Stage 12: Luchon - Carcassonne

One, two, three, four times the charm -- Popovych attacked four times from the break. Four times Ballan and Freire gave chase, but Popovych had too much power. Discovery may have lost two riders today -- Savoldelli and Noval -- but today they looked a bit more like the team they were expected to be as they finally have a rider in the top ten again. The strategy for Discovery seemed fairly clear -- send their 'GC' riders into the breaks and hope for a win. Hincapie was in the first, Popovych covered the next and was rewarded with a stage win and 4:25 in the overall, which netted him tenth place by two seconds.

Freire had a decent day as well, as the intermediate sprint and third place got him 26 points while McEwen only got 15.

It was a long hot day, 99 degrees with a road temp of 122. The stage was long, windy, and just after yesterday's queen stage. The riders were tired, Phonak didn't want to spend too much energy chasing on a day like this, and the sprinters are still recovering from yesterday's climbs. In otherwords, this was a day for a break, and Discovery played it well.

Prediction check: * A breakaway, probably someone French. I jokingly guessed Horner * Actual: The break succeeded, but Horner finished in 150, 2 minutes behind the peloton, clearly still suffering

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Prediction: I think a breakaway will succeed -- the stage is too long and yesterday was too hard. I would like to guess someone French, but as I don't know French riders, I'm going to guess Chris Horner because with such a slow performance yesterday, perhaps he has a little bit of energy in the legs today :).

Savoldelli and Noval have abandoned, so Discovery is down to seven riders. Savoldelli got a 15-stitch gash in his head running into a spectator when he was riding down the mountain to the hill after the stage yesterday. This is a sign of the Armstrong effect to see Discovery racing with only 7 riders.

KOM 1: Rasmussen took the climb, Hincapie was in second as he made it into the break as well

Sprint 1: Bennati took the sprint points

Hincapie's break got reeled in but Discovery was able to get Popovych into the next break. The current break has Freire, Popo, Ballan, and Mevel. Freire is on a sprint-point hunt -- lots of sprint points if he can take the stage as well.

Discovery's plan is clearly to try and get its 'GC' riders back in the game by putting them in the break and hoping that Phonak will be too tired to give proper chase.

KOM 2: Popo rolled across the line first incidentally

68k to go 3:47. Phonak is pulling the leaders back bit by bit.

4:03, 53.3k to go. The lead poppoed up a little, but the peloton is strung out and ready to pursue. The winds are definitely in effect with the formations we see today.

Sprint 2: Freire lazily sprints across the line, which puts him 1 point behind Boonen and within striking distance of McEwen (30 points ahead).

There will be lots of pretty sunflower photos from today's stage.

The lead has ticked up to 4:26 with 36k to go. That's starting to look like a successful break, especially with the peloton not ticking that time down yet. This is a huge threat to Robbie McEwen as Freire can take the stage and be really darn close to taking his green jersey.

It is scorching today, 99 degrees with 122 asphalt temperature.

The peloton has been split in half by the winds.

Milram has sent two rides to help Phonak with the chase. Phonak will be happy to get the sprint teams to take control,

The peloton has fanned out -- the chase has stopped. Perhaps they are waiting for the split half of the peloton to join back up, but I also think they are letting the breakaway go as it's too much to pull back. Phonak will have to decide how close they will let Popovych get. I think they can bet on Landis being stronger in the mountains, so they don't need that much, but they probably don't want to let Discovery back in the game either.

25k, 4:30. Le Mevel is the real slacker of this break, only doing 12% of the work in the 4-man break.

20k, 4:40

I'm thinking Le Mevel will jump and Popo will follow.

12k, 4:20. This won't move Popovych into the top ten, but it would put him right there with Levi sitting right outside.

Popovych jumped hard. Freire and Ballan are chasing but Le Mevel is cracking. Popo has been caught by Ballan and Freire, but they don't have to worry about Le Mevel. Freire jumps now, but he is easily caught. Now they are gaming. Popo jumps again and is caught again. His only chance is to drop Freire. And Popo attacks for the third time. Ballan keeps pulling Freire back on. And it's back to three together. It doesn't help Ballan much to keep pulling Freire back into the game. Popo attacks for the fourth time. 3k to go. Here's a slight uphill and Ballan is looking wary of pulling Freire back in. This is Popo's best attack -- I think he's got it. Johan must have given a good pep-talk today. Freire and Ballan are discussing their soon-to-be loss.

Popovych is racing towards his first of probably many Tour victories.

Popo takes the win, Ballan second as Freire does not challenge even with sprint points on the line.

Boonen finally beat McEwen in a sprint as Boonen took fifth.

The field came in 4:25 behind, which meant they didn't give a bit of chase. It is also enough to move Popovych into the top ten.

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