around.
86 km left. The riders will hit the Cat 4 climb of the Cote de Capens next, a short 1.8 km climb with a 4.9% gradient. It will hurt, but they've already ridden over several mean little climbs like this, so the only difference will be the polka dot banners at the top.
The break might start to break up a bit soon... there are too many men in this break. Can I say break again? Break.
As you'd expect from such a sizeable group, there's a real blend of riders - from Grand Tour winners (Savoldelli) to mountain goats (Sevilla and Cioni) to sprinters (Davis, Hinault) to rouleurs (Dumoulin, Dekker, Arvesen, Fedrigo) to rookie youngsters (Lovkvist, Grivko, Gerrans). Everybody in the break is doing their work, pulling through the double paceline. I'm sure there's got to be a lot of soft-pedalers in there, though, with a group this big.
Biggest news of the day: last year's 2nd place finisher in Paris, T-Mobile's Andreas Klöden, has had to withdraw from the race today. He broke a bone in his wrist in a crash early in yesterday's stage, and the pain was getting to be too much. He actually started the stage today with his wrist wrapped up in a brace and all.
In this break, Davitamon-Lotto have really lost out, considering virtually all the other teams are represented. Henceforth, McEwen has next-to-no chance of garnering another sprint victory today.
Kloden's abandon slightly jeopardises T-Mobile's commanding (19 minute) lead in the team competition; however, with Sevilla 28th overall in the break, they stand to only lose a few minutes of their advantage.
Fedrigo, the Champion of France, started this break. Now he's near the back of this group on the climb.
On the climb, Da Cruz now pulls through, giving way to Dekker and Hinault. Da Cruz will be glad that Horner is not in this break... a few days ago when Da Cruz was in that day-long four man break with Horner, the American was fined for throwing a water bottle at the Frenchman. According to Horner, Da Cruz started soft-pedaling to slow down the break once they got to over a 9' lead. Horner says that Voeckler, who was also in the break, was giving Da Cruz a real earful in his native language.
Horner isn't that adept with non-English languages, thus the water-bottle chucking. Tom Steels and Laurent Fignon were both champions at it in the past.That's an international language, chucking water bottles. More recently, Mario Cipollini deserves a mention for his technique.
1524 CEST - 80km to go. 20'01" for the bulky break now.
At the front of the peloton, George "Hills" Hincapie has a chat with Benjamin Noval (Discovery Channel). Yaroslav Popovych, the best young rider, taps out a reasonable pace on the front of the peloton. The Ukrainian could be the one to take on the mantle of undisputed team leader, though rumours have it that a deal to sign Vinokourov is in the works.
Oh, and Domina Vacanze neo-pro Andriy Grivko did lead over the Cote de Capens (Category 4), ahead of Da Cruz and Dumoulin.
I'm telling you, next year the only American team will be led by three men from the former Soviet Union with Russian names: Ekimov, Popovych, and Vinokourov. Their big rivals will be teams from Germany and Switzerland led by Americans. And now that baseball is out of the Olympics, Horner will be leading the delegation trying to get water-bottle chucking in as a new Olympic sport. Or Horner will simply win the Tour now that he's gotten some experience in the race.
The Discovery paceline has a bit of playful banter amongst themselves in front of the camera: I think queen stage victor Hincapie just said, "Say hi to my wife and baby - I love you very much." Very nice.
By the way, in my younger days as a cycling journalist, I did believe that Sebastian Hinault was the son of the great Bernard. Unfortunately, that is not the case; it's just a happy coincidence. Crédit Agricole, however, may have wondered "Same surname... so he must be good."
The French cameraman on the motorbike has been harassing Armstrong for comments, but Armstrong didn't want to talk. He yelled up to his domestiques to handle it (as usual), but Noval didn't want to talk. The moto moved up to Hincapie, who said "I can't talk. I'm working," as he set the pace on the front. He then sent out that greeting to his wife and baby.
Salvatore Commesso and Carlos Sastre just slip off the front for a few moments; not so much an attack as a 'look-at-me-I'm-on-TV' moment. The Lampre man loves to ride with no sleeves; those rippling muscles, it just screams "Ciao, bella" to the Italian housewives.
Armstrong's Yellow Jersey is visible as the riders head up a climb out of the saddle. Armstrong likely is just stretching his legs a bit.
By the way, on the Hinault relation front, I had some reason to assume - considering both effectively come from the same town - Saint-Brieuc. That really is Twilight Zone freaky.
Armstrong, of course, is looking to pass Bernard Hinault on the list of all-time Yellow Jerseys. Armstrong is currently tied with the five-time Tour winner from France with 78 Yellow Jerseys, and at the end of today Armstrong will pick up 79 if all goes well.
In the peloton, Stuart O'Grady sidles alongside Lance Armstrong for a quick chat. Anyone would think it's the weekend chain-gang, if you forget the thousands of fans, cavalcade of vehicles, road closures, helicopter, cameras... The French camera bike up front settles, unsurprisingly, on French rider Stephane Augé. He's a serial attacker in the Durand-mode.
62 km left. Status quo. The seventeen men are still together off the front, with a gap of almost 23'.
We have had some reader mail asking about certain riders wearing a different jersey than their teammates. As an instituton in the sport, almost all the national championships are held in the week and a half slot before the Tour de France - for some, it's a last-gasp opportunity to secure that final spot on the team roster. A notable exception is Australia, who hold their one in early January before the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under. It's too long of a flight home to do it right before the Tour for the Aussies... none of the riders from the European peloton would come - they have to do it January before all the top-level riders skip off to Europe. True - it's the same for countries like Colombia and the USA.
In the break, the only national road champion is Pierrick Fedrigo. However, Grivko (Ukraine) is his country's time-trial winner. It's also a multi-national break: it contains riders from Spain, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, Australia, France, Sweden, and Ukraine.
Allan Davis, second in the Australian national championships in the past, does his turn on the front of the break now. The peloton rides by a hill that has a very rustic and romantic looking windmill. I half expect to see a crazy Spanish guy in makeshift armor to charge at it like it was a dragon or something.
To continue about the national champions, it certainly adds prestige to a team to have a national champion in its ranks, so the riders are allowed to wear their national champion's jerseys in races. You will have seen men like Fedrigo, Garate and Vinokourov in jerseys that do not look like their regular team outfits, and this is why.
Of course it's a big honor to wear a national champion's jersey... the one-day races to decide the wearer of the jersey each year are hotly contested. The winner of a national champion race wears the jersey for the entire year so that fans along the road can easily identify him or her... same idea as having the leader of the Tour de France leader wearing the Yellow Jersey: when the peloton goes whipping by at 30 mph, it's nice to have a color-coded visual aid to help pick out the champions.
The men in the break slog up another freakin' climb... they seem endless. This is another of those uncategorized ones. Doesn't make it feel any easier, I'm sure. Armstrong is either twisting his nipple or trying to loosen his heart-rate monitor strap... can't tell which.
The sad thing is, the peloton is rolling along and chatting at nonchalant speed; speed that I could never even get close to averaging in 14 miles, let alone 140.
The helicopter camera is partly obscured by corn, clearly lifted by the blades. I bet the French farmers are happy about that.
The men in the break are riding through one of those fields of sunflowers that make photographers go all giddy and rapturous about things like beauty and art.
It's a joke in England that, for our baguette-eating counterparts across the Channel, after cycling, la greve - the strike - is the national sport of France. (As you can see, we English are riotously funny.)
So Discovery Channel is getting help setting the pace in the peloton now: Credit Agricole is working hard, likely because Sevilla is now threatening Moreau's position in the top ten with the huge lead of this break. CSC also has a man up there near the front to help set the pace.
Erik Dekker attacks! Only Bram "the Tank" Tankink could take his wheel. Seems a bit early for this sort of thing. And yes, as they're caught, Andriy Grivko gives it a little dig. Excitement! I missed you, my old friend.
Grivko, the Ukrainian time-trial champion, is still dangling out in front, but he's about to be caught.
So lots of counters and chases in that break... not sure what to make of this ex...cite...ment? Is that the word?
1613 CEST - 45km to go - Dumoulin is chasing after Grivko, who has extended his advantage. Behind, the break is fighting for wheels. It really does seem a bit early for these shenanigans. Looks like Savoldelli has bridged up to Grivko and Dumoulin. Cioni is up there.
Well - the break has split. With 43km left, eight riders lead the eleven others by 10 seconds. Grivko has been caught by the way, but he's part of this octet. Savoldelli, Hinault, Grivko, Sevilla, they are all in the group of eight off the front of the break. Dekker is trying to bridge on his own...
Righi, Gerrans, Tankink, and Arvesen are the other four men in that group of eight off the front.
Dekker gives up... and he's stuck in the group of ten that looks to have given up chasing those eight off the front. The lead is now 20 seconds - while it should have been expected that the group would be whittled down to a smaller number by attacks, the startling alacrity of the process clearly caught some riders off guard.
Savoldelli and Rubiera have clearly been given permission to race for themselves today.. they've been working all stage, something Hincapie wasn't allowed to do a couple of days ago.
This, of course, has been facilitated by the complex dynamics of the team situation (e.g. there are three teams that had two men in the break, meaning that three men in the chasing group of ten won't help chase because they have mates up the road).
1623 CEST - 37 km left. The lead group of eight has 30" over the chasing group of ten riders. Once again, this leading group of eight consists of Savoldelli, Sevilla, Arvesen, Hinault, Tankink, Righi, Grivko, and Gerrans. Nobody in this group has a teammate now, so everybody is working hard for themselves.
Sevilla will move way up in GC by the end of the day, as he started the day in 25th at 38' 51", but his group now has a 23' 08" lead on the peloton. Credit Agricole continues to work on the front to try to limit the damage, as they don't want Sevilla to get over their man Moreau on GC.
Sevilla's ride will be good news for T-Mobile, as they lost Klöden today. Also, it was announced yesterday that Vinokourov wouldn't be coming back to T-Mobile next year. Their team seems to be disintegrating on the road. But thankfully, Oscar "Angel Cheeks" Sevilla has his baby face off the front of the race.
Whereas men like Petacchi and Basso make the women swoon, I suspect Sevilla makes women want to feed him mashed carrots with a widdle spoon and burp him afterwards. His face is just so amazingly youthful.
Indeed - this split has separated the men from the boys, and yet little Oscar is still here. As are neo-pros Gerrans and Grivko...who here knows when the last neo-pro Tour stage win was?
1630 CEST - 32 km left. The group of eight has pushed their gap to the ten chasers up to 55". The gap to the peloton has shrunk to 22' 25".
Arvesen won a Giro stage with Fakta; Savoldelli won THE Giro! Twice, even. Sevilla also came close to taking the Vuelta in 2002, though he was attacked by his own teammate Aitor Gonzalez on the Angliru. But not as neo-pros. (But I bet Sevilla's mom wrote Gonzalez a strongly-worded letter.)
This group of eight men is working well for now, but that will likely change on the final Cat 3 climb... that crests only 7 km from the finish, so a man who can attack on that climb and then descend like a demon could take it solo. Oh, hey, maybe I'll pick Savoldelli to win this stage at this point. Of course, there are other strong climbers in this group.
Talking of "widdleness," Samuel Dumoulin - a member of the breakaway - is the smallest in the pro peloton, measuring barely 5'2".
I bet he loves getting in front of men like Hushovd just to annoy them... you can't get much of a draft off of somebody that small.
25km to go - 1'10" to their former companions for the leading eight, and 23'48" to the peloton. So there are men from eight different teams and seven different countries in this break. I looks like the peloton has shut off whatever chase they were mounting...
Well, no, Credit Agricole still has two men trying to raise the tempo in the peloton... but they aren't getting help from anybody, so the gap is creeping up.
The eight man break is in a double paceline with each rider only taking a very quick turn. They are really motoring right now.
The break is on the last uncategorized climbof the day. They will then go downhill a bit before hitting the Cat 3 Cote de Saint-Ferreol, a 2.7 km climb with an average 5.1% gradient.
20 km left. Righi gets a drink from his Lampre-Caffita team car. It's another hot day in the Tour.
A level crossing barrier has come down! Luckily, only team cars are behind the barrier.
So T-Mobile has come to the front in force to lead the peloton. They are chasing the teams competition, in which Discovery is threatening to overtake them. I hate to think how fast the team cars will drive once they get through that train crossing. The riders are through the crossing, but the team cars are all trapped behind. Got to love that.
The replay shows the back of the peloton negotiating the crossing - Tombak just scraped through before it shut. (Cue Indiana Jones music.) As if riding on tram lines wasn't hard enough, he then had to bend down to avoid being poleaxed by the barrier. That would be rotten luck.
I can't imagine the chorus of swearing going up from the team cars, in every language imaginable, as they sit and watch the train go by, knowing one of their men could have a flat at any moment up the road.
14km to go - the break is still going through and off well.
We are now approaching the Cote de St Ferréol. The break will be hitting this Cat 3 climb in a couple of kilometers. Their lead over the ten chasers is now 2' 33", and their lead over the peloton is 24' 52". If an attack is going to go, it will surely do so on this climb. T-Mobile is actually chasing that 2nd group, which contains Rubiera but no T-Mobile rider. That's where Discovery is getting the gap on them today.
Under the 10 km to go banner. The break starts up the Cat 3 climb now. The riders are keeping a close eye on one another. Now Tankink has a go. Here come the fireworks! "Tinkerbell" Tankink gets chased down, though. "Tank" Tankink, sorry. The Quick Step man has pulled out a gap, and now Grivko sets off in hot pursuit. Savoldelli and Sevilla aren't trying to chase.
With 1.2km of this climb remaining, Hinault and Grivko are approaching Tankink. Hinault goes straight by Tankink. Now Savoldelli breezes past Tankink and Grivko!
To recap: Tankink started the attacks, and then it was countered by Hinault and Grivko. Savoldelli now counters hard. Tankink and Grivko are left behind by the Discovery rider! So it's Savoldelli with Hinault on his wheel at the front of the race.
Sevilla is dropped hard... he's trying to chase up to the Grivko-Tankink group. Behind, Arvesen is desperately trying to get back on with Grivko and Gerrans in tow. Then, Sevilla is giving it a go with Righi and Tanink hitting the wall further back. Savoldelli will try to drop Hinault on the descent.
7 km left. If Hinault can stay on Savoldelli's wheel, that will be something. Grivko has been distanced behind, as Arvesen and Gerrans rally. Hinault is a good sprinter by the way, and sometimes leads out for Hushovd. He's won a Tour of Switzerland bunch sprint stage in the pouring rain in the past. Savoldelli pulls back to chew on Hinault's ear, and then he accelerates again... Hinault won't work.
Savoldelli now flies down the descent. Whoa, Savoldelli forces Hinault to the front...
5km to go - Il Falco looks back mid-flight as if to say "If you don't work, I'm not towing you to the line." Arvesen is next on the road, chasing behind Hinault and Savoldelli. The Norwegian is going all out, and Gerrans is losing his wheel on the descent.
Gerrans of Australia has a sprint, like most Aussies. But he'll have to work with Arvesen to catch up to the Savoldelli / Hinault group. Arvesen has a sprint too!
This descent isn't that technical... it's not the kind where Savoldelli can blow somebody off his wheel. 3 km left.
The only one who doesn't have a notable sprint is Savoldelli, though I bet the attack fest on that Cat 3 has taken the sting out of the legs for some riders, perhaps Hinault. Arvesen might be able to bridge up to Hinault and Savoldelli... he has them in his sights, with Gerrans still on his wheel. Savoldelli sits up and waves his arms at Hinault.
Savoldelli attacks solo! My word!
2 km left. Arvesen and Gerrans fly past Hinault! It's four men in front now! Arvesen chases down Savoldelli. Well, this isn't good for Savoldelli, but this is quite good for Arvesen and Gerrans. They're going slow now, playing cat-and-mouse. There are still riders behind! Arvesen attacks, and Savoldelli won't chase.
Now Savoldelli pulls through to chase... Arvesen has a good lead with 1km to go!
Savoldelli is trying to bridge... he's got Hinault on his wheel. It's so tight! Can Arvesen make it? Hinault has bonked!
Savoldelli is 10 meters behind, he comes up to the wheel.. Savoldelli wins it!!
Not a sprint finish, he just edged past him. Gerrans third, Hinault fourth - both crawl across the line, wasted from the effort. Savoldelli is ecstatic, hugging everybody in sight (his team staff, not just random people)... Fifty seconds behind, Sevilla finishes in front of Tankink and Righi.
Savoldelli looked like he was dragging Hinault to the finish, and Hinault looked perfectly positioned, but with about 500 meters left, Savoldelli's pace was too much and he blew Hinault off his wheel. Impressive!
Savoldelli caught Arvesen about 100 meters from the finish, and immediately came around him on the left to take the win. Well, Savoldelli was lucky it didn't come down to a four man sprint... he was able to use his sheer power to pull away from Hinault and drive past Arvesen.
The group with Rubiera now crosses some 3' back. 3'15" down, Dumoulin beats Davis, with Fedrigo, Cioni and Rubiera behind.
Hinault was exhausted, it seems. "Hinault shakes hands with Hinault on the podium" would have been a good line too... So now, go to the bathroom, make a sandwich, and then come back... and the peloton will still have not finished, most likely. The peloton is some 24' back of the winners, so they are still about 19' from the finish.
This has got to be Savoldelli's best year ever as a pro... he's not only won the Giro d'Italia this year, but also an individual stage win and the team time trial in the Tour de France. I'd take that. And what a race for Discovery Channel - when their riders are let off the leash, they've shown that they can still do as well as any other squad, if not better. Again, this makes you wonder what they'll do after Armstrong retires... they are really loaded with talent. And with some big winter transfers rumoured, the squad will be bolstered further - scary! Now if only they has a DS who knew what he was doing... (just kidding, Johan!)
By the way, T-Mobile are still tearing through town into Revel.
1. Savoldelli (Discovery Channel)
2. Arvesen (CSC) @ st
3. Gerrans (AG2r-Prevoyance) @ 8"
4. Hinault (Credit Agricole) @ 11"
5. Grivko (Domina Vacanze) @ 24"
6. Sevilla (T-Mobile) @ 51"
7. Tankink (Quick Step-Davitamon) @ 51"
8. Righi (Lampre-Caffita) @ 53"
9. Dumoulin (AG2r-Prevoyance) @ 3' 14"
10. Davis (Liberty Seguros-Würth) @ 3' 14".
Folks! Jan Ullrich has attacked on the Cat 3! Armstrong and Rasmussen are there, as is Popovych! Mancebo is trying to latch on, as is Leipheimer. Ullrich pulls off the front, releasing the pressure. Ullrich gives it another dig - Armstrong is equal. Basso has also latched on behind, with Mancebo trying to take his wheel.
No sign of Floyd Landis. Now Popovych comes to the front to set the pace for Armstrong. They have at least 7 seconds!
There was a crash by the way, Arroyo (Illes Balears) and Geslin (Bouygues Telecom) went down, but are both back up and riding. Mazzoleni was the last man to bridge to that yellow jersey group; the gate has closed now.
Ullrich really driving it, and he's got a major itch in his cycling shorts apparently. Rasmussen is still there on this wheel, with Armstrong and Popovych. Basso is there. Landis is well back in a chasing group. Popovych and Hincapie are back up to the front again, with Ullrich shutting down his attack.
Evans isn't here either; Vinokourov could leapfrog them. The crash also contributed to them eking out such a lead. Well, this is evidence that it's not over till the fat lady signs. Or the fat man. (So Jan Ullrich, basically.)
Popovych is chasing him down. Rumor has it that Popovych and Vino will be teammates next year. Interesting. With 4km to go, the Kazakh champ comes through like a rocket! We're hearing that the gap is 20 seconds to the Phonak-led peloton. Wow. Now THIS is cycling.
Hincapie and Popovych are now driving the Yellow Jersey group once again. Vinokourov is of course very close to Landis on GC, so Vino will want this split to stay there until the finish.
2km to go now. Anyone who thought the peloton was going to cruise lazily into Revel was mistaken! The big Hink drives the Yellow Jersey group, taking turns with Popovych... this reminds me of that epic break these two men had to take 1-2 in the last stage of the Dauphiné Libéré!
This time, they are working to drive home the Yellow Jersey and discourage any other T-Mobile attacks. Under the Flamme Rouge, it's 13 seconds. Armstrong is hammering on the front of the break; Evans is doing the same in the bunch.
Popovych sprints out the group across the line...Now Evans and Landis have lost about 20" at the line. Yes - 22'28" for Armstrong group, 22'47" for the small group with Evans and Landis. By the way, O'Grady beat Hushovd in that small group sprint at 22'47".
Evans and Landis were the GC men who got caught out there. Amazing! After a day of napping, the peloton exploded in the final ten kilometers. Now the pack, no doubt rocked by that late action, finishes at 24'20" - they are probably thinking, WTF? Oh, who cares... you guys go play if you want. We're done for the day.
Well, that was cool!
Christophe Moreau was another man high up in the GC who was caught out by that attack... like Landis and Evans, he lost about 19". What a bolt from the blue that was. So the men in that Armstrong group who got the 20" gap were as follows: Popovych, Vinokourov, Hincapie, Leipheimer, Ullrich, Armstrong, Rasmussen, Mazzoleni, Basso, and Mancebo.
Savoldelli talking with an interpreter... he doesn't speak English. He's happy with the stage win, though it obviously doesn't rate as high at the Giro victory.
He says it is a big honor to ride with Armstrong, and he is very satisfied... he can tell his children about it. He also says that he was upset at Hinault for not working in that final attack, but it looks now like Hinault just didn't have the legs left to work.
On the podium, Hinault (Bernard) announces he's starting a "Senior's Tour de France" for retired riders. He immediately spits on Armstrong, calls LeMond a big chicken, and declares that he will crush everyone next year. (Just kidding...)
Sevilla is up to 15th on GC, and Vinokourov is up to 7th on GC with their rides today.
The General Classification:
2. Basso @ 2' 46"
3. Rasmussen @ 3' 09"
4. Ullrich @ 5' 58"
5. Mancebo @ 6' 31"
6. Leipeheimer @ 7' 35"
7. Vinokourov @ 9' 38"
8. Evans @ 9' 49"
9. Landis @ 9' 53".
So if this little climb today caused some attacks, you can bet that tomorrow's finish up a Cat 2 climb will lead to another battle. Should be awesome! Thanks for joining us today, and apologies for our service interruption. See you right here tomorrow!!
Commentary today by Locutus and Andy McDobbin.