Friday, July 20, 2007

Tour de France: Stage 12

Montpellier to Castres 178.5 km

Tough transition day. Stage 12 with GNB Sports. Hello.

Txurruka (EUS) and Fedrigo (BTL) lead the peloton on the final climb of the day, the 10 km category-2 Montée de la Jeante. These two riders have been away since 52 km and currently have 57 km to go 5:18 ahead of the peloton. They may well be caught on this climb by the far superior leaders of the Tour.

Down 2 riders since yesterday. Dave Zabriskie (CSC) finished outside the time limit yesterday and was cut so 168 riders started this morning. Alberto Ongarato (MRM) crashed early in today's stage, abandoned shortly afterwards and has been taken to the hospital. We currently have 167 riders in the Tour of the 189 who started or 88%. That's before any time trials and before the Pyrénées. Typically we lose a quarter to a third of our riders before Paris.

The race to the top of the category-2 Montée de la Jeante is serious. The breakaway is still away by five minutes with 45 km to the finish. The peloton is dropping riders off the back, the leaders all up front watching each other like hawks, the peloton stringing out. There's a major headwind which has sprung up out of nowhere slamming into the breakaway but the break has actually gained on the peloton over the climb so congratulations to them. And they're over the top, 5:20 ahead of the peloton with 47.8 km to go. A bleak sky with lots of wind. It's the headwind which has slowed the race down just enough that the anticipated splintering of the peloton over this climb didn't happen. Except for the breakaway the entire field remains together.

CRASH. Meccado and someone else, perhaps Wegmann are down. They've clipped someone in the crowd; Meccado needs a new bike. The one rider is already back up and gone. Only Meccado remains down still trying to fix his bike, his team car stuck somewhere back in the pack. "Yo! Can we get a bicycle up here now please?!" No other sport allows spectators actually on the field of play with the athletes literally pounding them on the back and screaming at them as they compete. Some times the spectators fail to jump out of the way in time or stumble into a rider. Unfortunately while both may be hurt it's the rider whom may be taken out of the race.

The finish today is fairly easy. Narrows a bit towards the end but shouldn't be too crazy. The peloton works seriously, 32 km to go, 3:15 back from the break, precisely on point to catch the break before the end. The breakaway tears down a hill at 64.8 km an hour only 2:00 min ahead of the peloton with 21.3 km to go. They're likely to be caught; the peloton timing the catch to perfection.

The gap down to 9 km 55 seconds separating the field from the break. A number of riders have been popped off the back of the field and are just riding in. They can't take too long as the time limit today will be strict; no, we aren't going to explain it. Some topics are too complex even for GNB Sports. As we understand time limits they involve statistics, probability theory, and goat sacrifices. At least one of those would be a good name band name.

Gap down to 32 seconds at 4.6 km, the peloton giving everything into the chase. Four kilometers to go and 25 seconds. The two riders might just make it or they might be caught short by a few hundred meters. These two will not give up, desperate and riding their hearts out. Three kilometers and the peloton is 18 seconds behind and charging. Tom Boonen's boys are coming to the front as are Erik Zabel's and that may give the kids a chance. A big round-a-bout. Ten second gap and only two kilometers to go. They've been in the lead since kilometer 52 and they're going to be caught in sight of the finish line. Not going to make it and here is the catch. The two riders shake hands and it's over as everyone passes under the 1 km kite and HERE WE GO towards the line. Zabel, Boonen with a great lead out from Gert Steegmans, Zabel on Boonen's wheel, now Hunter but it's Tom Boonen on the line!

Boonen who was caught up in the crash yesterday is back and simply unbeatable with a great lead out taking his second Tour stage win this year. Tomorrow is the race of truth, the individual time trial -- catch the Tour live tomorrow starting 30 minutes earlier. See you then. GNB Sports, goodbye.

NOTE: Great rider profiles in Today's Video Highlights. Recommended.

Stage 13 LIVE in the U.S. on Versus: Early Start: Saturday, July 21, 8:00 - 11:30 AM ET/5:00 - 8:30 AM PT.

Today's video highlights -- Great Tour coverage at VeloNews

A Feast on Wheels: Behind the scenes Tour coverage by correspondent Bonnie DeSimone of ESPN, Boston Globe and the Oregonian.

Cyclelicious -- What's Your Source of News for Le Tour?

TDF Stage 12 Results -- Top 10:
Tom Boonen has given Quickstep its fourth stage victory in the 2007 Tour de France. The top 10 in Castres is:
1. Tom Boonen (BEL) QSI - 178.5km in 4h25'32" (40.333km/h)
2. Erik Zabel (GER) MRM
3. Robert Hunter (RSA) BAR
4. Daniele Bennati (ITA) LAM
5. Thor Hushovd (NOR) C.A
6. Bernhard Eisel (AUT) TMO
7. Sebastien Chavanel (FRA) FDJ
8. Nicolas Jalabert (FRA) AGR)
9. Robert Forster (GER) GST
10. Andrey Kashechkin (KAZ) AST

TDF: Standings after Stage 12

1 058
RASMUSSEN, Michael DEN RAB 57:37:10.000 00:00:00.000
2 018 VALVERDE, Alejandro ESP GCE 57:39:45.000 00:02:35.000
3 207 MAYO, Iban ESP SDV 57:39:49.000 00:02:39.000
4 041 EVANS, Cadel AUS PRL 57:39:51.000 00:02:41.000
5 112 CONTADOR, Alberto ESP DSC 57:40:18.000 00:03:08.000
6 031 SASTRE, Carlos ESP CSC 57:40:49.000 00:03:39.000
7 196 KLÖDEN, Andréas GER AST 57:41:00.000 00:03:50.000
8 111 LEIPHEIMER, Levi USA DSC 57:41:03.000 00:03:53.000
9 027 KIRCHEN, Kim LUX TMO 57:42:16.000 00:05:06.000
10 073 ASTARLOZA, Mikel ESP EUS 57:42:30.000 00:05:20.000