The peloton has finished the 18th stage with a deficit of 8’35" to Casar. Boonen led the bunch home and held off a strong challenge from Hunter, Zabel and Chavanel.
There are still a lot of points on offer for the green jersey and Quickstep is doing its best to make sure Tom Boonen retains the sprinters’ prize. With less than 1,00m to go Boonen has two Quickstep colleagues leading him out in the sprint for fifth place.
The peloton reached the 5km to go banner 9’30" after Casar’s quartet. The battle for fifth place is due soon but before the bunch arrives, here is the order of the top four in Angouleme:
1. Sandy Casar (FRA) FDJ - 211.0km in 5h13’31" (40.38km/h)
2. Axel Merckx (BEL) TMO - at same time
3. Laurent Lefevre (FRA) BTL - at same time
4. Michael Boogerd (NED) RAB - at same time
When Cedric Vasseur gave France its first stage victory of the 94th Tour, he beat Casar by 7.3cm. Today the FDJ rider didn’t let his rivals get near him. He led out the sprint from the front and won convincingly.
There’ll be tears in Marc Madiot’s eyes. The director of the Francaise des Jeux team has been a long-time supporter of Sandy Casar and the rider has achieved a victory to remember by outwitting Merckx, Lefevre and Boogerd in Angouleme.
Sandy Casar has won his first stage of the Tour de France. He attacked the others with 3km to go, was caught and then surged again in the final 400m to beat Merckx by about 20 meters.
Casar has led Boogerd then Lefevre and Merckx under the 1km to go sign. The escape is now over for Casar and a sprint of four men is about to come...
Boogerd is in hot pursuit of Casar but the Frenchman has a good lead over the Dutchman.
Casar has a lead of 100m over Boogerd, Casar, Lefevre and Merckx. The Frenchman missed out on victory on the day of Vasseur’s win by just 7.3cm but now he appears like the winner of the stage.
Boogerd, Casar, Lefevre and Merckx are all together under the 3km to go sign but then, with 2,800m to go, Casar has launched the most convincing attack so far today.
Boogerd did a short turn of pace, retreated to the rear of the peloton and then tried to launch an attack but it wasn’t very convincing... he never gained any advantage.
Boogerd, Casar, Lefevre and Merckx are all togehter under the 4km to go banner. Boogerd appears to be getting ready to launch another attack but then he just rolled through after a turn of pace by Merckx.
Sandy Casar (FDJ) will wear a red and white ’dossard’ in the time trial tomorrow. He has been voted the most aggressive rider of today’s stage.
Boogerd is about to catch Lefevre. The escape has been rendered void 5km from the finish of stage 18.
Boogerd was leading the chase of the Frenchman and now Merckx has taken charge but Lefevre remains about 30 meters ahead.
Laurent Lefevure has surged ahead of his escape companions with 6km to go.
The peloton is now 15km from the finish. It is 10’20" behind Boogerd, Casar, Lefevre and Merckx.
The first of the escapees to attack is Michael Boogerd but he is being followed by Lefevre, Merckx and Casar. The move came as the leaders passed under the 10km to go banner.
The peloton gained one minute on the escapees between the 25km and 20km to go banners. Euskaltel continue to lead the bunch that is now 11’00" behind Boogerd, Casar, Lefevre and Merckx.
The leaders are 15km from the end of the stage. They continue to cooperate well and share the workload but, if tradition is anything to go by, we can expect to see them start attacking each other soon.
Of the quartet in the lead, Casar is the wounded man. He crashed at the 27km mark of the 211km stage and has a nasty graze on his right hip and has consulted the race’s doctor who, about an hour ago, was looking at his right shoulder.
As it passed under the 25km to go banner, the peloton was 12’05" behind the four escapees.
The leaders have contested the second intermediate sprint of the stage.
The points in Dignac were won by:
1. Sandy Casar (FDJ) 6pts/6"
2. Axel Merckx (TMO) 4pts/4"
3. Michael Boogerd (RAB) 2pts/2"
The peloton is now 12’35" behind Boogerd, Casar, Merckx and Lefevre who are now less than 20km from the finish of the 18th stage.
Michael Boogerd has just had his front wheel replaced after a puncture. He wasted no time in rejoining his escape companions who are now 5km away from the second intermediate sprint of the 18th stage.
The escapees are now 25km from the finish of the 18th stage. Their advantage over the peloton (which is at the 178km mark) is 14’30".
In April this year the two riders who are at the top of the general classification of the Tour de France with three days remaining raced each other in the Volta al Pais Vasco. The final stage was a 14km time trial and Alberto Contador was second (two seconds behind Sammy Sanchez of the Eusklatel team). Evans was 10th, 55" behind the winner.
The peloton is now 16’00" behind Boogerd, Casar, Merckx and Lefevre. The pace being set by Euskaltel is having an effect. The maximum gain of the escape was 17’30" when the peloton was at the 152km mark.
The Euskaltel team has replaced Discovery Channel at the head of the peloton. Expect the advantage of the escapees to drop quickly now...
In June this year Cadel Evans (PRL) finished second overall in his first attempt at the Criterium du Dauphine Libere. The third stage was a 40.7km time trial and the Australian was fourth, 38" behind the winner (Vinokourov). The current leader of the Tour de France, Alberto Contador (DSC) was also in the one-week French race. The Spaniard was 35th in that stage, 2’43" behind the Australian...
The lead has dropped to 16’50" with the peloton at the 165km mark.
When the peloton was at the 152km mark, the escapees reached what may be the maximum gain of the 18th stage. They were 17’30" ahead; that advantage has dropped to 17’05" now.
The first rider to start tomorrow’s time trial will depart at 11.20am. Alberto Contador’s departure time is 4.20pm; he is clearly saving his legs for the big test when he has to finish at least 1’53" ahead of the rider who finished second to Vinokourov in the Albi time trial last Saturday, Cadel Evans, if he is to win the Tour de France.
Contador was 1’14" behind Evans in the Albi time trial...
The average speed for the fourth hour of stage 18 is 37.8km/h. The average for the first four hours combined is 40.5km/h.
The leaders have 50km to race before reaching the finish in Angouleme. Boogerd, Merckx, Casar and Lefevre are now 17’30" ahead of the peloton which is at the 152km mark.
Michael Boogerd’s group is now 17’20" ahead of the peloton. He began the stage ranked 16th overall, 27’50" behind Contador. His current advantage puts him ’virtual’ sixth place in the general classification, ahead of Valverde. The Spaniard’s Caisse d’Epargne team chased a non-threatening escape yesterday (when Voigt was the best ranked over an hour behind the leaders) but today they are not at all interested in swapping off turns of pace at the head of the peloton.
One of the riders in the lead of the stage has been attacked... not by is escape companions but by an insect. Michael Boogerd was recently stung by a bee. It hasn’t halted his progress and he has just rolled through the paceline to take another turn in the wind.
His quarter is 17’15" ahead of the peloton.
The peloton continues to be led by Contador’s Discovery Channel team. It is 17’10" behind at the 135.5km mark.
Today is the birthday of Allan Davis. The Australian is a member of the Discovery Channel team and was competing in the Tour of Qinghai Lakes in China during the first week of the Tour de France.
The two are good friends and, on the day of Contador’s first victory following his brain hemorrhage (during the Tour of Asturias in May 2004), Davis finished third in a one-two-three-four finish for their team at the time, Liberty Seguros. That was in the 2005 Tour Down Under when Contador won the deciding stage ahead of Luis Sanchez (the eventual champion of Australia’s premier race). Davis finished third, 22" behind Contador and Javier Ramirez Abeja finished fourth.
The only rider in the lead today to have previously won a stage of the Tour de France is Michael Boogerd. He won his first stage in Aix-les-Bain on a terribly wet day in 1996 and his second one at La Plagne in 2002. On the day of his second victory, Boogerd attacked early on a stage that started with the ascent of the Col du Galibier. By the halfway mark, he was 3’40" ahead of the peloton with three others. In a chase group of eight riders was another member of today’s escape group: Axel Merckx.
The Dutchman won the stage by 1’25" (ahead of Armstrong and Sastre) while Merckx was 36th, 11’49" behind.
One of the riders in the escape group, Sandy Casar, is currently being treated by one of the Tour’s medical staff. He has a problem with his right shoulder and has also lost some skin on his right hip after being caught up in a fall caused by a dog crossing the road at the 27km mark.
The peloton is at the 118km mark with a deficit of 16’00" to Boogerd’s group. That means the Dutchman has pushed his way up into the top 10 of the general classification for the moment. He began the day ranked 16th overall, 27’50" behind Contador and, with his current advantage, he is in eighth place.
“It would be a great going away present if Axel could win today,” said the manger of Merckx’s T-Mobile team, Bob Stapleton. The American is in Bonn, Germany today and recently spoke with LeTour.fr and found out that Axel Merckx was part of the four-man escape group that’s now over 15 minutes ahead of the peloton.
“He wanted to try and do something special in the world’s greatest sporting event,” said Stapleton about the tall Belgian who is due to retire at the end of the 2007 season. “This is his last major race of his career and he’s been super motivated. He’s not only a very professional rider but he’s been a real asset for the team this year. His personal leadership has made a big difference – especially to our young guys like Gerdemann, Burghardt and Cavendish – they all got a real boost of confidence whenever Axel is around.”
When asked what he believed would happen in the time trial tomorrow, Stapleton said he believes Contador should hold onto the yellow jersey. “Perhaps it’s a bridge too far for Cadel. I think Alberto has proven that he’s one of the best climbers in the world but he is also strong in the time trial.”
The average speed for the third hour in stage 18 was 40.2km/h. And 41.4km/h for the first three hours combined.
With 90km to go Boogerd, Merckx, Lefevre and Casar are now 15’20" ahead of the peloton.
The peloton is now at the 103km mark and has a deficit to Boogerd, Merckx, Lefevre and Casar of 14’30". This is the maximum gain so far today for the escapees.
The leaders are still over 14 minutes ahead of the peloton. Boogerd’s quartet is now 100km from the end of the 18th stage and the bunch led by the Discovery Channel teaam is 100km the start.
Jerome Pineau was one of the aggressors at the start of the 18th stage. The rider from Bouygues Telecom has just called for the race doctor...
The peloton is still 14’00" behind the four escapees who have just reached the 103.5km mark. Their escape began at 14km with Boogerd sparking the action on the first climb. He is one of two riders in the foursome who are going to retire at the end of the season (the other being Merckx).
The maximum gain of the escape so far was 14’20" at the 85km mark. As the peloton exited the feedzone (at the 87km mark), it was 14’00" behind Boogerd, Lefevre, Casar and Merckx.
“This is a stage for the fighters,” said one of the directeur sportifs of the FDJ team, Martial Gayant when contacted by LeTour.fr recently. His team has one representative in the quartet that led the peloton by 14’20” at the 85km mark. “Today the peloton is tired and the sprint specialists in the peloton are saving their legs and the energy of their team-mates for the prestigious stage on the Champs-Elysees. This is a reason why Sandy Casar wanted to get into the escape today but he has been plagued by bad luck again: he was caught up in a crash that happened when a dog crossed the road in front of the breakaway group earlier today.
“He has a nasty wound on his right hip and it’s causing him a bit of pain,” said Gayant. “The work in the lead will be harder for him than the others. This will surely make things difficult for him at the end of the stage but he’s a rider with a lot of determination and he will give it everything he has to try and succeed. Maybe a sprint finish of the four leaders could be good for him.”
The peloton has arrived at the site of the feedzone at Journiac at the 87km mark.
At the 85km mark, the peloton is 14’20" behind the four escapees.
Boogerd, Merckx, Casar and Lefevre are arriving at the site of the feed zone at the 87km mark. They are 14’00" ahead of the peloton that’s being led by riders from the Discovery Channel squad.
Sandy Casar of the Francaise des Jeux team was caught in a crash at the 27km mark. Frederik Willems (LIQ) hit a dog that crossed the road and the Frenchman was caught up in the accident.
Casar has a large hole in his knicks and abraisions on his right hip.
Today the former director of the Tour de France, Jean-Marie Leblanc, celebrates his 63rd birthday.
The points for the fourth and final climb of the 18th stage were won by:
1. Michael Boogerd (RAB) 3pts
2. Sandy Casar (FDJ) 2pts
3. Laurent Lefevre (BTL) 1pt
The peloton was 12’25" behind at the 70.5km mark.
“The plan yesterday morning was simple: to get seven guys to the start and hopefully reach the finish with seven riders,” said the directeur sportif of the Rabobank team, Erik Dekker when contacted by LeTour.fr. “Unfortunately Denis Menchov stepped off at the midway point… but the mood is much better in the team today. It was almost back to normal this morning after a few very stressful days.
“Everyone was in good spirits at breakfast and the guys were talking about jumping into the escapes and getting into the break. Boogerd made the first attack up the first hill and he made the break,” explained Dekker about the move of stage 18. “And he looks very good.”
So what are the intentions of the team now…? “Well, we want to end the stage with the yellow jersey of course,” joked Dekker. “We only have 28 minutes to make up before Boogerd is in the virtual lead… crazy things can happen on the Tour, huh? Remember last year…?
“But seriously, we recognize that Michael Boogerd only has a few more days in the Tour de France. This will be the last time he starts this race and this might be his last opportunity to show himself and maybe even win a stage. But it’s the same for Axel Merckx but of course I think Boogerd will be good.”
The points for the first intermediate sprint of stage 18 were won by:
1. Axel Merckx (TMO) 6pts/6"
2. Laurent Lefevre (BTL) 4pts/4"
3. Michael Boogerd (RAB) 2pts/2"
Boogerd, Merckx, Lefevre and Casar are about to contest the first sprint of the 18th stage. This is in Saint-Cyrpien at the 66km mark. They are 10’15" ahead of the peloton.
At the 56km mark, the deficit of the peloton to Boogerd (RAB), Merckx (TMO), Lefevre (BTL) and Casar (FDJ) is 10’10".
Of the four men in the lead today, only one has previously won a stage of the Tour de France. Michael Boogerd (RAB) claimed his maiden victory in Aix-les-Bain in 1996 and his second one at La Plagne in 2002.
As the peloton reaches the 50km mark, it is 9’00" behind the four escapees. The move of the day was instigated by Lefevre and Boogerd at the 14km mark.
Of the four riders in the lead of the stage the best placed on general classification after 17 stages is Michael Boogerd. The Dutchman is ranked 16th overall, 27’50" behind Contador.
The four escapees - Boogerd (RAB), Merckx (TMO), Lefevre (BTL) and Casar (FDJ) - are at the 50km mark. The last time check had this quartet 7’00" ahead of the peloton.
As the leaders reach the 47.5km mark, the peloton is at the 42km mark.
At the top of the cote de la Saint-Martial (at 39.5km) the peloton was 7’00" behind Boogerd (RAB), Casar (FDJ), Lefevre (BTL) and Merckx (TMO).
The leaders covered 42.6km in the first hour of racing in stage 18.
At the top of the climb at the 39.5km mark, the point were won by:
1. Laurent Lefevre (BTL) 3pts
2. Michael Boogerd (RAB) 2pt
3. Sandy Casar (FDJ) 1pt
The peloton is now 7’20" behind Boogerd, Merckx, Casar and Lefevre.
The four stage leaders are less than 1,000m from the third climb of the stage, the Cote de Saint-Martial (at the 39.5km mark).
Boogerd pulled over to the side of the road and answered the call of nature at the 36km mark. This delay allowed Merckx and Casar to catch the leading pair who are now 5’35" ahead of the peloton.
At the 33km mark, Boogerd and Lefevre were 1’05" of Merckx and Casar and 5’20" ahead of the peloton.
Evans is always happy to talk about the racing but he has no answer to the question that everyone is asking him: can he make up the 1’53” to Contador in the time trial? “I feel okay,” he said earlier today, “but I really don’t know what’s going to happen on Saturday. All I can do is go out and ride the time trial as fast as I can. Everyone expects me to be able to say how much time I can gain on Contador but it’s an impossible prediction… he’s strong on the climbs and didn’t lose too much in Albi. To be honest, I think he’d be more inspired than tired at this stage of the Tour. He’s in the yellow jersey and has a lot to lose; I’m chasing and have everything to gain but he holds the upper hand…”
Boogerd and Lefevre have realized that the peloton is content with the escape selection. They are waiting for Merckx and Casar who are now 1’15" behind.
Axel Merckx is determined to catch the two stage leaders (Boogerd and Lefevre). The Belgian is 1’20" behind the Dutchman and Frenchman. The peloton is at the 31km mark and 4’45" behind.
Boogerd and Lefevre continue to lead the stage. Casar has called his team car up to replace his bike after the crash with the dog. Willems has been caught by the peloton.
The stage is now led by just two riders. At the 27km mark, Boogerd and Lefevre are on their own after the incident involving an stray dog that brought down Willems and Casar.
Two of the riders in the escape group have been involved in a crash. Willems (LIQ) hit a dog that crossed the road and he brought down Casar (FDJ).
At the 25km mark, the peloton is 2’25" behind Boogerd, Lefevre, Willems and Casar. Merckx was in the middle of the quartet and the main pack... with a deficit of 1’05".
Merckx is still trying to bridge the gap to the four leaders. The Belgian T-Mobile rider was 55" behind at the top of the second climb.
The points at the top of the second climb (at 24km), the points were won by:
1. Laurent Lefevre (BTL) 3pts
2. Michael Boogerd (RAB) 2pts
3. Sandy Casar (FDJ) 1pt
At the 23km mark, the peloton was 1’30" behind Boogerd, Lefevre, Casar and Willems. (It has been reported that the Bouygues Telecom rider in the escape was Pineau, not Lefevre. Apologies for any confusion caused.)
The escapees are now at the 23km mark. They have 1km to climb before crossing the line for the category-four cote de Lavercantiere.
There is a counter-attack now from Axel Merckx (TMO) who is 30" behind the four escapees. The peloton is at 1’00".
The Discovery Channel team appears content with the escape group. They have been leading the peloton but the yellow jersey has just pulled over to the side of the road to answer the call of nature. Expect the advantage of the four escapees to grow quickly now.
At the 20km mark, the peloton was 20" behind Pineau, Willems, Casar and Boogerd.
“Hopefully a break will go early,” said Cadel Evans before the start today when he spoke with LeTour.fr. “Everyone is pretty tired and the Caisse d’Epargne team wasn’t too popular yesterday when they refused to ease the tempo as they pursued the eight escapees for the first two hours of the stage. It was bizarre and no one could really work out what it was all about.”
The Australian is ranked second overall after 17 stage, 1’53” behind Contador and he explained that a collective cheer went up when Caisse d’Epargne ceased its effort on the road to Castelsarrasin. “Even Valverde started to attack on a rise yesterday and he almost blew his team up, with a big team like that it was a weird tactic… I’d understand if it was Agritubel because they’d like to have had someone in the escape but Caisse d’Epargne…?!
“Tom Boonen started yelling at them to stop chasing but when a team director tells his riders to do something, they have to respond. When they finally stopped we all cheered and clapped.”
Boogerd (RAB), Lefevre (BTL), Willems (LIQ) and Casar (FDJ) are now trying to establish an escape. They are 12" ahead of the peloton at the 17km mark.
At the 15.5km mark, the peloton caught the three escapees.
At the top of the first ascent at the 15km mark, the points were won by:
1. Frederick Willems (LIQ) 3pts
2. Jerome Pineau (BTL) 2pts
3. Sandy Casar (FDJ) 1pt
The first climb of the 18th stage is at the 15km mark. Pineau and Casar are near the top of the cote de Salvezou. They have been caught by Willems (LIQ) and this trio has a lead of just five seconds on the peloton.
Jerome Pineau and Sandy Casar have attacked and have a slight lead on the peloton at the 14km mark.
Jerome Pineau (BTL) has attempted to escape the peloton but he has been reeled in at the 10.5km mark.
No escapes have been allowed to gain any momentum. The peloton is at the 8.5km mark.
For the first two hours of stage 17 the Caisse d’Epargne team set a furious pace at the head of the peloton. Some pundits guessed that it was in an attempt to get closer to Discovery Channel in the teams classification but the director of the Spanish team said that it was just in an attempt to reel in the escape in the hope that one of his riders could go on to win the stage.
Discovery Channel currently leads Caisse d’Epagne by 15’22" in the teams rankings.
The pace is fast at the start of the 18th stage and there have been a lot of escape attempts but none have been successful yet. The peloton is all together at the 7km mark.
The official start of the 18th stage was at 12.31pm. There are 141 riders at the start with no overnight retirements.
Amets Ttxurruka of the Euskaltel-Euskadi team will wear the white jersey; he is ranked third in the youth classification but the two riders ahead of him in the category that’s open to riders born after 1 January 1982 are leading other classifications. Alberto Contador is the best young rider but he’s in the yellow jersey today and Mauricio Soler is 13’13” behind the Spaniard but leading the mountains classification so he’s in the polka-dot jersey.
Txurruka is ranked 23rd overall and he’s 45’54” behind Contador.
The peloton is currently rolling along in the 6.8km neutral zone.
Mauricio Soler (BAR) is destined to win the polka-dot jersey in 2007. He has an unbeatable lead in the mountains classification after 17 stages. The Colombian has 206 points, while second and third places are held by two Discovery Channel recruits, Yaroslav Popovych (with 128pts) and Alberto Contador (with 104pts). The rider in second place overall, Cadel Evans (PRL) is ranked fourth in the climbers’ category (with 92pts).
By claiming ninth place in the sprint to Castelsarrasin yesterday, Tom Boonen increased his lead in the race for the green jersey. The Quickstep rider has 212 points in the sprinters’ category, while Robert Hunter (BAR) is ranked second with 190 points and Erik Zabel (MRM) is 187 points.
Today will be the first time that Alberto Contador (DSC) has worn the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. The Spaniard who won the stage to Plateau de Beille has a lead of 1’53” over Cadel Evans (PRL) in the general classification and is 2’49” ahead of his American team-mate Levi Leipheimer after 17 stages.
There is a 6.8km neutral zone before the riders will reach the site of the official start for stage 18. The white flag that signals the beginning of racing, is expected to be waved by the Tour director, Christian Prudhomme, at about 12.30pm.
The 211km stage from Cahors to Angouleme is scheduled to start at 12.15pm. The sun is shining on the Tour de France for what is regarded as a transitional stage on the eve of the final major test for the general classification hopefuls, the time trial on Saturday. The 18th stage features four small hills - all ranked category-four. The points for the climbing classification will be contested at: Salvezou (15km), Lavercantiere (24km), Saint-Martial-de-Nabirat (39.5km) and Saint-Cyprien (70.5km).
The two intermediate sprints are in Saint-Cyrprien (at 66km) and Dignac (192km).
Live coverage of the stage will commence soon.