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July 20, 2008

Stage 15 on the road

Welcome to the Alps! The Tour moves into France's highest mountains, and finishes up in Italy, atop Prato Nevoso for the first time.

The elements are in place for another exciting stage, as Valverde and Cunego sit far enough back that they may be given some slack on the final slope, while Fränk Schleck can move into yellow if he can pull more than a single second back on Cadel Evans.

It's a rainy day at the start, and the stage starts uphill almost immediately, up to 9,000 feet on the hors categorie Col Agnel, whose summit comes 58 kilometers from the start. We've got two intermediate sprints, and wind up with a 3rd category climb as a warmup to the 1st Category climb to Prato Nevoso.

In the U.S., Versus offers wire-to-wire live coverage, and Johan Bruyneel will be joining the commentary team.

Versus Stage 15 predictions:
Roll: Damiano Cunego
Hummer: Alejandro Valverde
Sherwen: Fränk Schleck
Liggett: Andy Schleck

Team Columbia's Mark Cavendish has called it a Tour, resting up for his Beijing Olympic races.

The day's first successful breakaway is Danny Pate, José-Luia Arrieta, and Egoi Martinez. They collected the day's first sprint points, then were joined by Simon Gerrans of Credit Agricole.

Sprint 1:
1. Egoi Martinez, Euskaltel-Euskadi, 6 pts
2. José Luis Arrieta, AG2R, 4 pts
3. Danny Pate, Garmin-Chipotle, 2 pts

The four leading riders are about 3:30 ahead of the field with almost 25 kilometers ridden.

On the first climb, the gap continued to go out, to almost 14 minutes, before Lampre put some men on the front, and began to put a dent in the lead.

Two more riders abandoned on the climb -- Mark Renshaw of Credit Agricole, and QuickStep leader Stijn Devolder, whose performance is among the bigger (non-pharmaceutical) disappointments of this Tour.

1st Climb, the HC Col de Agnel:
1. Egoi Martinez, Euskaltel-Euskadi, 20 pts
2. José Luis Arrieta, AG2R, 18 pts
3. Simon Gerrans, Credit Agricole, 16 pts
4. Danny Pate, Garmin-Chipotle, 14 pts
5. Thomas Voeckler, Bouygues Telecom, 12 pts, @ 11:50
6. Bernhard Kohl, Gerolsteiner, 10 pts
7. Remy di Gregorio, Française des Jeux, 8 pts
8. Yaroslav Popovych, Silence-Lotto, 7 pts
9. John Lee Augustyn, Barloworld, 6 pts
10. Fränk Schleck, CSC-Saxo Bank, 5 pts

On the descent into Italy, the gap continues to fall, now a little more than 11 minutes, then went out a bit as riders began taking nature breaks in advance of the feed zone. Voeckler continued to ride ahead of the field, on a quixotic solo attack that seemed unlikely to close down the 10+ minute gap.

On a hairpin with around 90 kilometers to ride, Oscar Pereiro went over a guardrail at the top of a hairpin, landing on the road below, and fractured his femur and collarbone. He was taken away in an ambulance. Pereiro was awarded the 2006 Tour win when Floyd Landis was disqualified for doping.

The gap went out to more than 16 minutes as the peloton's pace fell after the accident.

At the day's second sprint, the gap was more than 17 minutes.
Sprint 2:
1. Simon Gerrans, Credit Agricole, 6 pts
2. Danny Pate, Garmin-Chipotle, 4 pts
3. Jose Luis Arrieta, AG2R-La Mondiale, 2 pts

The breakaway appears likely to succeed. Pate hasn't established the climbing bona fides of the other three, and has been gapping slightly on the climbs so far.

Colle del Morte, 3rd Category climb:
1. José Luis Arrieta, AG2R, 4pts
2. Egoi Martinez, Euskaltel-Euskadi, 3 pts
3. Simon Gerrans, Credit Agricole, 2 pts
4. Danny Pate, Garmin-Chipotle, 1 pt

CSC-Saxo Bank has moved to the front, and on the Colle del Morte, set a pace high enough to split the field. Will they be able to launch Schleck to yellow? Or will Carlos Sastre deliver their final punch?

You can follow my updates in near real-time on Twitter.

Posted by Frank Steele on July 20, 2008 in 2008 Stage 15, Egoi Martinez, Oscar Pereiro, Thomas Voeckler, Yaroslav Popovych | Permalink

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