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Boulder Report

July 20, 2007

Live Blog - Stage Twelve

9:32AM - Correction - according to official Tour time, 140 riders finished in the lead group. So there were quite a few (30-ish) who got dropped. But as far as I can tell, no one major lost any time, so no changes on GC. That sets up tomorrow's time trial as a very interesting day. We'll be here for the whole dang thing, so tune in to the live blog. We'll try to have the anti-spam blocking thingie on the comments worked out. I know most of you are at home tomorrow and can watch live, but take the laptop into the living room and comment along with us. We'll have at least one schwag giveaway tomorrow. Maybe more, if the commenters show up in force. See you tomorrow.

9:31AM - Looks like pretty much everyone finished in the main field there - a few riders were burned off the pace in the final 20k but they weren't the big names. Top ten for you:
1 Tom Boonen (Quick Step)
2 Erik Zabel (Milram)
3 Robbie Hunter (Barloworld) - I don't think he actually HAS a leadout man, by the way
4 Daniele Bennati (Lampre)
5 Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole)
6 Bernhard Eisel (T-Mobile)
7 Sebastien Chavanel (Francaise des Jeux)
8 Nicolas Jalabert (Agritubel)
9 Robert Forster (Gerolsteiner)
10 Andrey Kashechkin (Astana) Really?! A Climber?!

9:26AM - Zabel gets second and Hunter third, so they'll keep their respective places on the green jersey standings - final sprint was clocked at 43 miles an hour. I'm not sure I can sprint even close to that fast.

9:24AM - Quick Step's leadout fails too far from the line and Boonen is forced to start too early. Zabel is locked on his wheel and Hunter in third, but Boonen just has too much speed and no one can come around him! Boonen gets it - his second stage win of this Tour.

9:23AM - Quick Step leads, Liquigas is trying to set up Pozzato. Milram is there for Zabel and CA for Hushovd.

9:23AM - The catch is made with just 1k to go.

9:22AM - 8 seconds - they're done!

9:21AM - 12 seconds at 3k to go.

9:20AM - Phil ran the numbers and says the catch would happen at 500m to go. That's gotta suck for a break after four and a half hours out alone.

9:20AM - 22 seconds.

9:19AM - 30 seconds now with just 4k to go - the catch could come on the line. That would make for a very nervous sprint as no one will really get a chance to set up.

9:19AM - Tonight, watch the Vs. coverage at the end for a textbook example of a Madison sling - a CA rider couldn't hold the wheel, so he slung a Quick Step rider up to the front to keep the chase on. Really classy pro move there.

9:18AM - Txurruka is in his first Tour and he's riding with that kind of green hope that only a rookie can have. I hate to say that I think he's done, but it's a really admirable effort.

9:18AM - Txurruka has slid forward on the nose of the saddle like a time-trial bike - he's got his back flat and is hammering. Neither of these guys dare to look back.

9:16AM - Quick Step has now moved to the front, so they'll be setting it up for Boonen. that should lift the pace. Gap is 42 seconds, 6.6k to go.

9:14AM - The pair are still fighting to stay off - it's 9k to go with 55 seconds and they're on a long, straight road. The chase is a bit ragged - Lampre and FDJ are leading it - FDJ want to set up Sebastien Chavanel for the sprint. At the back, a lot of riders are getting popped by the high pace. No one "big." No word on what the finish is like - if it's technical like yesterday's or not.

9:11AM - Off soapbox. Gap is now 1:02, at the 10k to go banner. Hate to say it for these two breakaway guys, but they are cooked, I think.

9:08AM - Rude Dude, thanks for the comment. Seriously, let's have some perspective: Sinkewitz didn't "Make it Rain" at a nightclub in Vegas and help cause a fight that left one person paralyzed. Kloden and the "Men in Black" weren't arrested for DUI, disturbing the peace, letting their entourage kick the shit out of someone (that would be Allen Iverson in the NBA, but hey) or that kind of stuff. Let's be perfectly clear: cycling has a big fucking problem. Pointing at other people's problems or what other sports are or are not doing on doping does not diminish the severity of that problem. But it's a sporting problem, not a criminal one (even though a number of countries have now criminalized sports doping, it's a far cry from shooting someone in the spine or killing a dog by slamming it to the ground). As a final aside, presumption of innocence and all that, but as a dog lover I would take a number to beat the shit out of Michael Vick if these allegations are true - reading that indictment made my skin crawl.

9:07AM - back from commercial break and the gap is 1:24 now. The leaders are approaching the flatter run-in to the finish and I think the catch will be made.

9:06AM - Wilkinson, thanks for the comment. The issue is complicated, huh? Part of what elevates it past a simple "Tweet! Holding, No. 67, 10 yards, replay the down" is that the rider's only defense, often, is to claim innocence based on character. You can't prove a negative, as the saying goes. The only way you can really convince someone you're innocent is to open your life up completely to scrutiny. Slipstream, CSC and T-Mobile have all done that to certain extents. CSC even posted the results (without identifying riders) of its testing on its web site - you can actually SEE what their values are for things like haematocrit and so on. As the riders readily admit, the character defense is sunk now, so this is what you have to do to convince someone you're clean. Some riders haven't gotten the memo yet and are still on the old script. Cycling is a sport in flux right now and it's impossible to say whether the fight against doping will succeed. But this is a crucial year for it. I do agree, though, that we should've known about the Rasmussen and Sinkewitz issues pre-Tour. Holding them until now has the ring of grandstanding to it. I think we may hear more about all this before it's said and done. When you get a guy in yellow like Rasmussen, it tends to bring out people who've kept stories quiet for a long time. I'm not sure that's right, but that's just the human dynamic.

8:58AM - Fedrigo and Txurruka are desperately trying to stay away on this descent - the gap is 2:04 with about 22k to go.

8:53AM - 28k to the line and the gap is 2:35. Coming down hard. Michael, I don't think that Disco will try to get the polka dots for Popovych. They're still aiming for a podium and will focus on that goal. The climb today was an anomaly in that points were on offer and there was no difficulty for the team in letting him try for them. Sunday and Monday, that won't be the case.

8:51AM - We appear to be experiencing some technical issues of our own here on the blog - the comments just flipped upside down (newest is now closest to the top, not bottom, of the comments section. And I'm told that at least one person - our esteemed web producer - is not able to post a comment right now. I'd ask if anyone else is having that problem, but that's kind of like your phone company asking you to call when you have line problems. So we'll try and get it worked out. Whatever the hell it is.

8:49AM - R. Venturi, I agree that the current system seems fucked. For one, Sinkewitz's test result should've been known long before the Tour, and it shouldn't have been leaked as only an A sample without knowing the second sample results. I'm disgusted with it all too and I agree - it makes you wonder why you should root for someone when they could be unmasked as a cheater tomorrow. But to give me perspective, I remember that cycling is this amazing sport - we can heap all of our baggage and shit on it and it doesn't diminish for even a pedal stroke what it's like to go for a ride yourself. Competitive racing will have its ups and downs, but I will always love riding. Also, we have to keep in mind that what these guys are accused of is cheating - sometimes ghoulish and very sick forms of it, but just cheating. It's not like Rasmussen is accused of, oh, running a dog-fighting operation across state lines and executing animals that don't fight to standards.

8:44AM - Gap is 3:32 now with Lampre on the front. They are super-toppo-motivated to set it up for one of their boys - Danilo Napolitano is out, but they still have Alessandro Ballan and Daniele Bennati.

8:40AM - Interesting - Frankie Andreu just did another tech segment. He's doing a lot of that this Tour. In the past, he was more the finish-line quotes guy. Obviously he's persona non grata in the Discovery camp after his admission of doping, but one wonders if other riders are shunning him now, too? That would be, in a word, fucking stupid. Well, that's two words, but you know what I mean.

8:39AM - This "separated at birth" stuff is fun - any other candidates?

8:38AM - Actual racing update - 38k to go and the gap is 4:26. It could be toast as the sprinters' teams now know that everyone - for the most part - got over the climb OK and they can set it up for a sprint.

8:37AM - And, ever notice how you've never seen Moby and Levi in the same room together? Hmm, very suspicious.

8:36AM - Seriously, there's a major familial resemblance there.

8:33AM - "Plus One, Matthew!" Leipheimer shall henceforth be known in the blog as "Moby." Incidentally, I've always though Rasmussen was a dead ringer for this guy.

8:31AM - Soler wears the polka-dot jersey of best climber, even though he's second to Rasmussen, because Chicken's in yellow. But Soler has to be targeting the KOM now. It's going to be tough for him - he's only 6:49 down now, although tomorrow may change that, so they won't want to give him a long break.

8:29AM - Soler does make a move but he's swamped by Popovych, who is third in the KOM. Popo takes it over Juan Jose Cobo and Soler third. Rasmussen, wisely, doesn't stick his nose in the wind. And a crash! Wegmann and Mercado are down. Bad news for them - not sure how that all happened - it's right at the KOM summit.

8:28AM - 1k to the summit for the pack - be interesting to see if Soler tries for some KOM points.

8:26AM - Just got a shot of Rodriguez. He's at the back of the main field, but is still in contact just a couple of Ks from the summit. Looks like his injuries are improving some - he was pretty banged up after yesterday, from the sounds of it - almost had to be pushed across the finish line.

8:25AM - The leaders are at the summit now and still have 5:17 on the pack, so there was no real chase behind. I think the riders are waiting for tomorrow.

8:23AM - Self-promotion plug: here's a link to a story I just wrote on the Sinkewitz situation - adds some new details via an interview with Stapleton. Have a read if you can.

8:21AM - You're right - Levi's done not a pedal stroke of real work this Tour, so he should be fresh. And having Contador breathing down his neck should motivate him. But some people respond to that pressure by folding - we don't know yet what kind of person Levi is. And no amount of interviews with Odessa Gunn (his wife) is going to change that until we hit the Pyrenees. But I agree- very unpredictable Tour thus far. We like that. Much more exciting than the automatic wins of Armstrong/Indurain.

8:20AM - Slight acceleration from Caisse d'Epargne. We just passed the dude in the elk helmet wearing the University of Montana cycling team jersey. I wonder what the Frenchies make of that?

8:19AM - Really windy out there on this climb - all of a sudden Astana has got on the front, so you've got to watch for some Kazakh Kamikaze attack from Vinokourov here. It's very cagey out there right now, looks very tense. Like being in a cage with a Toiy-ger.

8:16AM - Pretty steady pace up this climb - the usual suspects are at the front but nothing really in the way of serious pacemaking yet. I wonder if the big Disco attack will be a dud.

8:15AM - Looking at Francisco Ventoso, the Saunier Duval sprinter who crashed hard yesterday. He's getting medical attention from the team doctor on his left hand, which is bandaged pretty heavily. That's gotta be fun to ride with. The other rider who went down hard, Fred Rodriguez of Predictor-Lotto, was again furious with organizers over dangerous finishes and had some pretty serious cuts to his leg. Freddie started today too, by the way. Apparently, that S-bend chicane at 750m to go wasn't in the race bible. I agree with Freddie that the Tour does need to do a better job of producing less dangerous finishes and certainly of marking every single swerve or jog in the final few k in the race bible. But on the other hand - and I say this with respect to Fred - he does seem to end up on the ground an awful lot. He and about five other riders crashed there, but it wasn't like the whole field went barreling straight into the barriers. Sometimes this is a cultural thing - Americans are raised on a steady diet of non-technical four-corner office park criteriums. In Europe, roads that narrow suddenly or swerve crazily side to side are more the norm. You just don't hear the Euros complain about this stuff quite as much.

8:08AM - Txurruka looks like the better climber of the two. I don't think that either of these guys will attack the other unless the other's pace slows too much. They're still far enough from the finish that it's better if they can work together.

8:06AM - Midway up the climb the gap to the pack is still 5 minutes. Vs. lists a "chase 2" but no idea who that is yet. No moves in the pack.

7:59AM - Michael, I'll believe Levi's a tiger when he finally grows some fucking claws. No offense meant to you with that f-bomb, by the way - it's just that Levi can talk all he wants but so far this race he's been more sheltered than a rich princess in Laguna Beach. As for why the Rasmussen stuff matters, part of the issue is whether or not he should even BE in the Tour - according to the standard rules that all athletes agree to, you've got to inform your national federation of your whereabouts to make yourself available for testing. Rasmussen apparently failed to do that, so they couldn't find him. Most doping - at least the really effective stuff - takes place not during the race, but in the 3-8 weeks before. That's when you'd do EPO to boost up your blood and take lots of steroids for recovery so you could continue to train hard. By the time you hit the start line and they start testing in earnest, all the bad stuff is flushed out or present at just below positive-threshold levels, but you still get all the benefit. Every single anti-doping expert I've talked to feels that targeted out-of-competition testing is the single most-effective way to catch cheats and deter doping. And it appears that Rasmussen failed to play by those rules. Three missed tests are the same as one positive, and Chicken was a feather-breadth shy of tripping that wire. It's not fire, but it is smoke.

7:58AM - This is a steepish little hill we got going here - it's about 2,000 vertical feet, and the 10.4km length averages 6.1 percent - it's definitely steep enough for a move if someone wants to have a go.

7:56AM - My all-powerful, um, powers of commentary have been noticed! Obviously T-Mobile is reading the live blog - Burghardt sat up and is back in the pack now. The two leaders have just six minutes - they're at the base of the climb. If Disco's gonna do something, it'll be in the next 20 or so minutes. Stay tuned.

7:55AM - Relevant to the Sinkewitz and Rasmussen situations, a lot of people - myself included - have wondered if the relative pace of the Tour so far means anything regarding whether the race is cleaner. To hear our diarist David Millar tell it, not so much - he's got a good entry from yesterday's stage explaining that average speeds stage to stage don't really mean all that much considering the variables. Worth a read.

7:48AM - As a side note, I want to mention that Dave Zabriskie finished outside the time limit yesterday and is now out of the race. He's complained of knee pain due to a team-mandated shoe switch, according to VeloNews, and it seems from those comments and those of director Kim Anderson that perhaps not all is rosy with that relationship - Anderson said that Zabriskie hadn't been "much use" to that point in the Tour and seemed a bit disappointed to have spent a Tour spot on him. Zabriskie's contract is up at the end of this year, I believe.

7:45AM - An important factor for the race: Vinokourov. His manager, Marc Biver, said yesterday that Vinokourov is "like a wounded tiger" in that he's more dangerous now. That's true in one respect: you can't count him out. If he attacks, even deep-sixed on GC, people will follow because they know what he's capable of. So Kloden can use Vinokourov as his foil - send Vinokourov up the road, see who follows, and then counter them at a weak moment. Vino gets a stage win and jumps up the GC a few spots and Kloden makes time on his rivals. It could be particularly successful at separating Rasmussen from his team.

7:39AM - GC predictions for tomorrow? I think Kloden is a strong bet to win the TT, but he may get nicked by one of the specialists - Cancellara showed us yesterday that he's still going really well. I think Klodi makes up the most time, with Evans not far behind. Rasmussen may lose his lead, but not by much. Mayo won't gain a whole lot of time on Rasmussen in the TT - he's not that much better on those courses. And it's hilly, so Rasmussen may not lose as much time as people expect. But I think two to three minutes to the winner at the finish is not out of the question. I want to say that in the last Tour, he lost a total of about 12 minutes in the TTs, so that's a significant amount and I still really wonder about his chances to finish in Paris in yellow. Right now, I'd have to say that Kloden, Valverde and Evans would be my podium, but Contador is a bit of a question mark.

7:37AM - The gap is coming down a bit - 9:15 now. The chase in the middle, at 5:49, is a lonely one: T-Mobile's Marcus Burghardt. He's not much of a climber, so that climb will take him out. He's not gaining any ground on the Fedrigo/Txurruka duo up front, so I'm not totally sure what he's doing wasting his energy out there in no-man's land. T-Mobile is down a few riders anyway, so it might seem more sensible to drop back to the pack and be available to help Merckx or Kim Kirchen.

7:31AM - My take on the Rasmussen situation is that it's likely to get worse before it gets better - maybe a whole lot worse. I haven't been really satisfied by his explanations of training locations and non-team kit. He says he trains in non-descript kit to avoid notice, but how many people in Mexico are really chasing down a Rabobank rider? It's not like he's Cuahtemoc Blanco practicing free kicks in downtown Mexico City or something. Rasmussen's wife is Mexican, but he's Danish and lives in Lago di Garda, Italy (a great mountain biking spot, with some nice roads, too). If you want altitude training, he's close to the Alps and Dolomites. Finally, who willingly rides a bike on roads in Mexico?

7:29AM - On the issue of the overall classification today, Paul just said that the feeling in the pack is that Discovery may "try something" on the final climb. That may happen. Yesterday we saw that enough horsepower can cause a gap. But the winds today aren't QUITE as tough as yesterday's, so I don't know if that will work quite as well as they'd like. It's a long, slightly downhill (mostly) run to the finish, which tends to make things come back together, not split apart. But who knows? Maybe everything will come up Bruyneel.

7:27AM - Ah the "Hewlett Packard Top Five Crashes of the Tour." Two thoughts here - yeah, it's a great idea to promote your company on the back of misery, injury and misfortune. Perhaps Stuey O'Grady's busted ribs and collapsed lungs are worth a hard drive. Second, is it really such a good idea to promote the word "crash" alongside a computer company?

7:26AM - Jack, no, no team time trial this year. The Tour organizers put it in for a few years, then take it out for a few. Most recently, it had just become the focus of too much controversy over whether it penalized strong riders on weak teams or if the maximum time loss rules were really fair. So they just canned it. It's a beautiful stage, but it was probably best to let it lie for now.

7:21AM - Looks like Versus is having a bit of difficulty with the live feed today - they're re-showing a little bio segment on Leipheimer, back to back with one on George and Melanie Hincapie. Hopefully this won't be a problem all stage - makes the ol' live blog updates a little more difficult, you know?

7:17AM - For the stage today, I don't know if these two breakaway riders will stay clear. I don't know much about either - which is partly to say that they've never particularly distinguished themselves, and partly to say they're like Stage 9 winner Soler in that I don't know what they're capable of. But even with a 10+minute lead, that's a long climb and I think they'll get eaten up on it. I still think it's a good day for an Axel Merckx-type rider.

7:15AM - Perhaps the biggest news today is that the yellow jersey, Michael Rasmussen, is increasingly under fire for doping-related issues. First it was the intimation that he is one of the "Men in Black" that the UCI has targeted for increased testing because they train in strange, out-of-the-way locations (Rasmussen prefers Mexico) and ride in non-descript outfits to avoid attention. Now it's the news that the Danish national federation has essentially kicked him off the national team for not notifying them of his location three times. Technically, missing three tests is the same as a positive. Rasmussen blames an administrative error, saying he was only warned once about his failure to comply with the whereabouts requirement. Christian Prudhomme, Tour director, openly wondered about the timing of the announcement.

7:07AM - Welcome to the live blog for stage 12. Today the riders will go 182.5km west, along the southern edge of the Massif Central. This is a tough, up-and-down day that's perfect for a break and, sure enough, we've got two riders away: Pierreck Fedrigo of Bouygues Telecom and Amets Txurruka of Euskaltel. They've got a whopping 10:41 on the pack and 6:44 to a chase group. We're still quite a ways from the day's big climb. More news in a moment.

July 19, 2007

Live Blog - Stage Eleven

9:10AM - Well, that's all for the live blog today. Keep checking back on for updates on other news on the day, like how Freddie is doing and whether there were any other big names caught back in that second group. Thanks for "tuning in" and we'll see you tomorrow.

9:08AM - Top ten for you:
1 Robbie Hunter (Barloworld)
2 Fabian Cancellara (CSC)
3 Murilo Fischer (Liquigas)
4 Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas)
5 Alessandro Ballan (Lampre)
6 Paolo Bossoni (Lampre)
7 Claudio Corioni (Lampre)
8 Philippe Gilbert (Francaise des Jeux)
9 William Bonnet (Credit Agricole)
10 Kim Kirchen (T-Mobile)

From the crash, no finish posted yet for Rodriguez. Boonen was unhurt but, obviously, will not score any points today. Robbie Hunter will move into second overall now, behind Boonen. And Moreau loses 3:20 in the second group.

9:03AM - Moreau's group is now crossing the finish line. They've lost a lot of time in these last kilometers. On the line the gap is 3:19.

9:02AM - Hunter was first through the last right-hand sweeper a few hundred meters from the line and just had superior speed - no one could get past him. Great Tour for Barloworld here with two stage wins - fantastic riding by Hunter.

9:01AM - Rodriguez is still down. That doesn't look good. Replay shows they were on the outside of that S-bend and just took too hot a line in and couldn't make the corner.

9:01AM - It's Hunter! Hunter takes it over Pozzato. Boonen and Rodriguez both crashed in the bend.

9AM - Cancellara. He's caught. Crash in the s-bend. We have a small group of 12 out front.

8:59AM - Liquigas is up for Pozzato. 2k to go. Attack by CSC - Voigt?

8:59AM - Credit Agricole's on the front. Is Julian Dean here? he's a good sprinter, too.

8:58AM - My guess is that Vino is no longer targeting the overall. he's working for Kloden and targeting a stage win to say thanks to his team for all the work today. They've caught him, but Vinokourov is back to his Ka-razy self.

8:57AM - Hunter is locked like a tractor beam on Boonen. And Vinokourov attacks!

8:56AM - More odd Saunier Duval tactics as Christophe Rinero tries a breakaway. It gets shut down like K-Mart.

8:55AM - There may not be a proper leadout today - no team has a full complement of riders, and Quick Step have been working hard for a while now. It could be hairy. 4k to go.

8:53AM - I have to say I like Rodriguez for the stage. That's not American jingoism, or at least, I'm telling myself that. Freddie is a really good "freelancer" - adept at bouncing from wheel to wheel and winning without a leadout. That, combined with the tricky finish today, could be good for him. Horner is leading him right now.

8:52AM - Speaking of teams that will be tired on Sunday, Ag2r is cooked. Moreau never had much help in the mountains. Now he'll have none. 7k to go.

8:50AM - Extreme cagefighting ad. So, does the cage ever win?

8:49AM - Robbie Ventura just did his finish line scouting report, which has been very interesting, by the way. There's a big S turn 750m from the line which, as he said "Should thin things out." Yeah, that it will. There's a sharpish right hander that could be a problem. But for the sprinters, it's less an issue of crashing and more of being on the right line - without that, says Robbie, you won't win. So today really IS a good day for the "second-tier" sprinters - guys like Rodriguez, Hunter, Francisco Ventoso and so on. If they pick the right line, it could easily negate the power advantage of a guy like Boonen.

8:47AM - 13k to go, gap is 2:20.

8:46AM - As an aside to that, I'm not sure that today's effort by Astana will be entirely worth it. Two reasons: one, all it's done is get rid of one dark-horse threat for the title. None of the others are hurt at all. Vinokourov and Kloden gained time on Moreau, sure. But at what cost to the team? They forced a brutal chase today and worked very hard, all to basically shitcan one competitor. They won't get a whole lot of respite tomorrow - the stage is hilly and skirts the southern edge of the Massif Central - it's short, steep climbs with little time to rest. Saturday's the time trial. No rest there. Then, Sunday and Monday are a pair of kick-ass Pyreneean stages. Kloden is riding well, but already we've seen that the only rider on the team who can possibly help him in the mountains is Kashechkin, and he's a question mark at this point after his performance on the Galibier. This looks really cagey-smart now, but I wonder if it will on Sunday.

8:41AM - The gap to Moreau's group is now 2:09, so it's widening. He may well be losing his shot at the podium today, or at least Phil and Paul think so. I'm not so sure - Moreau is a very good time-triallist. He may not destroy his rivals Saturday, but he may make a modest gain. And, in the mountains, he's been one of the most aggressive riders out there. So if he keeps the fighting spirit, he can still at least make life hell for the others. And after today, don't you think he'll be motivated to stick a pump in Astana's spokes? Payback's a bitch.

8:36AM - Good point, Clint. I don't know if Moreau was actively seeking medical attention when Astana made that move. If he was, that's a shitty thing to do. I doubt it was or the other teams would've called Astana on it. Notice that Astana doesn't command the respect that the Armstrong-led Postal/Discovery team did. But I think it was more that Moreau was sitting at the back nursing his wounds when it happened. Ag2r has gotten criticized a bit for sending riders on the attack rather than supporting Moreau's podium bid, and it may have come back to bite them in the ass today as they just didn't have the horses for the chase.

8:34AM - 23k to go and the gap is at about 1:40. It won't come back now, as we're close enough that the sprinters' teams will begin to take over, motivated by the fact Hushovd and Zabel are caught out.

8:32AM - Clint, I don't think it's a conscious attempt relating to tomorrow's stage - tomorrow was already looking like a likely stage for a break, and with the time trial on Saturday and today turning into an unexpectedly hard stage, I think that's even more possible. But conscious or not, today's effort will have an effect. There isn't much of a break from Saturday to Wednesday. We get a rest day Tuesday but every single day is in the mountains after Saturday's TT.

8:24AM - Sounds like the gap is hovering about two minutes. If that holds to the finish, Moreau would drop to about 20th overall from his current fourth position. That hurts.

8:22AM - There's just 34k to go - THAT went fast. No word yet on the gap to the Moreau group but Astana is not letting up at all.

8:19AM - I doubt we'll see any more breakaway attempts today. The pace is just too high to really see anything get clear, and Astana are vigilantly patrolling the front. This will likely be a sprint finish and a day of attrition for Moreau and perhaps a few other riders we don't yet know about.

8:16AM - The break is caught. We also just saw Freddie Rodriguez up front. He's got a good shot at this stage, too.

8:14AM - MIllar sits up and cracks his back. The gap is just 18 seconds now, and the chase is not really about the break, so it'll all be over soon. Astana is still on the front but they're getting a bit of help now from Quick Step - obviously motivated by the possibility of points for Boonen. Barloworld has a rider up there too, probably for Hunter. Caisse d'Epargne and Discovery lurk just behind. They're not going to help Astana, but they are going to keep an eye on things and make sure that Valverde, Contador and Leipheimer are up front and out of trouble.

8:13AM - Michael, I think Barloworld have been very successful and proved they deserved an invite. They were one of the applicants for a ProTour license this year - the one that fatefully went to Unibet instead, for all the good it's done THEM. But Soler is a revelation. I wonder if Barloworld will be able to keep him. He's also second in the KOM competition.

8:09AM - Jerrod, I think race radios are here to stay. They've been around for years now and I think everyone's pretty comfortable with them. To spice things up, though, it would be really fun to "outlaw" them for a stage or two and see what happens.

8:08AM - The gap is just 1:03 from the front to the Astana pack, so that chase has been absolutely vicious. 44k to go.

8:06AM - The break could well be a casualty of the race here, on a day when we didn't expect to see much aggression from the overall favorites.

8:01AM - Michael, good question. Paul just said that if he doesn't get reinforcements, Moreau could lose 2-3 minutes by the end. I think that's probably accurate. There's a big group behind but they're not really gaining ground on him. And they're powerless to catch up to the front. The gap to the five leaders is coming down. Astana is back near the front with two Barloworld riders.

7:59AM - Speaking of, Barloworld have a rider on the front. That makes me suspect that Robbie Hunter made the move. He's a good sprinter but lacks that final top-end that guys like McEwen and Boonen and Hushovd have. But in a reduced field, he could be dangerous.

7:57AM - Michael, good question. Word is that Thor Hushovd and at least one other sprinter - quite possibly Erik Zabel - are caught behind. I think Boonen made the front group. So if that front group stays clear, it's huge for Boonen because he can take the maximum points on offer - whether they're for first place or sixth - and behind, Zabel gets shut out. That plays in tactically here because Milram and Credit Agricole will absolutely not join the chase at the front (CA also has Fofonov out front for now). So this does affect more than just the overall.

7:54AM - This is what I DON'T like about the race radio era. Up front, the break would be unawares of the huge chase behind. And Astana might be unaware that Kloden was in trouble - if in fact that was the case. Ag2r might not have known right away that Moreau was out. Race radios change the tactics because team directors have - through TV coverage - total knowledge all the time and can communicate that to the riders. Maybe I'm just an old grouch, but it seems like racing is a lot less tactical now - you don't see moves like the Astana attack much anymore, but they sure make for exciting racing.

7:52AM - Vinokourov just called off Astana. They've disappeared from the front now. Kloden wasn't in the picture and Paul Sherwen wonders if he's having problems. Well, I guess that answered the "how long" question for now. Caisse d'Epargne is driving the front right now but I imagine not quite with the same ferocity as Astana. Behind, Moreau must know this is his only shot to get back on. The yellow jersey group is at 2:24 to the break. It's 1:27 from that group to Moreau's group.

7:49AM - I guess now is a good time to pose the question: how long can Astana keep this up? They're not getting a lot of help from other teams right now and may not at all - after all, Moreau is the only one caught out and I'm not sure the other teams are all that distressed about him since he's on a weaker team. This is Astana's move, and Astana makes it stick or die. Then, recall that last week, the whole damn team had about 15k of really hard chasing in them before they blew sky high - that was on Stage 5 when Vinokourov crashed. So it does make you wonder exactly how long they can keep hammering away like this with no help. The pace isn't quite as hard as that Stage 5 effort but hey, we're also still 60km to go yet.

7:48AM - Helicopter shot of the Astana group and it's maybe 75-100 guys, tops.

7:47AM - So far, Moreau is the only favorite we KNOW of who's been caught out. But that's not to say no one else has. For one, a lot of support riders are out now, too - we just got a shot of Oscar Pereiro back here too. That would've been big news a week ago, but not anymore.

7:45AM - Under that chasing now, they're saying the gap to the Astana-led group is down to 3:48. Behind, the Moreau group is at 4:39 to the break, and the "Peloton" is listed at 4:06, but I think they mean 5:06.

7:43AM - Average speed so far is 29 miles an hour. There is a really big third group, it turns out. And while Michael Rasmussen is up front, much of his team is not. So he's kind of isolated right now. Astana is really fucking hammering now, with that Eastern European kind of hardman hammering - the old Soviet Bloc toughness where guys would steal your lunch and eat the sack it came in, then steal your shoes and eat those, too. I don't even know what that means, but these guys are tough.

7:41AM - Ad time. Of course. Zetia. Common side effects include visiting farmer's markets and standing next to cows for no reason, apparently. I love pharmaceutical ads. They're so non sequitur.

7:40AM - Obviously, the Astana move is having an effect on the gap to the leaders, too - it's now right around six minutes. If the group comes all back together again, Astana will at least temporarily let off the gas but, right now, with Moreau off the back, they are going to hit it as hard as they can and try to crack him.

7:40AM - Quick Step is on the front a bit - they feel right at home here since this is just like racing in Belgium in springtime - crosswinds and echelons.

7:39AM - Ag2r has smartly dropped two more riders off the front group to try to pace Moreau back in.

7:37AM - The pace is infernal right now - Moreau is in difficulty. This is really tough racing because if the rider in front of you comes off, you and everyone behind you does too and then you're toast. Moreau is trying to bring back the second echelon, but I think there are actually three groups now - Moreau's is about 12 riders, dangling just off the back, but I think there's a third, larger group behind them. It's pretty confusing right now and you can't quite tell what's up. They're dying out there and can't quite catch back on.

7:34AM - It's a big split now - Astana has really blown up the race and there's a big group behind. Probably more than 50. No word yet on any favorites who missed the front but, as Phil said just a moment ago, it's no prisoners today.

7:32AM - Some really good stuff happening now. The coast produces crosswinds and Astana has hit the front HARD to break things up. CSC is alert and is there too. This is a dangerous situation - if any favorites are lingering at the back they could quickly find themselves in the second group and los major time. The main bunch is probably 100-120, but there's a big group of 50 or so split off the back. Really smart riding by Astana. This could be big.

7:30AM - Riders in the break, again, are Millar, Fofonov, Wegman, Gilbert and Florencio. We might see a long breakaway here but I seriously doubt it would be a Pereiro situation. None of these riders have the capability to stay with the top 10 racers on overall time in the Pyrenees, and we have three very nasty stages there ahead of us. Wegmann might be the best climber, and on Stage 8 he lost 14 minutes to Rasmussen. Fofonov is best placed on GC, 28 minutes down. On Stage 8 he lost 22 minutes. So they'd need a ridiculous advantage - say 40 or 50 minutes - to really be "back in" the race. That has never happened in the post-war Tour era, to my knowledge. I could be wrong, but I would be surprised if one had. To have a Pereiro situation, you've got to have a really gifted rider in the break who is underestimated.

7:22AM - Mark, yes, you can score negative points. This happens if you ride through the finish line backward after the stage and the transponders subtract points from your total. No, seriously, it's about fines. The Tour and the UCI love traditions. Love enforcing traditions. And it has come up with all kinds of ways - mostly fines - to do that. The Tour/UCI will fine you for anything from accepting an illegal feed (outside the designated feed areas on the stage) to not signing in at the start to "comportement incorrect" which can mean anything that Tour organizers feel is behavior not befitting a Tour rider. Farting in Christian Prudhomme's presence, for example. Fines are usually assessed in Swiss francs, because that's where the UCI is headquartered and they love making all the racers go to those currency exchange kiosks to get 250 Swiss francs. But they also fine riders on time - as happened to Leipheimer the other day after his motor-assisted chase - and points. Points are kind of an empty gesture. Do you think that Stephane Auge REALLY gives a fuck that he's at -20 points? It's not like he has any shot of winning that competition anyway.

7:21AM - The gap is now out to over six minutes. It's going up fast.

7:20AM - Brief Sinkewitz update. The reactions from his teammates were interesting. In the past, we'd have gotten shock, surprise and support. This time around, his teammates are duly shocked and surprised, but sound more disappointed and hurt than anything. Linus Gerdemann pointed out that the controls are working and that it's extremely hard to dope on T-Mobile and this shows that. CyclingNews says that Sinkewitz's T:E ratio was 6:1, but they don't cite a source for that information, so I can't vouch for the veracity of it. I haven't seen any info elsewhere on this. Speaking of doping, Vs. just ran a graphic that 15 of the 21 directors at the Tour were former Tour riders themselves. This is part of what T-Mobile general manager Bob Stapleton alluded to yesterday about the doping culture being very ingrained and hard to change. When the current directors were racing, doping wasn't quite as virulent as today, but it was still widely practiced and generally accepted. Those directors - as we've seen in the cases of Christian Henn, Marc Madiot, Bjarne Riis and Rolf Aldag - are capable of changing their minds and working to clean up the sport, but it's not a given.

7:15AM - Back in the field, Christophe Moreau (Ag2r) is getting some attention from the race doctor. He crashed in the opening kilometers and shredded the left side of his shorts. The doc is applying some kind of spray antiseptic or second skin kind of dressing. Hopefully they cleaned out the raspberry first.

7:12AM - The gap is now 4:15. The field likes this move - the highest rider on GC is Fofonov, in 40th place and about 28 minutes down. It's too far out for the sprinters teams to chase - 83k - and the GC teams see no threat here at all. So this break will go for at least a while. I don't know if they'll make it to the finish, but a lot of that depends on how much time the break gets in the next 20k or so. If it goes out over 15 minutes - entirely possible on a day like today - we could see them stay clear. That would really frost the sprinters.

7:11AM - Millar has caught the leading four, so it's now a quintet. He just latches on to the back right now so I don't know if they know he's there. This is a good move now, with Millar and Wegmann.

7:09AM - Telling time with Versus: now they say the pack is at 3:39 to the break and Millar is only 17 seconds down to the break. Next, they will tell us that the pack is actually finishing, in front of the break, and Millar has accidentally fallen into a wormhole and is now in an alternate universe.

7:08AM - Michael, I've been a bit surprised by Saunier Duval's tactics too, from time to time. Millar leading the bunch on Stage 8 on the Cols was just weird and, I thought, pointless. But today's move makes a bit of sense. Millar is the kind of guy other break riders love to be in a break with, because he's a motor, and hate to be in a break with, because he's so good at time-trialling that he can attack late in a break and stay away. So the move is established but, before it's really gone, he's tried to get himself into it.

7:07AM - Looks like the BT rider is actually Xavier Florencio. The FDJ rider is Philippe Gilbert.

7:05AM - According to the TV crawl, Millar's losing ground now and quite rapidly. The pack is now listed at 2:00 behind the four, with Millar only 30 or so seconds clear of the main bunch. He's wearing a long-sleeved jersey today, which sounds odd, but it's a superlight one and apparently Millar had some heat rash earlier in the race so he's trying to protect himself a bit.

7:03AM - The Wegmann quartet has 1:20 to the pack and :20 to Millar, with 91k to go. I'll have IDs on the other two riders in a moment. I believe one is Laurent Lefevre with Bouygues Telecom. There's a Francaise des Jeux rider as well - can't get a number yet.

7:01AM - Welcome to the live blog for stage 11. It's a hot, flat stage across southern France and should be a sprint finish but so far, it's been pretty lively with attacks. After an early break was doomed because of the presence of Caisse d'Epargne's David Arroyo, who is 19th overall, another attempt went with Fabian Wegmann of Gerolsteiner. He's been very active today. He's now off the front with Dimitri Fofonov (Credit Agricole) and two others. David Millar (Saunier Duval) has just attacked as well.