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STAGE 15: Vaison-la-Romaine to Le Deux-Alpes, 226.5km.

PRELIMINARY STAGE RESULTS: 1. Santiago Botero (Col), KEL, 226.5 km in 5:55:16. (38.253 kph) 2. Mario Aerts (Bel), LOT, at  01:51. 3. Axel Merckx (Bel), DFF, at 02:30. 4. Emmanuel Magnien (Fra), BJR, at 04:22. 5. Sandy Casar (Fra), FDJ, at 04:28. 6. Vicente Garcia-Acosta (Sp), BAN, at 05:15. 7. Raimondas Rumsas (Lit), LAM, at 06:41. 8. Joseba Beloki (Sp), ONE, at 06:41. 9. Lance Armstrong (USA), USP, at 06:41. 10. Francisco Mancebo (Sp), BAN, at 06:46. 11. Roberto Heras (Sp), USP, at 06:47. 12. Ivan Basso (Ita), FAS, at

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PRELIMINARY STAGE RESULTS:

1. Santiago Botero (Col), KEL, 226.5 km in 5:55:16.
 (38.253 kph)
 2. Mario Aerts (Bel), LOT, at  01:51.
 3. Axel Merckx (Bel), DFF, at 02:30.
 4. Emmanuel Magnien (Fra), BJR, at 04:22.
 5. Sandy Casar (Fra), FDJ, at 04:28.
 6. Vicente Garcia-Acosta (Sp), BAN, at 05:15.
 7. Raimondas Rumsas (Lit), LAM, at 06:41.
 8. Joseba Beloki (Sp), ONE, at 06:41.
 9. Lance Armstrong (USA), USP, at 06:41.
 10. Francisco Mancebo (Sp), BAN, at 06:46.
 11. Roberto Heras (Sp), USP, at 06:47.
 12. Ivan Basso (Ita), FAS, at 06:47.
 13. Levy Leipheimer (USA), RAB, at 06:47.
 14. Jose Azevedo (Por), ONE, at 06:55.
 15. Igor Gonzalez Galdeano (Sp), ONE, at 06:55.
 16. Carlos Sastre (Sp), CST, at 06:55.
 17. Unai Osa (Sp), BAN, at 07:01.
 18. David Moncoutie (Fra), COF, at 07:03.
 19. Stephane Goubert (Fra), DEL, at 07:03.
 20. Massimiliano Lelli (Ita), COF, at 07:03.
 21. Dariusz Baranowski (Pol), BAN, at 07:21.
 22. Tyler Hamilton (USA), CST, at 07:21.
 23. Michael Boogerd (Nl), RAB, at 07:23.
 24. David Etxebarria (Sp), EUS, at 07:23.
 25. Roberto Laiseka (Sp), EUS, at 07:31.
 26. Dario Frigo (Ita), TAC, at 07:36.
 27. Jose Luis Rubiera (Sp), USP, at 07:43.
 28. Ivan Gotti (Ita), ALS, at 07:47.
 29. Laurent Brochard (Fra), DEL, at 07:56.
 30. Laurent Lefevre (Fra), DEL, at 07:56.
 31. Nicolas Vogondy (Fra), FDJ, at 08:01.
 32. Jean-Cyril Robin (Fra), FDJ, at 08:07.
 33. Martin Hvastija (Slo), ALS, at 08:07.
 34. Jose Enrique Gutierrez (Sp), KEL, at 08:07.
 35. Oscar Sevilla (Sp), KEL, at 08:07.
 OVERALL AFTER 15 STAGES1. Lance Armstrong (USA), USP, 62:53:36.
 2. Joseba Beloki (Sp), ONE, at ˆ 04:21.
 3. Raimondas Rumsas (Lit), LAM, at 06:39.
 4. Igor Gonzalez Galdeano (Sp), ONE, at 08:50.
 5. Francisco Mancebo (Sp), BAN, at 10:54.
 6. Jose Azevedo (Por), ONE, at 11:11.
 7. Santiago Botero (Col), KEL, at 11:31.
 8. Roberto Heras (Sp), USP, at 11:41.
 9. Levy Leipheimer (USA), RAB, at 13:00.
 10. Ivan Basso (Ita), FAS, at 14:02.
 11. Oscar Sevilla (Sp), KEL, at 14:10.
 12. David Moncoutie (Fra), COF, at 15:06.
 

4:31 p.m.Leipheimer finishes just behind the yellow jersey group and far enough ahead of Sevilla to take over 8th place.

4:29 p.m. Beloki Attacks in the closing kilometer.

Not. Armstrong and Rumsas jump right on him.

Rumsas charges past Beloki at the line.

4:24 p.m. Mario Aerts finishes in second, 1:51 behind and Merckx takes third at 2:11

4:22 p.m. Botero wins. The yellow jersey group is about five minutes back.

ONCE is still setting the pace, but they have been joined by Rabobank’s Michael Boogered and Levi Leipheimer.

4:21 p.m. Botero is cruising to his second stage win of this Tour.

4:16 p.m. Botero continues to lead and behind him, Mario Aerts has passed Merckx.

4:13 p.m. Botero is closing in on the finish and will clearly win the stage — his second of this Tour.

ONCE is setting pace on the yellow-jersey group. Armstrong is hanging in the group and keeping an eye on the competition.

4:12 p.m. Botero is now 4km from the finish and continues his hard pace.

Merckx is almost one-minute back

4:10 p.m. Botero is flying and is maintaining a healthy 42-second gap on the hard-chasing Merckx. he has 4.5km to go.

4:05 p.m. The peloton is still 7:40 behind the now-fractured lead group.

Merckx is chasing hard behind Botero.

4:03 p.m. The lead group is beginning to come apart. Axel Merckx has attacked, but the move was quickly countered by Santiago Botero. He has a good gap of about 100 meters. Merckx is working hard to catch on. Mario Aerts is behing Merckx by about 10 seconds.

3:58 p.m. Miguel Martinez is attacking off of the front of the peloton. No one is really chasing.

3:56 p.m. ONCE is setting pace at the front of the peloton now. The ONCEs have shed all of the Postal team except for Armstrong and Floyd Landis.

3:53 p.m. We are now seeing a repeat of stages past. There is a lead group ahead. And the peloton is beginning to fracture as the climb begins.

The Postal team is simply stepping up the pace at the front.

3:50 p.m. The leaders are now on the lower slopes of the final climb.

There’s a news update from Germany.Jan Ullrich has received a six-month suspension for doping from the German Cycling Federation.

The 1997 Tour winner tested positive for amphetamines during an out-of-competion test during his recovery from knee surgery. Word is that the Telekom rider had actually accepted a tab of Ecstacy at a night club, the night before the test.

3:42 p.m. With 15km to go, the leaders are within 3.5km of the day’s last climb, the Cat. 1 haul to Le Deux-Alpes.

Their lead is now 9:33.

3:42 p.m. The leaders are now 9:25 ahead of the main field.

There has been a crash in the field, though there are no reports of serious injuries.

3:40 p.m. The seven leaders are passing under the 20km to go banner. They still have an 8:49 lead over the peloton.

Behind ONCE’s Azevedo is trying to escape from the field.

3:31 p.m. The main field crossed the Col d’Ornon 8:40 behind the lead group of seven.

3:31 p.m. A reminder to American viewers. If you have Outdoor Life, their live coverage is just kicking in. Hurry up all of you Bill Patrick fans! You might miss something the man has to say.

3:28 p.m.Merckx is leading the charge down the slopes of the Col d’Ornon, attacking his companions, perhaps hoping to shed them before the day’s last climb.

3:23 p.m. The leaders are now on the descent of the Col d’Ornon. Merckx took the top spot on the climb, which he has done on the earlier climbs as well — he has moved up the climber’s points rankings from 29th to fourth, though his 85 points still poses no immediate threat to Jalabert’s grip on the jersey with the 167 points he began the day with.

3:18 p.m.Two kilometers from the summit of the Col d’Ornon, the seven leaders are still 9:20 ahead of the field.

3:06 p.m. The leaders are 6km from the summit of the Col d’Ornon. The seven leaders are still holding on to a 10:22 lead.

The seven leaders are Santiago Botero (Col) Kelme-Costa Blanca
Axel Merckx (B) Domo-Farm Frites
Sandy Casar (F) FDJeux.com
Emmanuel Magnien (F) Bonjour
José Vicente Garcia Acosta (Sp) iBanesto.com
Mario Aerts (B) Lotto-Adecco
Martin Hvastija (Slo) Alessio

They have been off the front since Botero and Aerts attacked at km 61 on the first climb of the day, the Cat. 3 Col de Prémol.3:01 p.m. The leaders are now on the slopes of the Col d’Ornon. This Cat. 2 climb (the “penultimate climb of the day” in VeloNews-speak) averages 4.8km for 9.8km.

2:52 p.m. Well that grand pursuit by the peloton was short-lived.

The leaders are now at km 180 and have re-upped their lead to 10:15.

2:36 p.m. At km 171km the time gap is back up to 9:20.

John Wilcockson reports that riders on the two final climbs will be aided by a nice tailwind that is blowing up the valley. Temperatures are still in the 80s and the threat of thunderstorms is diminishing.

By the way, the last eight km on the day’s final climb to Les Deu-Alpes has 10 switchbacks and, like L’Alpe dHuez, they are numbered, just to remind riders how much more they have ahead.

It is still warm and the

2:32 p.m. The pursuers are getting a bit more serious. The gap has come down by more than a minute over the last 10km. The seven leaders have an advantage of 8:58 now. They are at 166km with 60km and one Cat. 2 and a Cat. 1 climb ahead of them.

2:26 p.m. Sorry for the spotty reports today. We are having some difficulty keeping in touch with our crew on the road.

Fortunately, the situation is fairly constant. The seven leaders are holding on to a solid lead of more than 10 minutes.

The are just now cresting the day’s fifth climb, the Cat. 3 Côte de Ponsonas, 2.3km of 6.4-percent grade.

2:11 p.m. The leaders’ advantage is finally coming down a bit.

At km 154, the last time check we got gave them a lead of 10:27.

1:59 p.m. The leaders are now 10:55 ahead of the field, having covered 147 kilometers and facing another 79km. The peloton is not really chasing, despite the fact that Botero is now moving into the range of becoming a challenger for a spot on the podium again, almost erasing all of that time he lost on the Ventoux.

1:52 p.m. The leaders are well past the Col du Banchet and still have three more rated climbs ahead of them: The Cat. 3 Côte de Ponsonas (160km), the Cat. 2 Col d’Ornon (190km) and finally, the Cat. 1 climb to Les Deux-Alpes (from 215km to 226.5km).

The leaders are at km 142 and have an advantage of 10:50, according to the last official time check.

Again, those riders in the break are:

Santiago Botero (Col) Kelme-Costa Blanca
Axel Merckx (B) Domo-Farm Frites
Sandy Casar (F) FDJeux.com
Emmanuel Magnien (F) Bonjour
José Vicente Garcia Acosta (Sp) iBanesto.com
Mario Aerts (B) Lotto-Adecco
Martin Hvastija (Slo) Alessio

1:46 p.m. The leaders are at 136km and approaching the top of the little (2.6km/6.6-percent) Cat.3 Col du Banchet. They are now 9:45 ahead of the main field.

1:41 p.m.As the main field crested the Col de la Croix-Haute, the latest time check gives the leaders an advantage of 9:40.

Postal remains at the front of the field.

1:33 p.m. The leaders are up and over the Col de la Croix-Haute. This climb marks the end of the wide roads the couse is on and turns to narrower back roads for a while.

The leaders are 9:00 ahead of the field.

1:28 p.m.The leaders are now at km 120, on their way up the next climb, the Cat. 3 Col de la Croix-Haute, three kilometers of 4-percent grade.

Their lead is now 8:40

1:12 p.m.The seven leaders are on the final kilometer of the climb up the Col de Grimone.

Just to review, the seven men in the lead are:

Santiago Botero (Col) Kelme-Costa Blanca
Axel Merckx (B) Domo-Farm Frites
Sandy Casar (F) FDJeux.com
Emmanuel Magnien (F) Bonjour
José Vicente Garcia Acosta (Sp) iBanesto.com
Mario Aerts (B) Lotto-Adecco
Martin Hvastija (Slo) Alessio

Of the group. Botero is best-placed at 18th, 18:36 out of first. Of course, he would be higher up had he not lost a full 15 minutes on Mont Ventoux, but then he wouldn’t have been allowed to escape in today’s break.

1:06 p.m.The leaders are now five km from the summit of the climb and they have upped their lead to 8:35.

Ahead we still have some serious climbing to do: Col de la Croix-Haute (123.5km), Col du Banchet (136.5km) and Côte de Ponsonas (160km). then comes the Cat. 2 Col d’Ornon (190km) and finally, the Cat. 1 climb to Les Deux-Alpes (from 215km to 226.5km).

Today’s weather is living up to the forecast: it is a hot sunny day with temperatures in the 80s on the plains, and high 60s in the Alps. There remains a strong chance of a thunderstorm in the late afternoon. Variable winds, strong at times.

1:02 p.m. The seven men in the lead are now on the slopes of the day’s second ranked climb, the Cat. 2 Col de Grimone, an 11.4km climb that averages 4.9 percent.

The are 10km from the top and have a lead now approaching 8:00.

12:52 p.m. The seven leaders are at the 107km mark and enjoy an advantage of 7:00. The Postal team is setting tempo at the front of the main field.

12:38 p.m. The leaders are now at km 93 and have an advantage of 5:25. Of the men in the break, of course, Botero is the biggest threat. He is in 18th place overall at 18:36.

Not that there is reason for concern yet, but history has a habit of repeating itself at the Tour, and two stages through this part of the Alps, in 1987 and 1971, proved that innocent-looking stages can sometimes produce shocking results.

In 1987, following a summit finish on Mont Ventoux — just like this year — the Tour was being led by Frenchman Jean-François Bernard. The next stage was similar to the one on offer this Tuesday: multiple climbs and a ski-resort finish (Villard de Lans in ’87). What happened on that stage decided the Tour. An attack was made through the feed zone by the Renault team of French rider Charly Mottet. Bernard missed it, but his chief rivals, Irishman Stephen Roche and Spaniard Pedro Delgado, did not. They ended the stage in a two-man break, with Roche (the eventual overall winner) taking the yellow jersey from Bernard.

In 1971, the race leader who lost the jersey on a similar stage was none other than Eddy Merckx. All of Merckx’s challengers were able to follow a break made by the Portuguese rider Joaquim Agostinho on the first hill, and one of them, Luis Ocaña, went on to the win stage at the ski resort of Orcières-Merlette, almost nine minutes ahead of Merckx.

12:28 p.m. The seven men in the lead are now 4:00 ahead of the field at the 87km mark.

Behind him, Christophe Moreau, who has had such great performances at the Tour has withdrawn from the race.

12:18 p.m. Good morning to our U.S. audience and welcome to VeloNews.com’s coverage of Stage 15 of the Tour de France, a 226.5km haul from Vaison-la-Romaine to Le Deux-Alpes.

If you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out today’scourse details including the roller-coaster-like course profile.

We have been racing for two hours now. The situation on the road is that a group of seven riders is at the 85km mark with a lead of 2:50.

The riders in break are:Santiago Botero (Col) Kelme-Costa Blanca
Axel Merckx (B) Domo-Farm Frites
Sandy Casar (F) FDJeux.com
Emmanuel Magnien (F) Bonjour
José Vicente Garcia Acosta (Sp) iBanesto.com
Mario Aerts (B) Lotto-Adecco
Martin Hvastija (Slo) Alessio