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94th Tour de France - ProT

France, July 7-29, 2007

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Stage 17 - Thursday, July 26: Pau - Castelsarrasin, 188.5km

Live commentary by Shane Stokes and Bjorn Haake

Bonjour et Bienvenue at our Cyclingnews live coverage of the Tour de France. Today the riders may be less concerned with the stage 17 route from Pau to Castelsarrasin over 188.5 kilometres, but with digesting the news about Michael Rasmussen, who has been sacked by his team last night. So there will be no yellow jersey in today's race. And plenty of talk, no doubt. If the race starts in earnest then it will be a very hard day, with several cat 3 and 4 rises in the beginning. If not, it may become a protest ride like we saw in 1998 to Aix-les-Bains.

13:19 CEST    12km/176.5km to go
No problems, the race has started as planned and we already had the usual flurry of attacks in the beginning. Currently, a group of 8 is away, about 45 seconds ahead of the peloton, about 12km into it.

13:26 CEST   
The current situation in the overall looks as follows:

1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team    76.18.25
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) Predictor - Lotto                                      1.53
3 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team                 2.49
4 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Team CSC                                      6.02
5 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi                         6.29
6 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne                      10.18
7 Kim Kirchen (Lux) T-Mobile Team                                         11.36
8 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team              12.50
9 Mauricio Soler (Col) Barloworld                                         13.31
10 Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi                    13.42

13:28 CEST   
Contador has also extended his lead in the young rider classification to 13'31" over Soler

13:34 CEST   
The 8-man lead group has extended the advantage to 1'20".

In the mountains classification Soler has now a lead of 206 to 128 points against Contador. He is therefore the new KOM winner of this year's Tour, barring accident or another dope scandal, of course.

Tosatto's Tour triumph
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

13:38 CEST    27km/161.5km to go
On quick glance there should be 46 more mountain points till Paris. The first ones of today's stage have been gobbled up by the following riders: Matteo Tosatto (Quickstep-Innergetic), Jens Voigt (Team CSC), Markus Fothen (Gerolsteiner) and Daniele Righi (Lampre-Fondital)

13:48 CEST   
Marc Madiot, DS for Française Des Jeux, was asked his reaction before the start. His answer was simple "One cheater less."

13:49 CEST    37km/151.5km to go
37 kilometres into the race the lead is up to 2 minutes.

13:56 CEST   
Bram de Groot talked before the start: "Yes, we made the decision to start today. I hope this decision will be respected by the public and I hope we will be respcted."

13:59 CEST   
de Groot said he didn't really know what was happening with Rasmussen. The decision was made by the sponsor, but he felt it was unfair to boo him on the podium.
He admitted that it is hard to concentrate on the race. "We worked hard for the jersey. There was always someone working. We were close to each other. But now this happened."

Bram De Groot (Rabobank)
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

14:02 CEST   
Team-mate Grischa Niermann: We need to continue to get to Paris. I don't know what he did in June. I haven't seen him or trained with him in June, so I cannot say anything about this.
We made the decision together which is why we start with seven riders today, nit with three and four going home. We have a great sponsors and we continue for them.

14:03 CEST   
So yes, the Rabobank team did start and according to all Rabo riders were subjected to an additional doping control this morning.

14:09 CEST   
Michael Rasmussen has given reporters his reaction to his exclusion from the race. He has pleaded his innocence, despite his succession of missed tests and the fact that team manager Theo de Rooy said last night that the Dane had admitted lying to the team.

"I'm shattered. I'm on the verge of tears," said Rasmussen today, quoted in the Danish tabloid BT. "I was not in Italy. Not at all. That's the story of one man who believes he recognised me. There is no hint of evidence."

He was referring to former professional Davide Cassani, who said he saw Rasmussen training in the Italian Dolomites on June 13th and 14th. Cassani said that he is "100% certain" that it was Rasmussen. This was at a time when the rider had told the team and the UCI that he was in Mexico.

"My career is ruined," he told Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad. "I have no idea what I should do or where I will go. This is an enormous blow for me, and also for all the guys from the Rabo team. They're devastated."

The UCI are understood to be condering starting disciplinary proceedings against the rider.

Grischa Niermann
Photo ©: Bert Geerts
(Click for larger image)

14:09 CEST   
The two riders out of the Rabobank team are Michael Rasmussen (duh) and Oscar Freire, who didn't start stage 7. The other seven will continue, even though in an initial reaction Michael Boogerd had declared he didn't want to continue. But the riders had discussions amongst themselves and decided it was best to start the stage and continue to Paris. In the mean time the lead of the front group has dropped to 1'45".

14:15 CEST   

14:23 CEST   
The leaders are: Martin Elmiger (Ag2r – Prévoyance), Daniele Bennati, Daniele Righi (Lampre Fondital), Markus Fothen (Schumacher), Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas), Matteo Tosatto (Quick.Step Innergetic), Jens Voigt (CSC) and David Millar (Saunier Duval – Prodir).

14:24 CEST    62.5km/126km to go
They are 1'40" clear.

14:26 CEST   
On the third category Côte de Baleix, 23 kilometres after the start, Tosatto took the four points ahead of Voigt, Fothen and Righi. The peloton was 1'10" back at this stage.

14:32 CEST   
Next on the menu was the intermediate sprint at Rabastens-de-Bigorre (km 44.5) Quinziato took the six points and six seconds here, ahead of Millar and former Swiss national champ Elmiger.

This will suit green jersey Tom Boonen just fine; it means he doesn't have to sprint at this early point of the stage.

Speaking to Eurosport just before the start of the stage, he gave his view about the Rasmussen situation.

"I think it is logical. I don't know what has really happened - I heard that the Rabobank team got some new information and that is what they are basing their decision on, but don't know exactly what that information is as yet.

"This is something that has been hanging for a long time, putting pressure on Rasmusen. If the team takes a decision like that, it didn't have another choice."

14:34 CEST   
The leaders had 2'15" just before that intermediate sprint, but by the time they passed the top of the fourth category Côte de Villecomtal, this was down to 1'30". 2006 white jersey wearer Fothen went over the top ahead of Tosatto and Elmiger.

14:37 CEST   
This climb was followed in rapid succession by two fourth category climbs, the Côte de Miélan (km 55) and the Sainte-Dode-aux-Croix (km 63.5). The order over the first was Fothen, Tosatto and Elmiger, while Millar took the prime on the second of these ascents. Righi and Bennati were next.

14:38 CEST   
At the top of that last climb, the group was still 1'30" clear.

14:41 CEST   
Millar was also first on the Côte de Theux (km 72.5). Righi and Fothen were second and third.

The gap had gone up to 1’50" at this point.

14:43 CEST    78.5km/110km to go
Upon learning the news that Alexandre Vinkourov had tested positive, a dejected Millar said that he would try to win a stage to show it is possible to do so clean. He's in this break today and will hope it works out.

Caisse d'Epargne is leading the chase.

14:48 CEST   
Jens Voigt is really pushing it...the break needs to build this gap. So far it hasn't ballooned.

14:54 CEST   
In relation to Rasmussen's protestation of innocence, this appears to have been disputed by the team:

"When Rasmussen was confronted with this information he confirmed to Theo de Rooy [team manager] he was at that moment in Italy," said Rabobank press officer Jacob Bergsma last night. "That was the reason De Rooy decided to get him out of the Tour and the team."

15:00 CEST   
Denis Menchov (Rabobank) has pulled out of the race. He's just climbed into the team car. His morale is probably broken, having spent the past few days riding himself into the ground for Rasmussen.

15:03 CEST    91.5km/97km to go
This group is not really pulling away. The gap now is 2'28".

15:07 CEST   
Millar has been suffering a skin allergy in this race. He's got layers of cream on his legs to protect it; it gives him a really bizarre look, though..his limbs look like purple marble.

15:11 CEST    97.5km/91km to go
The break remains 2'35" clear. Caisse d'Epargne is driving it now. Alejandro Valverde is 6th overall but he's got very little chance of moving up as he is almost four minutes behind fifth-placed Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel Euskadi).

15:21 CEST   
Going back to the beginning of the stage, Xavier Florencio (Bouygues Telecom) attacked straight after the start. He was joined by Mickaël Delage (Française des Jeux) but the two were hauled back. The current move went away soon afterwards, then a group of eleven chasers tried but failed to bridge.

They were Nicolas Portal (Caisse d’Epargne), Chris Horner (Predictor Lotto), Simon Gerrans (Ag2r Prévoyance), Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel Euskadi), Paolo Bossoni (Lampre Fondital), Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner), Jérôme Pineau, Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom), Lilian Jégou (Française des Jeux), Benoit Vaugrenard (Française Des Jeux) and Carlos Barredo (Quick.Step – Innergetic).

The peloton brought these back at km 11 but didn’t manage to reel in the leading eight.

15:22 CEST    106.5km/82km to go
With approximately two hours left to race, the gap is now 2'56".

15:26 CEST   
German champion Fabian Wegmann has pulled over on the left for a natural break. As he is sorting things a bottle hits him. It does look like it is one of his team-mates who is having a bit of fun with his fellow Gerolsteiner.

15:34 CEST    114.8km/73.7km to go
Race leader Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel) rides along in the peloton. He's in the white jersey rather than the maillot jaune due to the race organisers' decision not to have a yellow jersey in the race today.

15:36 CEST    117.3km/71.2km to go
The break is now pulling away; the pace appears to have settled down. It's now five minutes.

15:42 CEST   
Cadel Evans and his Predictor Lotto team-mate Chris Horner talk in the bunch. They have doubtlessly pondered if Evans can beat Contador in the final time trial, taking enough time to grab yellow.

Saturday's TT is a flat 55.5 kilometre test. Evans was 1'04" quicker than Contador in the 54 kilometre Albi TT, but that was hillier. The flat parcours should suit the Australian a bit better but, on the other hand, the yellow jersey should give the Spaniard a psychological boost. If Evans is on a great day it could be possible, but he'll really need to do a super ride.

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