Where is the Panache? Pt IV – Panache is in the wind.

After a well deserved rest day, the riders rolled out for stage 10 of the Tour rested and ready to rumble. Thomas Voeckler is in yellow so expect to see the French flags a waving today. Also, the first real mention of a rider doping this tour with Alexandr Kolobnev electing to bail on the rest of the tour after a positive drug test.

Stage 10. Aurillac – Carmaux Prudhomme waves the white flag and the comissaires car floors it to get out of the way of the usual break away. The gap between the car and riders widens. Strangely, there is no break, well not straight away. Hey fellas, the rest day is over! Maybe because they were going along at a relaxed pace, there is a crash. Situation normal then. Spartacus and Limping Levi are both down. No one seems hurt and they all ride off.

Finally, we have a break of 6 riders, Di Gregorio (AST), Vichot (FDJ), Minard (AGR), El Fares (COF), Marcato (VCE) and Delaplace (SAU). Good to see another FDJ rider representing. With an early intermediate sprint on offer, the 6 are away. Looks like the peoton will be fighting for the scraps again. When the main field approaches the sprint point, it is Europcar and HTC-Highroad lining up at the front. Gilbert is keen for more points to help keep the green jersey on his back. Not keen enough it seems as Cavendish finishes in front of him.

The peloton watches on as the 6 leaders scrap it out for the KOM over the first 3 categorised climbs today. The gap stays at between 2 and 4 minutes. The stage is down to 50kms before the chase really starts to happen.

20kms to go and it is down to 44 seconds. On the final climb, a break from the peloton. Gallopin, Gilbert, Voeckler, Hushovd and Martin are away. With 10kms left, the lead 4 have a 15 second lead. They are finally gobbled up by the group and it is down to a bunch sprint. They jump for the line and it is Greipel, who wins his first ever stage on the Tour de France, and also manages to beat his former team mate, Cavendish across the line.

Greipel beats the Manx Missile ©Bettini

No change in the GC positions, with Tommy Voeckler in the yellow pyjamas tonight.

Stage 11. Blaye-les-Mines – Lavaur The final stage before they hit the hills. Expect the sprinters to dominate at the end. Ag2r-La Mondiale’s John Gadret is stuffed, so he has pulled the pin. It is raining as they roll out of Blaye-les-Mines and it looks like it will only get worse as the day goes on. Plenty of riders are trying to break away off the front, but most are failing. 12kms into the stage and we have the first real break. Ruben Perez Moreno (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Lars Boom (Rabobank), Andriy Grivko (Astana), Mickael Delage (FDJ), Tristan Valentin (Cofidis) and Jimmy Engoulvent (Saur-Sojasun) have cleared out and are up the road getting TV time for their sponsors. Seems like Sky has missed the break, so are up at the head of the peloton doing some chasing. Boom booms across the top of the first climb of the day, Johnny “Barbed wire” Hoogerland just behind him. Hoogerland has captured the publics heart with his gutsy display. Riding with 33 stitches in his rump and legs, he is still out in the breaks and riding well up the hills.

The clouds have parted and there is sun on the riders backs. In front, dark skies and rain. At the intermediate sprint, Cavendish jumps and gets it from Greiple and Rojas. Current leader in green, Gilbert seemed to sit up. 20km out and the gap to the break is down to 1:15. 10km out and it is down to 35 seconds. They will get caught for sure. HTC havve 6 riders up front, ready to catapult Cavendish to the line. The rain is belting down now. 5kms out and Lars Boom goes and so does every commentator with the highly original “Boom goes boom!” I wonder if Lars Bak will bring him back?

In the end, HTC have done enough to see Cavendish take the win and the green jersey. he beat Greipel and Farrar home in the sprint. 18 stage wins to Cavendish now. And the next stage, is in the mountains, so he probably wont win tomorrow to make it 19.

Stage win #19 for Cavendish. © AFP

Stage 12. Cugnaux – Luz-Ardiden Todays stage we the first high mountain summit finish atop Luz-Ardiden. July 14th is also a bit of a big deal for the French, so watch out for breaks by a stack of French riders. On the day I was tipping the tooth paste model, Chavanel for the win. Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil) didn’t start due to a strain heartlidge.

After a few breaks not sticking, 6 of them have gotten away. Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Movistar), Blel Kadri (Ag2r), Laurent Mangel (Saur-Sojasun), Ruben Perez (Euskaltel), Jeremy Roy (FDJ) and Geraint Thomas (Team Sky). Jeremy Roy is riding like he will catch chlamydia if he stays in the pack. FDJ as a team seem to think the boogey man is in the main bunch.

122km from the Skoda signs on the road, Geraint Thomas is now the virtual race leader. There a still a few bumps to get over yet. Now that HTC has figured it out, the best of the rest sprint is won by Cavendish. I nice little win with the hills ahead. The bunch hits La Hourquette d’Ancizan 5:50 behind the break. As soon as the road pitches up, riders are popping out the back. Hoogerland and Chavanel (sounds like a 70’s Jazz band to me) take off in pursuit of the break. Go Chavanel! About 4 kilometres later, Hoogey splits up the 70’s supergroup and drops back to the peloton. Hammering up a hill with 30 odd stitches in your derriere can’t be all that comfortable.

Mangel takes the box of choccies at the top of todays first climb. Well done him. And the lead group start to roll down the other side of the climb. Geraint Thomas loses control looking at a Welsh flag and skids between 2 cars. That could have been a lot worse. He climbs back on and is off again. Just before his heart rate gets back to normal, he locks the black wheel and leaves a big black skid on the road, and a big brown one on his chamois! What is going wrong? The main group now crests the rise and they are grabbing newspapers to minimise the chill on the way down. Or, for the Schlecks, to read the comics. Voeckler falls of at Thomas corner. There is a chain reaction with 5 or 6 down now. The replay shows Voeckler running into the side of the car that Geraint Thomas managed to miss. Kloden hits the deck hard and continues the run of luck for RadioShack.

Chavanel looks cooked and is dropping back. The French public throw down their berets in disgust. Merde! Leopard Trek has moved to the front and are powering up the lower part of the Cul de Tourmalet. Roy and Thomas are still hammering away at the front. Roy is terrified of that peloton. Thomas has edged ahead of Roy. He wants to win the race to the top of Tourmalet. Andy Schleck has a front wheel flat. Reports in say one of his hair pins fell out. Roy, hearing in his ear that the peloton are 3 minutes behind, steps on the gas and beats Thomas to the top. Jens Voigt leads bunch over the top of the Tourmalet (insert Jens Voigt/Chuck Norris joke here dear reader).

13kms to go and it is up a slight gradient of 7.4%. They will be popping out the back like a Gatling gun on this climb. Sanchez, who put on his Harry potter cloak of invisibility looks like he will catch the leaders and could very well win the stage. All of a sudden the big boys start throwing jabs. Andy Schleck goes and is caught. Basso goes, and gets caught. Frank Schelck is next in the queue, but Contador is on his wheel. Not happy, Franky goes again, they let him go. He could get yellow if it sticks and Voeckler tires. Frank is catching the 2 at the front. Basso goes again, but Evans has his wheel. Voeckler is still there, and looking like he has had enough. Up front, Frank is just about on the wheel of Sanchez and Vanendert. These 2 see him and take off. Frank sits back down, unable to chase. Sanchez has drunk more Coke and powers away from the Belgium to take the win. Further back, Frank crosses 10 seconds down. Contador drops off the Evans, A Schleck and Basso trio. He comes across the line just 7 seconds in front of Voeckler, who with the help of team mate Rolland easily holds onto yellow. So much for everyone, including himself, saying he would be out of the yellow pyjamas tonight.

Voeckler keeps yellow. ©Bettini

So with the first stage in the mountains out of the way, all the GC contenders looked strong, apart from a fading Contador. Things just got interesting.

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