Today was another exciting day at the Tour de France and include enough crashes and drama to make even a NASCAR fan happy. The first crash occurred early on, at about the 14km mark of the 196km stage. Lance Armstrong went down hard in that one, but recoverred to rejoin the pack (peloton) as it continued on its way.
What was most exciting today was the chase at the end. Usually in these stages a breakaway group will take the lead and sprint off from the peloton. They are usually caught, often in a dramatic fashion. That of course happened again today with a major crash occuring only 1km from the finish. This is from Velonew's live coverage:
2:42 p.m. - At 75km, the gap is now 4:15.
2:54 p.m. - The six leaders are now at 88km and the peloton has trimmed their advantage to 3:50. If I were a bettin' man - and I am not - I'd say that this one will not enjoy the success of yesterday's escape.
2:59 - The leaders have increased their lead to 4:00, but this yo-yo-ing of time gaps is a sign that the peloton is taking an interest in maintaining a certain gap. We can imagine a serious chase to kick in later in the day as we start getting closer to Angers.
3:06 p.m. - The Brioches la Boulangere team is getting help from Quick Step at the front. The gap is now up to 4:27, with 100km remaining. Again, as a comparison, the leaders in yesterday's break had 15:25 with 100km remaining.
3:13 p.m. - The weather, by the way, is holding nicely. With 95km remaining, the gap is 3:59. The pace is picking up in the main field. Lotto has come to the front.
3:47 p.m. McEwen is back in the field and the chase is resuming. With 72km remaining, the gap is 4:10.
5:08 p.m. - With 14km, the gap is 1:18
5:13 p.m. - With just 10km remaining, the gap has been trimmed to 48 seconds.
5:14 p.m. - The big sprinters' teams are beginning to worry. They are hammering at the front of the peloton.... but the catch is about to happen.
5:15 p.m. - The escapees are in view of the peloton and the gap is down to 33 seconds. We are very likely to see a field sprint in 8.5km.
5:17 p.m. - With 7km remaining, the gap is down to 20 seconds.
5:19 p.m. - Flecha is off by five seconds and the three men behind him are maybe 11 seconds up on the peloton
5:20 p.m. - Flecha is 4.5 km from the finish and is 21 seconds ahead of the peloton.
5:21 p.m. - The remaining three have been caught
2 p.m. - Flecha is still off the front by 18 seconds with four kilometers remaining.
3 p.m. - With three kilometers to go, Flecha has a 13-second lead. The peloton, which eased off when they caught the three stragglers has reorganized.
5:23 p.m. - With 2km to go, the gap is just nine seconds.
5:24 p.m. - Ohhhhh... it's not gonna happen
5:24 p.m. - He is caught.... with one kmm to go.
There was a huge pile up at the end that took down both Armostrong and his main competitors Tyler Hamilton and Jan Ulrich. Of course they all finished, but Ulrich regained about 20 seconds he had earlier lost on Armstrong. Remember that, because this could be vital at the end of the race.
Also, for what its worth, I should point out that the breakaway yesterday was not caught and Armstrong doesn't wear the yellow jersey anymore. Of course at this stage of the race that isn't important. The current top ten looks like this.
OVERALL STANDINGSThe riders in front of Armstrong are all sprinters, none of whom will pose a threat to him over the length of the entire race. His main competitors still remain Tyler Hamilton in 13th at 10:11 and Jan Ullrich in 21st at 10:30 back.
1. Thomas Voeckler (F), Brioches La Boulangere, 24:37:30
2. Stuart O'Grady (Aus), Cofidis, 03:01
3. Sandy Casar (F), FDJeux.com, 04:06
4. Magnus Backstedt (Swe), Alessio-Bianchi, 06:06
5. Jakob Piil (Dk), CSC, 06:58
6. Lance Armstrong (USA), U.S. Postal Service, 09:35
7. George Hincapie (USA), U.S. Postal Service, 09:45
8. Floyd Landis (USA), U.S. Postal Service, 09:51
9. Azevedo José (P), U.S. Postal Service, 09:57
10. Rubiera José Luis (Sp), U.S. Postal Service, 09:59