Hello and welcome to live coverage of Stage 19 of the Tour de France!
Stage 19: Issoire-Le Puy-en-Velay, 154 km
So only three more days of this Tour de France. Today is an interesting stage: short, but tough. The riders have 153.5 km facing them, with three Cat 4 climbs, one Cat 3 climb and a Cat 2 climb. It's the kind of stage that could see a break go, but it could also see a sprint finish. We'll see.
As we begin coverage, the riders are on the early slopes of the Cat 2 Col des Pradeaux, an 11.4 km climb at 5.6%. There have been a million and one attacks so far, including attacks from Ullrich (T-Mobile), Moreau (Credit Agricole), and Bradley McGee (FDJeux.com). Those were all reeled in, but now a group of four men is starting to pull away.
The men in the lead break of four are Sandy Casar (FDJeux.com), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas-Bianchi), Oscar Pereiro (Phonak), and Giuseppe Guerini (T-Mobile). They are 3' 19" ahead of the peloton. This group of four is being chased by a group of ten men who are at about 1'.
That chasing group of ten men has Pieter Weening (Rabobank), Kurt-Asle Arvesen (CSC), Jose Azevedo (Discovery Channel), Salvatore Commesso (Lampre-Caffita), Bert Grabsch (Phonak), Juan Antonia Flecha (Fassa Bortolo), Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), and Carlos Da Cruz (FDJeux.com). So it's mostly the usual suspects here.
Pereiro is in 13th on GC at 17' 10", so I can't imagine he'll be allowed to get too far away. Discovery Channel won't chase him, and they are at the front of the peloton right now, but other teams with men in the top ten will start to chase him before too long. The most likely suspects to start chasing are Gerolsteiner (to defend Leipheimer) and Credit Agricole (to defend Moreau). Neither of these teams has a man up the road.
Discovery Channel has Azevedo marking the chase group, T-Mobile has Guerini in the lead group, CSC has Arvesen in the chase group, Rabobank has Weening in the chase group, Phonak has Pereiro in the lead group and Grabsch in the chase group. So it's unlikely any of those teams will mount a serious chase.
1512 CEST - 90.5 km left. The lead break of four men has 3' 50" over the peloton. Commesso has jumped from the chase to try to bridge up to the leaders, and he's 49" back. The rest of the chasers are at 1' 07". Arvesen and Flecha seem to be doing a lot of work in the chase, but not a lot of other men seem interesting in working.
Flecha, Bertolini, and Chavanel are now away from that chase group and trying to bridge up to Commesso. That chase group is breaking into lots of bits.
Commesso, not exactly known for his climbing, has now been passed by most of the men in that chasing group. They are still on that Cat 2 climb. Wait, that Flecha group was actually dropped on the climb by the other chasers.
1521 CEST - 87 km left. So we have Guerini, Pereiro, Pellizotti, and Casar off the front of the peloton by 3' 25". All are excellent climbers. They are being chased by Weening, Azevedo, Arvesen, Da Cruz, Commesso, and Grabsch at 58".
85 km left. The peloton has upped the pace and this break's lead has started to drop. Men in the peloton are now being shelled. The lead group of four goes over the top of the climb.
The six-man chase is now over the top and descending. There's a lot of racing to go. There are two Cat 4 climbs, but a lot of other little uncategorized climbs dot this race for the next 75 km or so.
The beginning of the stage today looked like it was kind of nasty - the first 40k were uphill.
Yep, that's why it saw attacks from guys like Moreau and Ullrich.
Discovery sets the tempo for the peloton over the top of the Col des Pradeaux, and they crest 3' 35" behind the leaders. Discovery is keeping this break on a short leash for sure, likely waiting for some help from other teams to really chase it down.
1538 CEST - 74 km left. So the riders hit the feed zone, bags and bottles flying everywhere. Men are sitting up and stuffing their faces.
Giuseppe "Body Check" Guerini, who won a stage that finished on the Alpe d'Huez despite being body-checked off his bike by a fan a few years back, is not driving this lead group of four men. He's looking for another stage win, and with this group of climbers he might have a shot.
In the peloton, Armstrong is chatting with Cedric Vasseur. A few years back, Vasseur was on U.S. Postal but was upset he didn't get chosen for the Tour team. He also said that Lance hadn't paid him his bonus money from his ride in the previous year's Tour. I guess they've patched all that up, eh? Unless they are smiling while exchanging insults because they're in front of the camera.
Vasseur: Boss, where are ze Euros you owe me?
Lance: I told you, the team paid you years ago, and I even chipped in some extra money. So Cedric, how many days did you spend in the Yellow Jersey when you had it?
Vasseur: Bite my bottom, American peeg.
Lance: Go drink some WHINE, why don't you?
Of course, that is just pretending that they are still mad at each other. But really, it does look like Armstrong and Vasseur are enjoying a friendly chat.
1553 CEST - 60 km left. Here's the situation on the road: Guerini, Pereiro, Pellizotti, and Casar are now 7' 45" ahead of the still-apathetic peloton, which is being led by the Discovery Channel. Ten men are chasing, and that group includes Azevedo of Discovery and Weening of Rabobank, plus several other strong riders. That group is at 2' 06" behind the four leaders.
Azevedo is just sitting on that chase group, clearly under orders to mark things.
Discovery is clearly counting on Pereiro's presence in the lead group to get some other teams to get worried and help set the tempo in the peloton. Pereiro is in 13th on GC at 17' 10", but with his time gains as they stand on the road he's up into the top nine. I'm surprised that Credit Agricole and Gerolsteiner haven't started helping with the chase.
Another team that should be helping soon is Davitamon-Lotto: their man Evans is now threatened by Pereiro in the GC race, and they don't have a man up the road either. Also, if McEwen is in this peloton, it could be a stage he could win with a sprint finish.
So the lead group has gone over one Cat 4 climb, and are now approaching the last Cat 4 climb of the day. It's hard to tell the Cat 4 climbs from the nasty little uncategorized ones in this part of France. Illes Balears, who don't have a man up the road and who have a man (Mancebo) in 5th on GC, are now sending men to the front of the peloton to help with the chase.
So some attacks and counters in that ten-man chase group. Nothing stuck, and they are back to just setting a tempo. They are still 2' 21" behind the four leaders.
It was Commesso who attacked in the chase group. Whatever, Salvatore! You're not going to bridge up to those four leaders by yourself, dude.
1609 CEST - 48 km left. The pressure put on by Illes Balears in the front of the peloton is already having an effect: the lead has dropped to 8' 00".
Casar sets the pace up the final categorized climb of the day, the 2.9 km Cote de Malaveille with an average gradient of 5%. It's a nasty little bugger, this. Pereiro now pulls through. These four climbers are working very well together... they'll be hard to pull back.
Well, on this climb the chase group of ten is now splitting up. Strangely, Commesso is the one driving the pace and he's putting men like Arvesen in trouble.
The four leaders go over the top of the climb. The road is still bumpy for the next 33 km, before a descent and a false flat leadup to the finish.
Azevedo is now working a bit in this chase group, though his pull on the front was rather short. That last acceleration shed Da Cruz, Portal, and Bertolini. Now only Arvesen, Azevedo, Grabsch, Weening, Flecha, Chavanel, and Commesso are left. They have actually closed the gap to about 1' 40" to the leaders.
On flat terrain, a chasing peloton can potentially make up approximately 10 seconds per kilometer on escaped riders. But on up and down road like this, that kind of prediction doesn't work. So if today's stage were on nice, flat roads, with the lead being around 8 minutes, the peloton, working well, could catch the escapees in about 48-50 km of riding - just about the number of kilometers left in this stage...
1621 CEST - 42 km left. The chase is at 1' 35", and the peloton is at 7' 55". This could all come back together before the finish. If they'd show us the peloton, we could see if the sprinters are still there... they might still have a say in this stage if they haven't been dropped. The pace hasn't been too high, so I suspect the sprinters are still tucked in there somewhere. Illes Balears and Gerolsteiner setting the pace in the peloton. Good to see the waterboys now helping out. Davitamon-Lotto should really get their boys up there, though.
Grabsch and Azevedo are now sitting at the back of that seven-man chase group. Interesting, that. Grabsch has a teammate up the road, so he isn't expected to work. Azevedo must be back to the "I can't work because Lance is behind me" position, which is also perfectly legitimate.
1625 CEST - 39 km left. The peloton has closed it down to 7' 40". This is going to be interesting... if more teams start to help, the gap will come down faster.
So Davitamon-Lotto now have a few guys helping out the Gerolsteiner and Illes Balears riders in the chase. They are defending Evans' GC position from Pereiro, and also trying to get McEwen back into position to win the stage.
Commesso has jumped away from the chase group again. Sheesh. That chase group has now gone back up to ten riders, as Da Cruz, Bertolini, and Portal have caught back on.
1634 CEST - 32 km left. The four-man break of Guerini, Pereiro, Pellizotti, and Casar has a 1' 52" lead on a three-man chase of Grabsch, Commesso, and Da Cruz. Chavanel is hot on the heels of that group, and then the rest of that chase group is trying to bridge up as well. The peloton is now only 7' behind the leaders.
So that chase group is all back together at about 1' 52" behind the four leaders. In the peloton, it's still Davitamon-Lotto, Gerolsteiner, and Illes Balears setting the pace. The peloton looks pretty complete. Should be lots of sprinters in there.
1641 CEST - 26 km left. Sandy "Julius" Casar does his turn in this front group. It's been a pretty dismal Tour for the FDJeux.com boys... their sprinters never really got going, and their GC man McGee got injured and has been struggling. Casar could change all that with a win here. The gap is back up to 2' 05" to the chase of ten, and the peloton is at 6' 50".
Jeez, Commesso attacks, gets pulled back, attacks again, gets pulled back... what is his problem? The lack of sleeves on his jersey giving him sun damage that has seeped into his brain, or what?
Commesso goes again, and this time the guys in the chase group just go, "Fine, seeya in a few." Chavanel is trying to bridge now... and the rest of the guys are getting back up to Chavanel.
1647 CEST - 21 km left. The leaders look to me like they'll stay away now. They have a 2' 15" gap on Commesso, a 2' 23" gap on the other nine men chasing, and a 6' 40" lead on the peloton.
Commesso and Chavanel are now together chasing at 2' 19" behind. The rest of that chase group are 8 seconds behind Commesso and Chavanel.
1652 CEST - 17 km left. Hard to pick who could win from that group of Guerini, Pereiro, Pellizotti, and Casar if it comes to a sprint. That finish is a false flat uphill too... and these guys are all climbers. Could get ugly (aesthetically, that is).
So in the peloton, there are now several men from Gerolsteiner, Illes Balears, Credit Agricole, and Davitamon-Lotto working to protect the GC positions of their leaders. Up ahead, Arvesen has gotten up to Commesso and Chavanel. This trio is now working well together. Grabsch and Turpin now bridge up to the trio.
1657 CEST - 12 km left. Pereiro leads the break. They are almost to the descent that goes for about 5km before the false flat up to the finish line. They'll stay away now.
1700 CEST - 9.5 km left. So the peloton is still 5' 46" behind the four leaders. Pereiro will move up in the GC standings, but how far is yet to be determined. The chase group of five is still 2' 18" behind.
Bertolini is being caught by the pack. He reaches down into his shorts, starts to dig around, and... the French cameraman realizes that the Italian is going to take a whiz and turns the camera away at the last second. That was close! (Not sure the sponsors want that kind of exposure, Alessandro!)
1704 CEST - 4 km left. The four leaders are coasting down into the town. They are still working well together. The gap is 2' 19" to the chasers, 5' 26" to the peloton. This will be a huge time gain for Pereiro... he finished in the top ten in last year's Tour, and now it looks like he'll finish there again this year!
The French riders have been taking a beating in the press. With only that one stage victory by Moncoutie on Bastille Day, and with their best GC man in 10th, the French are not happy with the home boys. Casar could really give the press something more to cheer about. Or gripe about, if he doesn't win.
2 km left. Pereiro is driving this break, trying to get maximum time. He looks over, and now the others don't want to work any more. Guerini attacks!
He has a really big gap! This break looks like it will work!
Final Kilometer. Guerini has to make it up this slightly uphill slog... Pereiro is leading the chase, but it looks like Guerini is gone for good.
Barriers keep the fans from coming out and body checking Guerini, for which he'll be thankful. He's in the final few meters. He raises his arms, blows kisses to the sky, and Guerini wins the stage!
Like Hincapie, Guerini has been a big warrior in the GC battles for the past few years... working for Ullrich and Vinokourov. Nice to see him get a stage win after all his hard work! Casar 2nd @ 10", Pellizotti 3rd @ 10", Pereiro 4th @ 12".
Commesso jumps away to take 5th solo. He crosses at 2' 40".
Cofidis is leading out the peloton for O'Grady. The sprint for points will be important for the Green Jersey race.
The rest of that chase group comes across the line in little groups. The peloton is flying, and here they come into the finish straight... McEwen wins the sprint, Hushovd next, then O'Grady. So Hushovd took a point or two from O'Grady there. McEwen is still pretty far back.
1. Guerini (T-Mobile)
2. Casar (FDJeux.com) @ 10"
3. Pellizotti (Liquigas-Bianchi) @ 10"
4. Pereiro (Phonak) @ 12"
5. Commesso (Lampre-Caffita) @ 2' 43"
6. Arvesen (CSC) @ 2' 48"
7. Portal (AG2r-Prevoyance) @ 2' 48"
8. Grabsch (Phonak) @ 2' 48"
9. Chavanel (Cofidis) @ 2' 48"
10. Weening (Rabobank) @ 3' 50"
11. Azevedo (Discovery Channel) 4' 21"
12. Da Cruz (FDJeux.com) @ 4' 21"
13. Flecha (Fassa Bortolo) @ 4' 21"
14. McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) @ 4' 31"
15. Hushovd (Credit Agricole) @ 4' 31"
16. O'Grady (Cofidis) @ 4' 31".
Pereiro has now climbed up into the 10th position on GC, which will likely be where he ends up in Paris for the 2nd straight year. Great attacking riding to get that position.
1. Armstrong (Discovery Channel)
2. Basso (CSC) @ 2' 46"
3. Rasmussen (Rabobank) @ 3' 46"
4. Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 5' 58"
5. Mancebo (Illes Balears) @ 7' 08"
6. Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) @ 8' 12"
7. Evans (Davitamon-Lotto) @ 9' 49"
8. Vinokourov (T-Mobile) @ 10' 11"
9. Landis (Phonak) @ 10' 42"
10. Pereiro (Phonak) @ 12' 39"
11. Moreau (Credit Agricole) @ 13' 15".
Rasmussen sits just over two minutes ahead of Ullrich on GC - I think Ullrich will easily take that time from Rasmussen tomorrow... he took over 2' from Rasmussen in that short first time trial, so with 55 km to work with tomorrow, Ullrich will take 4-5 minutes from the Dane for sure.
Here is the altimetry for tomorrow's time trial:
There is a Cat 3 climb on the course, but that's the kind of climb where Ullrich would drop Rasmussen anyway... it's a power climb, which will suit Ullrich.
That's a long time trial...
Yep. Big time gaps.
Armstrong thinks Ullrich will be hard to beat on the course tomorrow. But he's going to try.
Well, it would be sweet if Ulle won a stage - for posterity.
Yup - send Lance home on defiant note...send a message to Basso for next year...
Tomorrow is the final smackdown, the last time Armstrong and Ullrich will ever go head-to-head for a stage victory. Be there, or miss out on something of such incredible historical importance you might as well start watching lawn bowling. This concludes our live coverage for the day, and we thank you for joining us!