Stage 9: Live updates all the way to Aix-les-Bains

4:41 p.m. (local time) Ivanov held them off. The former Russian champion attacked the lead trio with 9km to go and held off his two breakaway partners, to earn his first-ever Tour de France stage win. Etxebarria and McGee finish just ahead of the quickly closing -- not quick enough, though -- peloton. Erik Zabel took the field sprint for fourth. 4:39 p.m. (local time) With 1km to go, Ivanov is 10 seconds ahead of McGee and Etxebarria. The field is 40 seconds back. 4:37 p.m. (local time)With four km to go David Etxebarria (Euskaltel-Euskadi)and Bradley McGee (La Française Des Jeux)

By VeloNews Editorial Staff

4:41 p.m. (local time) Ivanov held them off.

The former Russian champion attacked the lead trio with 9km to go and held off his two breakaway partners, to earn his first-ever Tour de France stage win.

Etxebarria and McGee finish just ahead of the quickly closing — not quick enough, though — peloton.

Erik Zabel took the field sprint for fourth.

4:39 p.m. (local time) With 1km to go, Ivanov is 10 seconds ahead of McGee and Etxebarria.

The field is 40 seconds back.

4:37 p.m. (local time)With four km to go David Etxebarria (Euskaltel-Euskadi)and Bradley McGee (La Française Des Jeux) are chasing Sergei Ivanov (Fassa Bortolo). The field is still 30 seconds to go.

4:34 p.m. (local time) With seven kilometers to go, Ivanov — the former Russian champion — has left his two partners and has about 10 seconds on the two.

The Telekom-led peloton are 40 seconds behind.

4:30 p.m. (local time) Moreau has rejoined the peloton.

Ahead, the three leaders have just passed the 10k-to-go banner. Their advantage, however, is less than one minute. And the Telekom-led chase looks like it will be successful.

4:28 p.m. (local time) The leaders are just over one minute ahead of the laders.

In the back, Festina’s Christophe Moreau has flatted and has been joined by three teammates. They are moving back into the field.

4:26 p.m. (local time) The leaders are 16km from the finish. They have an advantage of 1:10.

4:23 p.m. (local time) The leaders are 17km from the finish. They are just 1:35 ahead of the Telekom-led peloton.

The three leaders are holding their lead at around the 2:00 mark.

But the Telekom team is moving to the front and leading the chase.

4:17 p.m. (local time) The three leaders — David Etxebarria (Euskaltel-Euskadi); Bradley McGee (La Française Des Jeux) and Sergei Ivanov (Fassa Bortolo) – are now less than 20km from the finish in Aix-les-Bains. They have an advantage of 2:05.

4:14 p.m. (local time) The three leaders have re-upped their lead to 2:15. It looks as if the chase is losing its effectiveness.

4:11 p.m. (local time) The Lampre team have joined the Bonjour effort and the leaders’ advantage is trimmed to 2:09.

Mapei’s Paolo Bettini and Ludo Dierckxens (Lampre) are attacking off the main field.

4:08 p.m. (local time) Gutiérrez is back in the main field, but the three leaders are holding their advantage of 2:20. We are now 26km from the finish.

4:06 p.m. (local time) Gutiérrez is now 20 seconds ahead of the main group.

The three leaders are 2:25 ahead of the main group, but Bonjour is still leading the chase.

4:03 p.m. (local time) José Enrique Gutiérrez (Kelme) is about 10 seconds ahead of the peloton, hoping to bridge up to the leaders, who are 2:00 ahead of him.

But the main field is chasing and has been steadily trimming the lead trio’s advantage.

With 30km to go, it looks as though the three leaders will probably be caught before reaching Aix-les-Bains.

3:51 p.m. (local time) The three leader crossed over the Cat. 3 Cote de Bossy in the following order: David Etxebarria (Euskaltel-Euskadi); Bradley McGee (La Française Des Jeux) and Sergei Ivanov (Fassa Bortolo).

In the main field – 2:11 back – polka-dot jersey holder Patrice Halgand and Laurent Brochard took the fourth and fifth spots.

3:51 p.m. (local time) The leaders are nearing the top of the Cote de Bossy.

Their lead has been cut to 2:48. But behind, the field is maintaining a nice pace, but several riders have been spit off the back — especially many of the hopeful sprinters.

The climb, just a Cat 3. is a deceptively hard ascent, reach 8- and 9-percent at times.

3:47 p.m. (local time) The leaders and the main group are on the Category Cote de Bossy.

Poor Mr. Agnolutto has been reabsorbed by the field. The leaders – now at km 143.6 – have an advantage of 3:10.

3:43 p.m. (local time) The three leders have rolled through the intermediate sprint at Vanzy (141.5km) in the following order — McGee, Ivanov and Etxebarria, but the did not contest it. The three leaders have an advantage of 3:15 on the peloton.

Agnolutto is losing ground and risks being caught by the Bonjour and Mapei led peloton.

3:39 p.m. (local time) The three leaders crested the Cat. 4 Cote de Pralon in the following order: McGee; Ivanov and Etxebarria.

At the 139km mark, their lead has been trimmed to 3:45.

Earlier in the race Jeroen Blijlevens (Lotto-Adecco) decided to, uhhh, give up the fight and pulled out of the Tour. (no pun intended… really)

3:34 p.m. (local time) With the Bonjour squad leading the chase, the leaders’ advantage has been trimmed to 4:35.

The three leaders are nearing the top of the Cote de Pralon.

3:30 p.m. (local time) At the 130km mark, the three leaders have a lead of 5:30.

3:25 p.m. (local time) As the three riders begin the climb up the Category 4 Cote de Pralon, their lead has been trimmed to 6:05. They are still 2:45 ahead of Agnolutto.

The field is being led by the Bonjour team – probably intent on setting up their sprinter Damien Nazon for a stage win.

3:21 p.m. (local time) The three leaders are passing through Lancrans and are finally approaching the end of this loooooong descent.

They now have an advantage of 9:00 on the main field and 2:45 on Agnolutto.

3:18 p.m. (local time) The three leaders are passing through the village of Confort at the 119.5km mark.

They are now 9:02 ahead of the field and 2:45 ahead of Agnolutto.

3:10 p.m. (local time) The hilly portions of the course leading to the day’s first climb, kept the speed for the second hour of racing to 43.6kph, making for a two-hour average of 47.03kph. This long descent should, however, contribute to a brisk pace for the third hour today.

But as the leaders approach the base of this long descent, they will benefit from a tailwind.

Still on the descent, the leaders are still 7:05 up on the peloton and 2:30 ahead of Agnolutto. Again, none of these four leading riders poses much of a threat to the overall standings, so they may be permitted to continue unopposed by the main field, where the big players have to be recovering from yesterday’s cold, miserable ride and thinking about tomorrow’s three beyond category climbs.

3:03 p.m. (local time) The hilly portions of the course leading to the day’s first climb, kept the speed for the second hour of racing to 43.6kph, making for a two-hour average of 47.03kph. This long descent should, however, contribute to a brisk pace for the third hour today.

But as the leaders approach the base of this long descent, they will benefit from a tailwind.

Still on the descent, the leaders are still 7:05 up on the peloton and 2:30 ahead of Agnolutto. Again, none of these four leading riders poses much of a threat to the overall standings, so they may be permitted to continue unopposed by the main field, where the big players have to be recovering from yesterday’s cold, miserable ride and thinking about tomorrow’s three beyond category climbs.

3:03 p.m. (local time) This descent is helping the lead trio of Bradley McGee (La Française Des Jeux) and David Etxebarria (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Sergei Ivanov (Fassa Bortolo).

On the narrow, twisting roads, they have built a lead of 7:35 over the peloton at the 112km mark. Agnolutto is still chasing, though he is now 2:35 behind the leaders.

2:59 p.m. (local time) All of the crashed riders have resumed riding and are rejoining the field.

2:58 (local time) There has been a crash back in the field involving Jacky Durand (Française Des Jeux), Antonio Tauler (Kelme)and Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole).

2:55(local time) Nardello is back with the pack. Agnolutto is still chasing. He is now 2:00 minutes behind the three leaders, who are now 6:00 ahead of the main field. Agnolutto, by the way, started the day in 132nd place at 1:11:33.

2:48 p.m. (local time) At the 98km mark, the three leaders have an advantage of 4:05 on the field and are 1:50 ahead of Agnalutto.

Italian national champion Daniele Nardello (Mapei) is now trying to get off the front of the field.

2:43 p.m. (local time) Actually, the big risk-taker this afternoon appears to be Agnolutto. He is charging down this long, narrow, twisty descent and has pulled ahead of the peloton by about 1:38.

But he still faces a difficult task. The three leaders — Bradley McGee (La Française Des Jeux) and David Etxebarria (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Sergei Ivanov (Fassa Bortolo) — now have an advantage of 3:20 on the field.

2:38 p.m. (local time) Past the feed zone, we are now on the descent. Ivanov appears to be taking the most risks and has tried to move ahead of his two companions. They are now 1:45 ahead of the peloton.

Loic Lamouller (Big-Mat), who crashed yesterday, has pulled out of the Tour.

2:35 p.m. (local time) The three leaders have a lead now back up to 1:30.

Ag2r’s Christophe Agnolutto is now trying his hand at joining the lead group.

2:31 p.m. (local time) That went nowhere. Den Bakker and Chavanel are back in the peloton.

The three leaders have upped their advantage to 1:25. We are near the feed zone.

2:28 p.m. (local time) Rabobank’s Maarten Den Bakker and Bonjour’s Sylvain Chavanel are attempting bridge up to the three leaders, who now have an advantage of 1:17 over the peloton.

2:26 p.m. (local time) At 79km the three leaders — Bradley McGee (La Française Des Jeux) and David Etxebarria (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Sergei Ivanov (Fassa Bortolo) – have had their lead cut to 1:23.

2:19 p.m. (local time) The three are working together to rebuild their lead. At km 74, they have an advantage of 1:45.

The road is still climbing, a bit. Coming the feed zone at km 80.5. Then the course drops steadily for about 45km. The next climb comes at 131.5km – the Cat. 4 climb at Pralon – and then the sprind at Frangy (141.5km), followed quickly by the Cat. 3 climb at Bossy (145km).

2:14 p.m. (local time) The three leaders crested the Category 3 climb about 1:30 ahead off the peloton.

The results of the climb are Etxebarria, McGee and Ivanov.

Patrice Halgand (Jean Delatour) and Stéphane Goubert (Jean Delatour) took up the remaining climber’s points when the field crossed over.

2:11 p.m. (local time) The three leaders are 1km from the summit and their lead has been trimmed to 2:15.

Les Rousses is known as the cross-country skiing capital of France. It’s a beautiful area, right on the border with Switzerland. VeloNews’s John Wilcockson notes that “you could almost throw a baseball into Switzerland, it’s so close.” But, not many people have baseballs in that part of France, so it’s likely a rare occurrence.

We saw a few interesting signs on the side of the road, including three evenly spaced – about every 100 meters – signs cheering on Richard Virenque. “We miss you!” said one and “You’ll win your Tour… next year,” proclaimed another.

2:05 p.m. (local time) At kilometer 67, we are on the slopes of the day’s first climb, the Category 3, Col des Les Rousses. The three leaders have an advantage of 2:35.

2:01 p.m. (local time) At kilometer 64, the three leaders — Bradley McGee (La Française Des Jeux) and David Etxebarria (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Sergei Ivanov (Fassa Bortolo) – have increased their lead to 2:40.

1:57 p.m. (local time) He’s with ‘em.

Ivanov has joined Bradley McGee (La Française Des Jeux) and David Etxebarria (Euskaltel-Euskadi) .

The three are at the 61-kilometer mark and have an advantage of 1:20. None of the riders poses much of an overall threat, with the highest ranked rider in the bunch being Etxebarria, who started the day in 92nd place overall, at 57:25.

1:51 p.m. (local time) At km 57, the two leaders have an advantage of 1:20 over the field and Ivanov is 10 seconds behind them. In case you’re wondering, Ivanov started the day in 126th place on GC, 1:09:22 behind race leader Stuart O’Grady (Credit Agricole).

1:47 p.m. (local time) The two leaders now have a one-minute advantage on the field and Ivanov is moving in. He is 17 seconds behind McGee and Etxebarria.

The temperature is in the mid- to upper-50s and it is still dry.

1:45 p.m. (local time) Race radio reports one chaser — number 45… uhhh let’s look here… that’s Sergei Ivanov (Fassa Bortolo) — is 8 seconds off the front of the peloton and 27 seconds behind the leaders.

The race radio also reports that the average speed for the first hour was a brisk 50.5kph.

1:41 p.m. (local time) At kilometer 48, the two leaders — Bradley McGee (La Française Des Jeux) and David Etxebarria (Euskaltel-Euskadi) – have a lead of 30 seconds.

John Wilcockson called from the official VeloNews race vehicle – okay it’s a rental with a bunch of our stickers on it – and said that the winds are picking up and that they are coming from a favorable direction. Even though it’s clouding up, there is no rain and the roads are dry.

1:35 p.m. (local time) The two leaders are now at Chapelle Des Bois and still have a lead of 35 seconds.

Etxebarria started the day in 92nd place overall, at 57:25 and McGee is 148th at 1:21:26.

1:30 p.m. (local time) At km 42, as we near the town of Chapelle Des Bois, the two have a lead of 35 seconds.

1:27 p.m. (local time) Now Aussie Bradley McGee (La Française Des Jeux) and David Etxebarria are trying their luck off the front. At km 40, the two have a 20-second advantage.

1:21 p.m. (local time) Still the attacks continue. An unidentified Kelme rider has gone off the front, only to be reeled back in less than a minute. This is going to be a tough day in the saddle.

1:18 p.m. (local time) At kilometer 28, the results of the day’s first intermediate sprint:1 – Rik Verbrugghe (Lotto);2 – Nikolai Bo Larsen (CSC-Tiscali); 3 – Sylvain Chavanel (Bonjour)

Zabel and Auger were apparently caught as the neared the sprint.

1:15 p.m. (local time) We’re at kilometer 26 and Millar has been caught. This year has been tough on the young Brit. He won the prologue last year, but has been at the other end of the standings this year.

But now Erik Zabel (Telekom) and Ludovic Auger (Bigmat Auber 93)are making an attempt to break off the front. The are no doubt in pursuit of the upcoming sprint points at km 28.

1:11 p.m. (local time) Millar is at km 22.5 and still has a 6-second advantage.

By the way, if you haven’t had a chance, here is a quck update of the top 30 on GC after yesterday’s strange stage into Pontarlier.

1. O’GRADY Stuart (Aus), Credit Agricole, en 34:57:18; 2. SIMON François (F), Bonjour, at 04:32; 3. DE GROOT Bram (Nl), Rabobank, at 21:16; 4. KIVILEV Andrei (Kz), Cofidis, at 22:07; 5. TEUTENBERG Sven (G), Festina, at 27:15; 6. VOIGT Jens (G), Credit Agricole, at 29:23; 7. DIERCKXSENS Ludo (B), Lampre- Daikin, at 29:49; 8. WAUTERS Marc (B), Rabobank, at 30:12; 9. TURPIN Ludovic (F), Ag2r, at 30:35; 10. GONZALEZ Aitor (Sp), Kelme, at 31:56; 11. JALABERT Laurent (F), CSC-Tiscali, at 31:57; 12. JULICH Bobby (USA), Credit Agricole, at 33:49; 13. GONZALEZ GALDEANO Igor (Sp), O.N.C.E., at 34:23; 14. BELOKI Joseba (Sp), O.N.C.E., at 34:33; 15. SASTRE Carlos (Sp), O.N.C.E., at 34:34; 16. JAKSCHE Jorg (G), O.N.C.E., at 34:38; 17. MOREAU Christophe (F), Festina, at 34:43; 18. GUTIERREZ Ivan (Sp), O.N.C.E., at 34:46; 19. LODA Nicola (I), Fassa Bortolo, at 34:47; 20. SERRANO Marcos (Sp), O.N.C.E., at 34:49; 21. CASERO Angel (Sp), Festina, at 34:59; 22. PRADERA Mikel (Sp), O.N.C.E., at 35:08; 23. PEREZ Luis (Sp), Festina, at 35:16; 24. ARMSTRONG Lance (USA), U.S. Postal, at 35:19; 25. BOTERO Santiago (Col), Kelme, at 35:37; 26. GUTIERREZ José Enrique (Sp), Kelme, at 35:43; 27. ULLRICH Jan (G), Deutsche Telekom, at 35:46; 28. KLODEN Andréas (G), Deutsche Telekom, at 35:58; 29. HERAS Roberto (Sp), U.S. Postal, at 36:00;

1:08 p.m. (local time) David Millar (Cofidis) has attacked. He has an 8-second advantage at km21. He’s over two hours down on GC and still they’re chasing him… mmmmmm yesterday must have left an impression.

1:03 p.m. (local time) Another brief attack at km17, but the two escapees were caught.

Things have settled down a bit. The speeds are still high, but those early attacks have been neutralized and the peloton is back together again.

If you get a chance, click on to the map of today’s stage.

12:57 p.m. (local time) Verbrugghe is back in the fold.

So, let’s take a quick look at what is ahead on the road to Aix-les-Bains.

Intermediate sprints at Mouthe (28km), Frangy (141.5km) and Rumilly (161km).

Cat. 3 climbs at Les Rousses (68km) and Bossy (145km), and
a Cat. 4 climb at Pralon (131.5km).

12:53 p.m. (local time) Now Rik Verbrugghe tries a break at kilometer 8.

12:50 p.m. (local time) Oooooo… bad sign. If anyone was hoping to recover after yesterday’s rain-soaked death march, Bonjour’s Eddy Seigneur put that to rest. He attacked the minute the peloton crossed under the arch signifying the official start.

He was caught and then more attacks came. By kilometer five there had been five attacks… all of them caught, but the speed is high.

We had a chance to speak with U.S. national champion Fred Rodriguez about yesterday’s tough stage. He said the weather was a huge factor. “It was terrible, partly because people weren’t ready for it, including me – you know you didn’t have the right gloves in the car, things like that.”

Fast Freddie rightly predicted that today would be marked by a lot of attacks and “I’d rather be in a break than chasing one.”

12:40 p.m. (local time) The riders are on their way. This is a very small town, so the neutral zone is quite short and the official flying start should coming up in three or four minutes.

12:25 p.m. (local time) Good afternoon from the Place Jules Pagnier in Pontarlier, the location of today’s starting village for the 9th stage of the 2001 Tour de France.

We are about 15 minutes away from the start of today’s 185km stage to Aix-les-Bains. Right now the weather is quite nice – sunny and about 65 degrees. But the Tour gods may be jerkin’ our collective chains. The five-day forecast shows downright awful weather predicted to start today and continue on for the next few days. So, we may try to enjoy this little break while we can.