Pic: Jens Voigt of Saxo Bank in the lead halfway through stage 9
It's been a tough morning in the mountains in today's stage so far, but the worst is still yet to come.
With all riders now having passed the first major climb, the Col D'Aspin, a three-man breakaway is more than 3 minutes ahead of the peleton, with Jens Voigt of Saxo Bank leading the charge. Two chase groups are followed by the peleton, including one with Egoi Martinez, who has now captured the King of the Mountain by sprinting at the top of the Col.
An early breakaway started just out of the box today, but Lance Armstrong, with Nocentini on his wheel, brought them back to the fold. Among the riders who got out at 3 km were Haussler (CTT), Jens Voigt (SAX), Pate (GRM), Riblon (ALM), Pellizotti (LIQ), Vaugrenard (FDJ), Stephane Auge (COF), Duque (COF), Righi (LAM), Pierrick Fedrigo (BBO), Devolder (QSI), Fothen (MRM) and Geschke (SKS).
But four riders managed to escape off the front as Jens Voigt took a flyer ahead, right before the Col D'Aspin, the first big climb of the day. The other riders were Franco Pellizotti of Liquigas, a podium finisher in the Giro d"Italia, Leonardo Duque, Columbia HTC, and Pierrick Fedrigo of B-Box and former national champion of France . These riders have ridden 24 Tour de Frances between them, so all of them are very experienced competitors.
That group narrowed to three, as Leonard Duque dropped back, and Voigt pushed the pace up D'Aspin.
A chase group of 7 riders went off the front of the peleton to catch the break, including Euskatel's Egoi Martinez, Van den Broeck, and Paulinho (Astana), Van Den Broek (SIL), Garate and Ten Dam (RAB), Txurruka (EUS), Moncoutie (COF) and Voeckler. That group was more than 2 minutes behind the leaders, while the peleton was more than 3 minutes back.
A second chase group included Nocentini, Stephane Goubert and some fellow team members, and behind them was the peleton, where Astana had lost some riders to the Col D'Aspin.
With 109 km to go, the peleton was more than five minutes behind. The Col, a 12.3 km, category one climb has an average grade of 6.4 percent and is almost 4,900 feet.
The race organizers ASO, have ordered that the teams work without radios, and according to Phil Liggett on Versus, Johan Bruyneel has circulated a petition asking that the teams are allowed to use radios for the rest of the tour, (two days off radio are planned.)
None of the French teams have signed the petition.
Pic: Egoi Martinez who is in the lead for the Polka Dot jersey after the Col D'Aspin. Source, Getty Images.
Astana may have four riders in the top 10 overall but the the Kazakh-backed squad is no longer in the lead of the team classification. The team slipped down the rankings to second after stage eight when AG2R La Mondiale finished with three riders in the top 28: Efimkin (4th), Riblon (6th) and the reigning race leader Nocentini (28th).