Stage 8: Live updates throughout the stage

5:35p.m. (local time) The main field has finished around 35 minutes behind the leaders. That is outside the 10-percent time limit, but with 160 riders outside of that limit the Tour can invoke Article 22 of its rule book which states that if the percentage of riders to be eliminated is more than 20 percent of the number of riders who have started the stage, the time limit could be extended by agreement of race officials and organizers of the Tour. 5:35p.m. (local time) The main field has finished around 35 minutes behind the leaders. That is outside the 10-percent time 5:23p.m. (local

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By VeloNews Editorial Staff

5:35p.m. (local time)

The main field has finished around 35 minutes behind the leaders.

That is outside the 10-percent time limit, but with 160 riders outside of that limit the Tour can invoke Article 22 of its rule book which states that if the percentage of riders to be eliminated is more than 20 percent of the number of riders who have started the stage, the time limit could be extended by agreement of race officials and organizers of the Tour.

5:35p.m. (local time) The main field has finished around 35 minutes behind the leaders.

That is outside the 10-percent time 5:23p.m. (local time)

Here are the very preliminary top four in the overall standings:

1. Stuart O’Grady, 34:57:18; 2. Francois Simon, at 04:32; 3. Bram De Groot, at 21:16; 4. Andrei Kivilev, at 22:07.

5:22p.m. (local time) Well, we do know who the top 14 finishers are.

Here are the results of today’s stage.

1.DEKKER Erik (NED) RABin 4:59:18; 2.GONZALEZ Aitor (ESP) KEL at 00:00; 3.KNAVEN Servais (NED) DFF at 00:00; 4.WAUTERS Marc (BELRAB at 00:04; 5.O’GRADY Stuart (AUS) C.A at 02:32; 6.TEUTENBERG Sven (GER) FES at 02:32; 7.DURAND Jacky (FRA) FDJ at 02:32; 8.DE GROOT Bram (NED) RAB at 02:32; 9.DIERCKXSENS Ludo (BEL) LAM at 02:32; 10.LODA Nicola (ITA) FAS at 02:32; 11.TURPIN Ludovic (FRA) A2R at 02:32; 12.SIMON François (FRA) BJR at 02:36; 13.KIVILEV Andrei (KAZ) COF at 02:40; 14.CHANTEUR Pascal (FRA) FES at 09:23;

5:09p.m. (local time)

tick, tick, tick, tick, tick…

4:56p.m. (local time) And now the big question is just how long will it take before the main field finishes this stage. We could be here for another half-an-hour before the peloton arrives.

If so, this may well be a record-setting escape in more ways than one.

The leaders left the field more than 210 kilometers ago and for much of that time have held an incredible 30-minute advantage over the rest of the field.

Stay tuned.

4:52p.m. (local time) It’s Dekker. Erik Dekker of the Rabobank team has won the 222.5km stage to Pontarlier.

Stuart O’Grady finishes knowing that he now has the yellow jersey and is leading the race for the green sprinter’s jersey, too.

4:51p.m. (local time) With one km to go, Gonzales attacks.

4:48p.m. (local time) Knaven, Wauters, Dekker and Gonzales. The four have less than three kilometers to go.

4:46p.m. (local time) There are now four leaders and they have less than four kilometers to go.

The four are fighting it out between them, with several attacks going on.

4:42p.m. (local time) With 7km to go Knaven and Dekker still have a 10-second advantage on Wauters and Gonzales. The rest of the original break — with the exception of Chanteur — is another 45 seconds back.

4:35p.m. (local time) Knaven and Dekker have crossed the final intermediate sprint of the day.

With 13km to go the two still have a 10-second advantage on Wauters and Gonzales. The rest of the original break — with the exception of Chanteur — is another 17 seconds back.

By the way, we were a bit late in getting Freddie Rodriguez’s Tour diary up yesterday so if you want to check that out. click here to read Fred’s diary from yesterday.

4:25 p.m. (local time) The two leaders – Dekker and Knaven have a lead of 24 seconds and now Wauters and González are trying to join them.

We are now less than 20km from the finish.

Here is another look at the relative GC positions of the 14 riders in that original break:

3. O’GRADY Stuart (Aus), Crédit Agricole, at 04:03;31. SIMON François (F), Bonjour, at 08:27;76. DE GROOT Bram (Nl), Rabobank, at 25:15;77. KIVILEV Andrei (Kz), Cofidis, at 25:58;94. TEUTENBERG Sven (G), Festina, at 31:16;102. DIERCKXSENS Ludo (B), Lampre-Daikin, at 33:48;108. TURPIN Ludovic (F), Ag2R-Prevoyance, at 34:38;112. WAUTERS Marc (B), Rabobank, at 36:45;113. CHANTEUR Pascal (F), Festina, at 36:45;121. GONZALEZ Aitor (Sp), Kelme, at 38:41;122. LODA Nicola (I), Fassa Bortolo, at 38:46;136. KNAVEN Servais (Nl), Domo-Farm Frites, at 44:47;161. DEKKER Erik (Nl), Rabobank, at 59:08;171. DURAND Jacky (F), La Française Des Jeux, at 1:04:34.

4:25 p.m. (local time) The leaders – with the exception of Chanteur – have regrouped, but the attacks are continuing. These men have been on this break for nearly 200km and are now thinking of a stage win.

No matter who wins today, Stuart O’Grady will soon be back in the yellow jersey and will also be leading the sprint competition.

Erik Dekker and Servais Knaven have jumped ahead and now have 10 second advantage on the other 11.

The main field is still about 32 minutes back.

4:20 p.m. (local time) Here’s the situation with 26km to go:

Six riders Bram De Groot (Rabobank) Jacky Durand (Française Des Jeux) and Ludovic Turpin (Ag2R-Prevoyance), Aitor González (Kelme), Servais Knaven (Domo-Farm Frites) and Marc Wauters (Rabobank) are about 10 seconds ahead of Nicola Loda (Fassa Bortolo), Ludo Dierckxsens (Lampre), Stuart O’Grady (Crédit Agricole), Sven Teutenberg (Festina), Erik Dekker (Rabobank) François Simon (Bonjour) and Andrei Kivilev (Cofidis). Poor Pascal Chanteur (Festina) has been dropped by the second group and is riding in the rain by himself.

The field is still waaaaaaaaaay back there at 32 minutes and 11 seconds.

4:13 p.m. (local time) Festina’s Pascal Chanteur has been dropped by the seven men chasing the six leaders. It looks as though He’ll be spending the next 33km alone. Even he won’t be caught by the main field, though.

They are still more than 32 minutes back. And we are just 30km from the finish.

4:12 p.m. (local time)

Okay the break from the break is getting bigger. Bram De Groot (Rabobank) Jacky Durand (Française Des Jeux) and Ludovic Turpin (Ag2R-Prevoyance) have joined the leaders.

Their advantage is about 12 seconds.

Let’s take a look at the relative GC positions of the 14 riders in that original break:

3. O’GRADY Stuart (Aus), Crédit Agricole, at 04:03;31. SIMON François (F), Bonjour, at 08:27;76. DE GROOT Bram (Nl), Rabobank, at 25:15;77. KIVILEV Andrei (Kz), Cofidis, at 25:58;94. TEUTENBERG Sven (G), Festina, at 31:16;102. DIERCKXSENS Ludo (B), Lampre-Daikin, at 33:48;108. TURPIN Ludovic (F), Ag2R-Prevoyance, at 34:38;112. WAUTERS Marc (B), Rabobank, at 36:45;113. CHANTEUR Pascal (F), Festina, at 36:45;121. GONZALEZ Aitor (Sp), Kelme, at 38:41;122. LODA Nicola (I), Fassa Bortolo, at 38:46;136. KNAVEN Servais (Nl), Domo-Farm Frites, at 44:47;161. DEKKER Erik (Nl), Rabobank, at 59:08;171. DURAND Jacky (F), La Française Des Jeux, at 1:04:34.

And the field have cut the lead to 32:10.

4:00 p.m. (local time) Aitor González (Kelme) has joined Wauters and Knaven. The three now have an advantage of 10 seconds on the rest of the original breakaway group and the main field… they’re back there about 25 kilometers (no joke).

3:56 p.m. (local time) Wauters is tired of seeing the same 13 faces all day and has moved off of the front of the lead group. Knaven has joined him and the two now have a 9-second advantage over the other 12.

3:51 p.m. (local time) The leaders are 49km from the finish. The gap continues to be reported to be 32:50.

3:45 p.m. (local time) With 54km to go (for the leaders) the lead 14 riders have an advantage of 32:55. That gap, however, has not changed for a while and that may be because of the difficulty of timing the differences between to groups of riders that are now separated by more than 25 kilometers.

3:35 p.m. (local time) The leaders have crested the Category 3. Cote de Saint-Hippolyte in the following order.Turpin (Ag2R); Kivilev (Cofidis); O’Grady (Credit Agricole); Chanteur (Festina) and Simon (Bonjour).

The gap is still around 33 minutes and the 14 seem well on their way to a record setting win. This could turn out to be the largest time gap in recent Tour history.

Just to summarize 14 riders — Nicola Loda (Fassa Bortolo) Marc Wauters (Rabobank) Ludo Dierckxsens (Lampre), Aitor González (Kelme), Stuart O’Grady (Crédit Agricole), Pascal Chanteur (Festina), Bram De Groot (Rabobank), Jacky Durand (Française Des Jeux), Sven Teutenberg (Festina), Erik Dekker (Rabobank) François Simon (Bonjour) Andrei Kivilev (Cofidis), Ludovic Turpin (Ag2R-Prevoyance) and Paris-Roubaix winner Servais Knaven (Domo-Farm Frites) – moved off the front of the field at 10km into today’s 222.5km stage.

Though it appeared to be a largely futile early break, they have since set about building a huge lead – certainly the largest since Jose Luis Viejo’s 22:50 win on stage 11 of the 1976 Tour.

We have heard little from the main peloton – perhaps they have stopped for coffee.

3:31 p.m. (local time) The leaders are on the day’s second climb at kilometer 156. The field is more than 20km back. The gap is now at 32:50.

Obviously the question is not whether they will be caught, but just how far ahead they will be finishing. Normally Tour rules eliminate riders who finish outside of the allowable time gap… but the Tour is obviously ready for one of this unusual turn of events.

Article 22 of the Tour regulations states that if the percentage of riders to be eliminated is more than 20 percent of the number of riders who have started the stage, the time limit could be extended by agreement of race officials and organizers of the Tour.

Of course, the group finishing more than half-an-hour behind the leaders will include about 160 riders, so we can expect that time limit to be extended… otherwise, we’d be facing a pretty silly Tour de France with 14 riders fighting their way up Alpe d’Huez.

3:18 p.m. (local time) Our last time check shows that if the Crédit Agricole is leading the “charge,” it is having little impact. The leaders are at km 155, about 67.5km from the finish and their advantage is now 32:50.

3:12 p.m. (local time) Let’s take a look at the relative GC positions of our 14 race leaders:

3. O’GRADY Stuart (Aus), Crédit Agricole, at 04:03;31. SIMON François (F), Bonjour, at 08:27;76. DE GROOT Bram (Nl), Rabobank, at 25:15;77. KIVILEV Andrei (Kz), Cofidis, at 25:58;94. TEUTENBERG Sven (G), Festina, at 31:16;102. DIERCKXSENS Ludo (B), Lampre-Daikin, at 33:48;108. TURPIN Ludovic (F), Ag2R-Prevoyance, at 34:38;112. WAUTERS Marc (B), Rabobank, at 36:45;113. CHANTEUR Pascal (F), Festina, at 36:45;121. GONZALEZ Aitor (Sp), Kelme, at 38:41;122. LODA Nicola (I), Fassa Bortolo, at 38:46;136. KNAVEN Servais (Nl), Domo-Farm Frites, at 44:47;161. DEKKER Erik (Nl), Rabobank, at 59:08;171. DURAND Jacky (F), La Française Des Jeux, at 1:04:34;

3:02 p.m. (local time)

The leaders now have an advantage of 31:30.

Now the Crédit Agricole boys are getting worried. While they’re happy to see O’Grady take back the yellow jersey. The team has to start thinking about the long term and the threat the break’s best climber – Andrei Kivilev (Cofidis) – poses to the GC positions of their other top riders: Jens Voigt and Bobby Julich.

The team is setting pace at the front.

The riders in the break are Nicola Loda (Fassa Bortolo) Marc Wauters (Rabobank) Ludo Dierckxsens (Lampre) and Aitor González (Kelme), Stuart O’Grady (Crédit Agricole), Pascal Chanteur (Festina), Bram De Groot (Rabobank) Jacky Durand (Française Des Jeux), Sven Teutenberg (Festina), Erik Dekker (Rabobank) François Simon (Bonjour) Andrei Kivilev (Cofidis), Ludovic Turpin (Ag2R-Prevoyance) and Paris-Roubaix winner Servais Knaven (Domo-Farm Frites).

2:48 p.m. (local time) The time gap is now 29:45.

If the average speed remains around 44km, we figure that the official time cut will be… right around 30 minutes.

Sure, we know that a peloton of 160 or so riders won’t get sent home, but our question is a simple one: does this mean Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstrong are now in the laughing group?

2:39 p.m. (local time) Up on the plateau after the first climb, John Wilcockson reports that the rain is continuing, though the wind has died down completely.

We have also seen the first cut in the leaders’ advantage.. they are now just 26:40 ahead. They once had a lead of 27:20.

Bret Mingo correctly named the winner of that fourth stage of the Tour in 1984. It was a Portuguese rider named Ferreira. Bret was good enough to include his address, so his socks will be on their way on Monday. Congrats!

By the way, Fignon went on to that 1984 edition of the Tour.

2:33 p.m. (local time) It’s still raining and still “unseasonably cold” in theis border region between France, Germany and Switzerland.

The peloton has passed through the feed zone… just about 27-and-a-half minutes behind the leaders.

2:26 p.m. (local time) The leaders have crested the day’s first climb — the Category 4. climb up the 444-meter Beaucourt — the mountain points winners are (in order):

Ludo Dierckxsens (Lampre-Daikin);Andrei Kivilev (Cofidis);and Rabobank’s Marc Wauters.

The leaders now have an advantage of 26:30 over the main field.

By the way, according to our review, the largest successful gap on record in the Tour de France was turned in by KAS team rider Jose Luis Viejo in the 1976 Tour.

He broke away for 160km on his own and finished 22:50 up on the field.

2:16 p.m. (local time) The leaders now have an advantage of 24:15.

By the way, John Wilcockson reports that as far as he can remember, the last successful break to finish more than 15 minutes up on the field was in the 1984 Tour de France. A three-man break put Renault’s Vincent Barteau in yellow for 12 days. He lost the jersey to his teammate Laurent Fignon on Alpe d’Huez.

So, rather than looking through the last ten years for a big gap – we’ll give a pair of socks to the first person who e-mails CPElkey@7Dogs.com with the name of the rider who one that stage in the 1984 Tour.

2:10 p.m. (local time) The peloton has just passed the 88km mark – some 22:15 behind the leaders.

While this is obviously the largest gap we’ve seen in this Tour, we are trying to remember any gap in recent Tours de France that have come close to this size – especially involving a break of this many riders.

In fact, if you can recall a break involving more than 8 riders that has built a gap of more than 20 minutes in the last 10 years, drop a note to Cpelkey@7Dogs.com and we’ll make note of it on one of our later updates. We’ll send a pair of VeloNews socks to the first correct respondent – we’ll do our fact checking with John Wilcockson, a walking Tour de France encyclopedia.

2:01 p.m. (local time)

The break has just passed kilometer 102 and the peloton is at kilometer 87. Our last time check gives the leaders a 20-minute advantage.

VeloNews’s John Wilcockson is driving up the first climb of the day – the Category 4. climb up the 444-meter Beaucourt at 111.5km – it’s a rise out of the limestone canyon of the river Doubs.

John says the rain is continuing. “It’s pouring, but there are still lots of people lining the roads… lots of umbrellas, too, at this point.”

1:58 p.m. (local time) So much for that organized chase in the main group. While the Mapei squad have moved to the front of the peloton, the last time check gives the leaders a 20-minute advantage at the 98km mark. Of course, we still have 124km to go.

1:45 p.m. (local time) Reports from the road suggest that as the peloton has hit the 77km mark, the chase is beginning to get organized.

John Wilcockson suggests that there is little motivation for anyone in the main field to chase.

The yellow jersey team of Crédit Agricole’s Jens Voigt are happy with O’Grady in the break.

O’Grady, of course, is a sprinter and will probably not pose much of a threat when the Tour returns to the mountains on Tuesday.

Behind O’Grady, the best climber in the bunch is probably Andrei Kivilev (Cofidis), but he started the day more than 26 minutes out of first.

1:35 p.m. (local time) This is turning into a remarkable break again. The 14 leaders – with five former Tour stage winners between them – are at km 82 and have a lead that is approach 16 minutes.

Of course, we still have 138km of racing to go, but this is a huge gap. In the group, Stuart O’Grady is the overall race leader and Francois Simon moves into second overall, more than eight minutes behind the race leader.

Coming up next, the Category 4. climb up the 444-meter Beaucourt at 111.5km.

And then at 125, the course passes the Peugeot factory… not bikes, but motorcycles. That may be the main field’s only hope of catching the leaders if this gap continues to grow.

1:20 p.m. (local time) At the day’s first intermediate sprint, the 14 leaders have passed through with an advantage of a 11:10.

The winners of the sprint areJacky Durand; Stuart O’Grady and Ina Teutenberg’s brother, Sven.

By gaining four points in the sprint, O’Grady is now the leader in the green jersey competition, as well as the overall race leader on the road.

1:11 p.m. (local time) At kilometer 65, the 14 leaders have an advantage of 11:15.

The rain is still falling and from the looks of things, the roads may greatly benefit these race leaders if and when the peloton decides to put on a serious chase.

The roads are marked by those slippery painted white lines – the sort that caused Christian Vande Velde’s crash in the team time trial and Ivan Basso’s crash yeterday. There are also several of those little 3-inch high traffic islands along the way.

1:08 p.m. (local time) In just a few kilometers, the leaders have added another two minutes to their advantage.

At km 57, the leaders are now 9:20 ahead of the peloton and there is obviously little going on in the main field.

The leaders will be soon emerging from the rolling countryside of the Rhine Valley, but the terrain will remain about the same… rolling hills.

We are approach the day’s first intermediate sprint at 70.5km in Heiwiller.

1:05 p.m. (local time) At 54km, the lead group of 14 have an advantage of 7:20. O’Grady is now the Tour de France’s leader on the road… but this is a long stage.

The riders in the break are Nicola Loda (Fassa Bortolo) Marc Wauters (Rabobank) Ludo Dierckxsens (Lampre), Aitor González (Kelme), Stuart O’Grady (Crédit Agricole), Pascal Chanteur (Festina), Bram De Groot (Rabobank) Jacky Durand (Française Des Jeux), Sven Teutenberg (Festina), Erik Dekker (Rabobank) François Simon (Bonjour) Andrei Kivilev (Cofidis), Ludovic Turpin (Ag2R-Prevoyance) and Paris-Roubaix winner Servais Knaven (Domo-Farm Frites).

12:58 p.m. (local time)The leaders are now approaching a five-minute advantage.

12:52 p.m. (local time) One hour into this stage we’ve have seen the fastest opening hour of any road stage in this Tour so far. The peloton covered 48.8km in the first 60 minutes of today’s stage

Just before that — at the 47km mark — the leaders had an advantage of 4:10 over the peloton.

Stuart O’Grady may get more than the green jersey if this one sticks.

12:45 p.m. (local time) Vinokourov has given up and is back in the peloton.

The breakaway riders were not about to wait.

The 14 riders at the front are Nicola Loda (Fassa Bortolo) Marc Wauters (Rabobank) Ludo Dierckxsens (Lampre) and Aitor González (Kelme), Stuart O’Grady (Crédit Agricole), Pascal Chanteur (Festina), Bram De Groot (Rabobank) Jacky Durand (Française Des Jeux), Sven Teutenberg (Festina), Erik Dekker (Rabobank) François Simon (Bonjour) Andrei Kivilev (Cofidis), Ludovic Turpin (Ag2R-Prevoyance) and Paris-Roubaix winner Servais Knaven (Domo-Farm Frites).

At kilometer 42, they have an advantage of 2:30.

Behind, the Postal team and ONCE have eased off the chase – for now.

12:41 p.m. (local time) Vinokourov is fighting his way back to the break, trailing the other 14 leaders by about 10 seconds.

The main peloton is another 35 seconds back.

12:35 p.m. (local time) Tour director Jean Marie Leblanc has announced over race radio the heartfelt good wishes for the one victim of yesterday’s violent incident who is still in the hospital.

Leblanc said he visited the with the woman’s family in the hospital last night. She is undergoing surgery today for injuries she sustained from enraged fan that drove his car into the barriers after the finish of yesterday’s stage in Colmar.

The other three victims were treated and released from the hospital. She, however, sustained serious leg and head injuries and remains in serious condition at a hospital in Colmar.

12:34 p.m. (local time) At 30km the leaders have an advantage of 40 seconds. Vinokourov has suffered a flat and has dropped back to change his wheel.

12:28 p.m. (local time) The lead group now has a 35-second advantage at kilometer 25. The group includes Nicola Loda (Fassa Bortolo) Marc Wauters (Rabobank) Ludo Dierckxsens (Lampre) and Aitor González (Kelme), Stuart O’Grady (Crédit Agricole), Alexandre Vinokourov (Telekom), Pascal Chanteur (Festina), Bram De Groot (Rabobank) Jacky Durand (Française Des Jeux), Sven Teutenberg (Festina),Erik Dekker (Rabobank) François Simon (Bonjour).

Again, the U.S. Postal team has no one in the break. They are leading the chase, along with help from the ONCE team.

If O’Grady stays out for a while, he may be in a position to take over the lead in the race for the green sprint jersey. He trails Telekom’s Erik Zabel by just three points in that contest.

12:18 p.m. (local time) The four leaders — — Nicola Loda (Fassa Bortolo) Marc Wauters (Rabobank) Ludo Dierckxsens (Lampre) and Aitor González (Kelme)—may be getting help. A group of 11 riders, including Crédit Agricole’s Stuart O’Grady, have now joined up at 20km.

Paolo Fornaciari (Mapei) has quit the race. We’ll try to get more details on that and the full make up of the lead group. The group now has 30 seconds. The Postal team is leading the peloton.

12:11 p.m. (local time) A group of for riders — Nicola Loda (Fassa Bortolo) Marc Wauters (Rabobank) Ludo Dierckxsens (Lampre) and Aitor González (Kelme)Have attacked, built a lead up to 43 seconds and are now being reeled in by the main field.

12:06 p.m. (local time) The speed is quite high already this afternoon, with riders setting a hard early pace.

We spoke with Fred Rodriguez last night and he said he thought today would be a good opportunity for a team in the hunt for a stage win to get off the front in an early break.

“I don’t think we’ll see a field sprint tomorrow,” Rodriguez said.

Of course, if there is one, Rodriguez and reigning world champion Romans Vainsteins will be the men the Domo-Farm Frites squad works to put into prime position.

12:02 p.m. (local time) Race radio reports a crash in the field involving two riders Anthony Morin and Jonathan Vaughters of Crédit Agricole. The two are back up and on their way to the peloton.

After 6km of racing the field is all together.

11:56 (local time) We are looking ahead to a long one, the third longest in this Tour– 222.5km from Colmar to Pontarlier. After one day in mountains, we are in a transition stage, a relatively flat affair with two climbs – the Category 4. climb up the 444-meter Beaucourt at 111.5km and then the Category 3 Cote de Saint-Hippolyte, at 156.5km

We can look ahead to three intermediate sprints, the first coming 70.5km in Heiwiller, then Les Fins at 184.5km, and finally at Montbenoit at 206.5km.

11:53 (local time) And we’re racing. The start of the 8th stage of the 2001 Tour de France is underway. It looks like we’ll have a mild tailwind for much of the early part of the day.

We have a bit more detail on the decision by Txema Del Olmo of Euskaltel not to start yesterday’s stage to Colmar. He has apparently tested positive for a prohibited substance. His team has dropped him from the roster as a result.

Of course, there were two injury-related withdrawals yesterday. Christian Vande Velde and Ivan Basso suffered injuries in separate accidents. We have seen the withdrawal of 11 riders from this Tour. We are at 178 starters.

11:40 (local time) Good morning from Comar. The peloton has just rolled away from the starting village on the Avenue de la Republique.

We have a short 5km neutral section before we hit the official Flying Start at 11:47 or so.

John Wilcockson reports that temperatures are in the mid 50s today. There is a light rain – something of a relief from the heavy downpour we saw earlier in the morning.

11:56 (local time) We are looking ahead to a long one, the third longest in this Tour– 222.5km from Colmar to Pontarlier. After one day in mountains, we are in a transition stage, a relatively flat affair with two climbs – the Category 4. climb up the 444-meter Beaucourt at 111.5km and then the Category 3 Cote de Saint-Hippolyte, at 156.5km

We can look ahead to three intermediate sprints, the first coming 70.5km in Heiwiller, then Les Fins at 184.5km, and finally at Montbenoit at 206.5km.

11:53 (local time) And we’re racing. The start of the 8th stage of the 2001 Tour de France is underway. It looks like we’ll have a mild tailwind for much of the early part of the day.

We have a bit more detail on the decision by Txema Del Olmo of Euskaltel not to start yesterday’s stage to Colmar. He has apparently tested positive for a prohibited substance. His team has dropped him from the roster as a result.

Of course, there were two injury-related withdrawals yesterday. Christian Vande Velde and Ivan Basso suffered injuries in separate accidents. We have seen the withdrawal of 11 riders from this Tour. We are at 178 starters.

11:40 (local time) Good morning from Comar. The peloton has just rolled away from the starting village on the Avenue de la Republique.

We have a short 5km neutral section before we hit the official Flying Start at 11:47 or so.

John Wilcockson reports that temperatures are in the mid 50s today. There is a light rain – something of a relief from the heavy downpour we saw earlier in the morning.