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Stage 12 – updates all the way to Ax les Thermes

5:19 p.m. – (local time) Felix Cardenas (Kelme) won the 12th stage of the Tour de France, a tough 166.5km mountain stage from Perpignan to Aix les Therme on Friday. It was the first Tour de France victory for 28-year-old Cardenas and the tenth ever for a Colombian rider France's Francois Simon of the Bonjour team holds the overall leader's yellow jersey for the second day. Cardenas came in some 15 seconds ahead of Spaniard Roberto Laiseka and defending Tour champion Lance Armstrong of the U.S. Postal team who left Telekom's Jan Ullrich in the final 2km. At the finishing line Armstrong

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By VeloNews Editorial Staff

5:19 p.m. – (local time) Felix Cardenas (Kelme) won the 12th stage of the Tour de France, a tough 166.5km mountain stage from Perpignan to Aix les Therme on Friday. It was the first Tour de France victory for 28-year-old Cardenas and the tenth ever for a Colombian rider France’s Francois Simon of the Bonjour team holds the overall leader’s yellow jersey for the second day.

Cardenas came in some 15 seconds ahead of Spaniard Roberto Laiseka and defending Tour champion Lance Armstrong of the U.S. Postal team who left Telekom’s Jan Ullrich in the final 2km.

At the finishing line Armstrong was 23seconds ahead of Ullrich and 46sec ahead of Spaniard Joseba Beloki. Italy’s Paolo Bettini lead a long breakaway of 70km and was only caught in the final 9.1km.

4:58 p.m. – (local time) Cardenas wins the stage — Laiseka has managed to elude Armstrong for second and the American takes third.

4:54 p.m. – (local time) Etxebarria could not stay with his teammate.

Armstrong has attacked Ullrich after the two passed Etxebarria.

With 1.5km to go, the American is moving in on Laiseka.

4:56 p.m. – (local time) Roberto Laiseka (Euskaltel-Euskadi)moved up toi join Armstrong and Ullrich.

Laiseka has attacked and moved on. Ullrich didn’t respond and Armstrong is simply shadowing the German.

Cardenas reamins at the front. Laiseka has joined Etxebarria and the two are closing in on Cardenas.

4:54 p.m. – (local time) Armstrong and Ullrich have just passed by Bettini.

4:50 p.m. – (local time) That didn’t last long. The three men at the front stayed together for only a moment.

Etxebarria attacked, Cardenas was able to follow, but the fast-fading Bettini was not.

Then Cardenas countered. Etxebarria could not stay with him. Cardenas is on his own.

But now Armstrong and Ullrich are closing — just 48 seconds back. The two strong men have been joined by Roberto Laiseka (Euskaltel-Euskadi).

4:48 p.m. – (local time) Etxebarria and Cardenas have joined Bettini.

Bartoli and his companions have just been passed by Armstrong and Ullrich are about 1:50 behind and may wel catch the three men at the front.

4:46 p.m. – (local time) Ullrich and Armstrong have moved off the front of the main group. Cofidis’s Kivilev tried to stay with them but he faltered and fell back.

4:41 p.m. – (local time) Cardenas has caught back on to Etxebarria.

Bettini is about 1:05 ahead.

News is good from the hospital. Bram De Groot has suffered no serious injuries in the accident coming off of the day’s fist climb. He went over the edge of the road, but had the good fortune to be wearing a helmet. Both he and Sergei Ivanov, however, were forced to withdraw from the Tour after that accident.

4:38 p.m. – (local time) Bettini is now on the final climb. Etxebarria trails him by 1:10 and Cardenas is another 10 seconds back.

4:35 p.m. – (local time) Bettini is making up a great deal of time on the way down the back side of the Col di Chioula. He is making a fearless descent and expanding his lead over his much more cautious pursuers.

4:29 p.m. – (local time) Etxebarria and Cardenas crossed 46 seconds behind Bettini. Three riders — Sébastien Demarbaix (Ag2R-Prevoyance), Michele Bartoli (Mapei) and Jörg Jaksche (ONCE) were another 2:02 behind and the peloton crossed at 3:50 behind Bettini.

They are all now on the long descent toward the final climb, the Cat. climb to Aix les Thermes.

4:25 p.m. – (local time) Bettini has crested the Col du Chioula, still by himself.

4:22 p.m. – (local time) Bettini is approaching the top of the Col du Chioula. His advantage is now down to 1:05 over his two pursuers.

4:16 p.m. – (local time) Bettini is on the 5km, 3.5-percent Cat. 3 Col du Chioula.

If you haven’t already, take the opportunity to check out the stage map and profile of today’s 166.5 ride to Ax-les-Thermes.

4:15 p.m. – (local time) Bettini is still about 1:20 up on Etxebarria and Cardenas. The three are on the easy approach to the next climb Cat. 3 Col du Chioula.

4:09 p.m. – (local time) O’Grady has been absorbed by the field.

Etxebarria and Cardenas have crossed the top of the Category 3 Col des 7 Freres about 1:26 behind Bettini.

The field is another 2:00 behind.

Coming up next, the Cat. 3 Col du Chioula, then a long descent and then the Cat. 1 climb to the finish at Aix les Thermes.

4:06 p.m. – (local time) Etxebarria and Cardenas are nipping away at Bettini’s advantage. They are now 1:20 behind the Mapei rider.

3:59 p.m. – (local time) Bettini is 1:31 ahead of Etxebarria and Cardenas, who have now shed O’Grady as they begin the climb up the Category 3 Col des 7 Freres.

O’Grady now leads Zabel in the sprint competition 140 points to 127.

3:57 p.m. – (local time) Bettini has crossed through the sprint at Belcaire.

O’Grady takes the second spot 1:30 behind as he passed through with Etxebarria and Cardenas.

The peloton is another 1:45 behind.

3:51 p.m. – (local time) Bettini remains off the front, followed by O’Grady, Etxebarria and Cardenas at 1:55. O’Grady is eyeing the day’s next sprint at Belcaire (km 129.5km).

3:41 p.m. – (local time) The Julich group has been caught, but Bettini continues to lead. O’Grady, Etxebarria and Cardenas are at 2:35 and the main field is at 3:55.

3:39 p.m. – (local time) Bettini is 2:43 ahead of his three closest pursuers.

The Julich group, which also includes Alexandre Vinokourov (Telekom), Carlos Sastre (ONCE), Patrice Halgand (Jean Delatour) and Javier Pascual Llorente (Kelme), is another 1:30 back and looks like it will be reabsorbed.

3:34 p.m. – (local time) Bettini is still off on his own, about 2:30 ahead of O’Grady, Etxebarria and Cardenas.

3:30 p.m. – (local time) That difference was a little different than we thought.

O’Grady crested the climb 2:43 behind Bettini and was almost immediately joined by Etxebarria and Cardenas.

3:28 p.m. – (local time) Paolo Bettini (Mapei) has crossed over the top of the Col de Coudons.

O’Grady is about 90 seconds behind the Mapei rider. Another 90 seconds back, are Etxebarria and Cardenas.

3:21 p.m. – (local time) Bettini is now about 3:30 ahead of the main field. O’Grady is 90 seconds behind him.

Etxebarria has been joined by Felix Rafael Cardenas (Kelme). They are coming up on O’Grady.

The Julich group of six are about 1:00 ahead of the main field.

3:16 p.m. – (local time) Bettini continues to lead, with O’Grady in pursuit.

Two minutes behind O’Grady, Etxebarria has broken away from a group of seven riders, which includes Julich.

Behind them, the peloton is another 40 seconds back.

3:12 p.m. – (local time) Bobby Julich is charging off of the main field. He is trying to join up with the Etxebarria group.

If you haven’t already, take the opportunity to check out the stage map and profile of today’s 166.5 ride to Ax-les-Thermes.

3:12 p.m. – (local time) José Vicente Garcia Acosta has been joined by Javier Pascual Llorente (Kelme).

David Etxebarria (Euskaltel-Euskadi) is leading a good group chasing off of the front of the main group.

3:08 p.m. – (local time) Bettini is moving well ahead of O’Grady.

Bettini has an advantage of 3:42 over the main field. O’Grady is 25 seconds behind him and José Vicente Garcia Acosta is another 2:30 back.

3:05p.m. – (local time) The two leaders — now with an advantage of 3:22 — are on the climb.

Bettini is scooting ahead of O’Grady. He trails the Italian now by about 10 seconds.

3:02p.m. – (local time) The two leaders — Stuart O’Grady (Credit Agricole) and Paolo Bettini (Mapei) — have an advantage of 3:00.

They are now passing through the town Quillan and the feedzone at km100.

The climb up the Cat. 2 Col des Coudons begins right after that.

2:58 p.m. – (local time) We still have no news on the conditions of the two riders involved in the crash on the descent from the Col de Jau.

We do know that both Sergei Ivanov and Bram De Groot were transported to the hospital — De Groot by helicopter.

2:55 p.m. – (local time) Bettini and O’Grady have a lead of 2:40. José Vicente Garcia Acosta is 2:20 behind them, attempting to bridge up to them.

2:51 p.m. – (local time) The two leaders have an advantage of 2:35 — but iBanesto.com’s José Vicente Garcia Acosta is working to join them.

Bram De Groot is now being transported to the hospital, too. We still have no details about the crash other than that both riders have withdrawn and are on their way to the hospital.

2:48 p.m. – (local time) O’Grady and Bettini now have a 2:00 advantage.

They don’t pose a serious GC threat, but as we said, O’Grady is working to keep his green jersey. He leads Telekom’s Erik Zabel in that race by nine points — 136 to 127.

2:44 p.m. – (local time) O’Grady looks to be aiming for the day’s next sprint at Belcaire.

News from race radio that the crash involved Sergei Ivanov and Rabobank’s De Groot. Ivanov has been taken to the hospital and De Groot is being treated at the scene.

2:40 p.m. – (local time) Stuart O’Grady and Paolo Bettini are off the front on the descent.

The main peloton is breaking up into several groups on this long narrow twisting descent.

2:37 p.m. – (local time) Race radio has reported a crash at the back of the field on the descent.

We have no details, however, at this point.

2:29 p.m. – (local time) This descent is not one often used at the Tour. John Wilcockson — VeloNews’s walking Tour de France encyclopedia — says that this descent has been used only twice in the last 30 years – in 1971 and 1993.

2:26 p.m. – (local time) The riders are on a long descent to Axat. The Posties have reeled the escapees back into the main group.

By the way, John Wilcockson reports that the wind is still strong, but the course takes a major turn at the bottom of the descent and that will then become a tailwind.

2:23 p.m. – (local time) Laurent Roux, the man who moved into the polka-dot jersey the other day on the way to L’Alpe d’Huez — has won the KOM points on the top of the Col de Jau.

The 13 leaders have crested the climb 23 seconds ahead of the Postal-led main group.

2:17 p.m. – (local time) As the leaders approach the summit of the Col de Jau, Kelme’s Botero and Carlos Sastre (ONCE) have joined as has Vinokourov.

David Etxebarria (Euskaltel-Euskadi) has also joined up.

2:14 p.m. – (local time) Telekom’s Alexandre Vinokourov is trying to bridge to the 8 leaders.

The leaders have a 21 second advantage over the Postal-led field.

2:08 p.m. – (local time) The 14 men in the lead group are now eight men. Five seconds off the front. The Postal team is chasing.

Kurt Van De Wouwer (Lotto), Paolo Bettini (Mapei), Laurent Roux (Jean Delatour) , Thomas Brozyna (iBanesto.com), Daniel Atienza (Cofidis), Stuart O’Grady (Crédit Agricole, ), Patrice Halgand (Jean Delatour) David Etxebarria (Euskaltel-Euskadi)

Credit Agricole’s Jonathan Vaughters has been dropped by the main group.

2:03 p.m. – (local time) His problems must have been more serious than we thought.

Festina’s Christophe Moreau — the man who finish fourth in the Tour last year — has pulled out of the race. We’ll try to get more information as soon as we can.

2:01 p.m. – (local time) The fourteen leaders have an advantage of 11 seconds. They are 8km from the summit of the Col de Jau.

1:58 p.m. – (local time) Rabobank’s Michael Boogerd has joined the lead group.

The pace is high and Festina’s Christophe Moreau has been dropped by the main field.

1:55 p.m. – (local time) Several riders have joined the four leaders.

We now have a break of 13 riders off the front. They have an advantage of 17 seconds.

1:49 p.m. – (local time) Mario Aerts (Lotto), Stéphane Goubert (Jean Delatour) Nico Mattan and David Moncoutié from Cofidis have an advantage of 15 seconds over the main field.

1:46 p.m. – (local time) All is back together.

We are moving on to the lower slopes of the Category 1 Col de Jau.

1:43 p.m. – (local time) Bergès has been dropped by his companions.

Behind them, the peloton is picking up the pace and will probably absorb the other three very soon.

1:41 p.m. – (local time) Jon Odriozola (iBanesto.com) and Gilles Bouvard (Jean Delatour) and now Daniel Atienza (Cofidis) have joined Bergès. The four men at the front have an advantage of 20 seconds.

1:38 p.m. – (local time) Jon Odriozola (iBanesto.com) and Gilles Bouvard (Jean Delatour) are trying to bridge up to Bergès. His lead is at 15 seconds.

1:35 p.m. – (local time) Stéphane Bergès (Ag2R-Prevoyance) is trying his luck off the front. He has a small 7-second lead.

1:30 p.m. – (local time) Baguet has been caught. The peloton is together and now at the 46km mark.

1:27 p.m. – (local time)

Well, we didn’t see a sprint between Zabel and O’Grady on this one afterall.

The winners of the intermediate sprint at Prades were Lotto’s Serge Baguet; Alexandre Bocharov (Ag2R-Prevoyance); Didier Rous (Bonjour).

Baguet continued on up the road on his own. We have no time check, yet.

1:23 p.m. – (local time) The nine riders have been caught.

1:21 p.m. – (local time) Alexandre Bocharov (Ag2R-Prevoyance), Didier Rous (Bonjour), Patrice Halgand (Jean Delatour) and Steffen Wesemann (Telekom) have joined the five up front. The new group of nine now has an advantage of seven seconds.

1:18 p.m. – (local time) The three in the front have been joined by Nicholas Jalabert and Jens Voight. The five leaders now have an advantage of 15 seconds.

1:16 p.m. – (local time) Cuesta has been joined by Danish rider Jacob Piil (CSC-Tiscali) and Ludovic Auger (Bigmat Auber 93). The three now have a lead of 8 seconds.

1:12 p.m. – (local time) Now we’re steppin’ a bit livelier. At the 34km mark, Inigo Cuesta (Cofidis)has gone off the front.

1:08 p.m. – (local time) Correction. That first hour was actually slower than we thought. The average speed was 28.4kph. At kilometer 30, the day’s first foray off the front by two riders — Nicolas Vogondy (Française Des Jeux) and Rik Verbrugghe (Lotto). They were quickly caught.

1:05 p.m. – (local time) The average speed for the first hour today was just around 30kph. It’s a slow start, but everyone sees what’s ahead on the road. There’s a lot of climbing today, starting with a long haul up the slopes of the Category 1 Col de Jau.

12:58 p.m. – (local time) At kilometer 26 we are passing through Bouleternere — the pack is still together as they cross over a beautiful ancient single-lane stone bridge.

The wind is still quiet strong, which has contributed to the remarkably slow pace this afternoon.

But remember, coming up we will see a sprint at the 40.5km mark. Stuart O’Grady and Erik Zabel will be fighting out sprints all the way to Paris this year and they should be expected to light things up a bit on this first one today.

12:52 p.m. – (local time) Ahhhh… race radio is beginning to sound like an American A.M. station — the same thing over and over and over…

“The peloton is still together.”

“The peloton is still together.”

“The peloton is still together.”

Oh well, at least it’s not Mariah Carey.

12:41 p.m. – (local time) We are nearing the 18km mark and the town of Corbere les Cababes. There is still no real aggression being shown by anyone in the field.

Several riders in the field have stopped for a pee. Yup, this might be a slow start, but the climbing begins after the intermediate sprint.

The two guests in the official VeloNews car – esteemed journalists from the Sunday Times of London and the Australian — are drifting off to sleep.

One of our guests – David Walsh of the Times reminds us of a quote from the 1981 Tour of Ireland. Billy Kerr who was leading the race at the time was asked what his strategy might be if there were attacks. He said he would not feel compelled to chase everything that comes up. “If bits of paper go blowing up the road, don’t expect me to chase them.”

12:31 p.m. – (local time) We are at km 13 and still the pack is together, no doubt working out the kinks after a day off.

Just in case you need to, here are the current standings after Stage 11’s time trial.

12:24 p.m. – (local time) We are at the 11km mark and the field is still together. The crowds are huge lining the course. The day’s first sprint comes at 40.5km — Stuart O’Grady is the man in the green points jersey today.

Vaughters , by the way, said he really enjoyed the rest day yesterday. “If every day were like that , I’d be leading the Tour de France.

We also spoke Tyler Hamilton this morning and he says he is feeling a lot better today and hopes to riding normally again as we head into the Pyrenees.

12:17 p.m. – (local time) We are at the 8km mark and the field is still together.

We spoke with Jonathan Vaughters Jonathan Vaughters this morning who said that he and his teammates are obviously looking for a stage win here in the Pyrenees. “Over the next three days, it’s just a question of getting into the right break.”

12:13 p.m. – (local time) We’ve passed the six-kilometer point and all is still together. The wind is still brisk.

If you haven’t already, take the opportunity to check out the stage map and profile of today’s 166.5 ride to Ax-les-Thermes.

12:02 p.m. – (local time) The riders have passed through the flying start area. There were 166 riders signed in this morning, so we had no withdrawals on the rest day, though quite a few the other day on the way to L’Alpe d’Huez.

The winds are picking up and should make this first part of the day difficult.

11:42 a.m. – (local time) Good morning. It’s a bright and beautiful day in Perpignan. The sun is shining and temperatures are in the mid- to high-60s. The wind, however, is picking up. A strong breeze is blowing from the west, which is precisely where the road to Ax les Thermes is heading. So we could be seeing riders facing a headwind as they head to the Pyrenees.

Today’s stage starts here at Palais des Congrès in Perpignan. After a brief neutral zone, we can expect riders to pass through the official flying start at about 12:03 p.m.

Ahead, riders are facing a mix of climbs, starting with the Cat.1 Col du Jau at 68km. They will then cross over the Cat. 2 Col de Coudons, the Cat 3. Col des 7 Freres (129.5km), then the Col du Chiola at km 146. Cat 2 and 3 climbs might seem easier than the the succession of hors categorie climbs the other day, but thos last three climbs come in rapid succession, looking more like one long climb on the profile. Then after a quick descent we will see an uphill finish at the Cat. 1 climb to Ax les Thermes.

This morning on the sign in podium, race organizers presented Lance Armstrong with a miniature reproduction of the Casartelli memorial – a site the race will be passing tomorrow.