Stage 18: Post-race analysis and minute-by-minute updates

After his fourth stage win in the 2001 Tour de France, there will be thousands of people trying to find the words to best describe the efforts of Lance Armstrong. But the best summation of what happened on the 61-kilometer road between Montlucon and Saint-Amand-Montrond is best left to the man himself.

"This is a good time to be Lance Armstrong!"

Indeed.

With all the attention of what seems certain to be a third victory in the Tour, its little surprise that the Texan now constantly refers to himself in the third-person.

A lot has been reported about the man who will turn 30 this September and, as much as he denies having interest in the media and their (sometimes turbulent) views of his outstanding success, his third-person trait is surely a result of watching and reading these reports.

But really, who cares how he refers to himself? Who cares what his persona is off the bike? Cycling is a sport, and his main focus is to win races. And this is something that, quite obviously, he is able to do when it matters most.

That he talks about himself in the manner in which hed like the reports to be angled, makes life easier for the thousands of journalists who follow the Tour. That his personality is charming means that hes a bigger hero than someone who just wins races. So people do care.

Cycling in the United States has never been bigger. And, if its the intention of the sports governing body to continue their dictum of globalization of what has previously been a Euro-centric sport, then Lances manner matters a lot.

The reaction to the defending champions arrival at the team presentation almost three weeks ago was boos and jeers from a crowd which wished for the selection of his French team-mate Cedric Vasseur in the Tour squad.

But the omission wasnt without reason. Help was required in the mountains and because of the presence of Jose Luis Rubiera and Roberto Heras, Armstrong was able to arrive in Montlucon this morning knowing that the Tour victory was, essentially, his. The parochial woes of French cycling fans matter little when he can start the final time trial with a five-minute buffer on the other supreme cyclist of this era, Jan Ullrich.

But stage wins are still important for Lance.

Last year I was frustrated by the time the final time trial arrived, said Lance, in a post-race interview. I hadnt won a stage before the time trial. And I think its important that the maillot jaune wins a stage and races the final time trial well.

When I came here this year, I decided thered be no gifts like last year, he continued, with an obvious reference to the famed Mont Ventoux incident when Marco Pantani rolled across the line ahead of Armstrong for the victory. I made the decision to not only win the Tour de France, but to also win some stages."

Hes done just that. Four! Two mountain stages, two time trial stages (one, admittedly, on a climb).

I never thought Id feel the way I felt in the time trial today, he said. Even Johan (Bruyneel), who was in the car behind me, will agree that Ive never ridden better.

His overall rival, Ullrich, finished over a minute-and-a-half behind. And Joseba Beloki confirmed his talents by jumping a place ahead of Andrei Kivilev to give the Tour the repeat podium of last year (something which has only happened once before in Tour history).

Other stories always emerge from a Tour stage like Kelmes ability to hold on to their team classification lead despite the strength of their Spanish rivals, ONCE but today is another day to talk Lance.

Hey, it might be a good time to be Lance Armstrong, but its also a good time to talk about Lance Armstrong!

Minute-by-minute updates

17H21 - Armstrong Leads Ullrich Overall By 6'44"! Lance Armstrong's 1'38" advantage over Jan Ullrich in the 18th stage has pushed the American's overall advantage over the German to 6'44". 17H20 - Beloki Moves To 3rd Overall! Joseba Beloki's 6th place today - 2'08" ahead of the rider who started the day in 3rd overall, Andrei Kivilev - is enough to put the ONCE rider in 3rd overall. If the current top 3 hold their advantage through to Paris (as is highly expected), it will be only the second time in Tour history that the same three riders have finished in first, second and third!

17H18 - Kelme Hold Their Team Lead! Despite the fact that there were three ONCE riders in the top 6, Kelme are still the leaders of the team classification. Their advantage over their Spanish rivals, ONCE, is 4'59" at the end of the stage!

17H16 - The Final Top 5! At the end of the stage, the top five is as follows: 1. Lance Armstrong (US Postal 61km in 1h14'16" 2. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (ONCE) at 1'23" 3. Jan Ullrich (Telekom) at 1'38" 4. Didier Rous (Bonjour) at 2'24" 5. Marcos Serrano (ONCE) at 2'24"

17H14 - Armstrong Wins His 4th Stage This Year! Lance Armstrong has won his 4th stage of the 2001 Tour de France. His time was 1h14'16" - to post an average speed for the 61km course of 49.28kph! He beat Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano by 1'23" and Jan Ullrich by 1'38"!

17H12 - Ullrich's Final Time... At the finish of the 18th stage, Jan Ullrich is currently in 2nd place behind Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano. The German's time is 1h15'55" - 14" behind Igor! His average speed was 48.21kph.

17H10 - Less Than 1km To Race For Ullrich Jan Ullrich is now in the final 1,000 meters of the stage. He is currently over a minute and a half behind the overall leader...

17H09 - Topp 5 At 55.1km With the final rider of the day passed the 3rd check, the top five is: 1. Armstrong 55.1km in 1h07'27" 2. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano at 1'14" 3. Ullrich at 1'36" 4. Julich at 1'38" 5. Rous at 2'17"

17H08 - Armstrong Leads at 55.1km Mark! Armstrong is 1'14" better than the 2nd-placed rider, Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano at the 55.1km mark!

17H07 - Beloki 4th At the Finish... Beloki is now in 4th at the finish with just Ullrich, Kivilev and Armstrong to finish. Beloki's deficit to Gonzalez de Galdeano is 1'08".

17H06 - Ullrich Still Behind Igor Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano is still ahead of Ullrich at the 3rd time check. The German trails the Spaniard by 22".

17H05 - 1km To Go For Beloki Beloki is 6th at the 55.1km mark. He is now in the final kilometer of the stage.

17H04 - Kivilev Holding On To Ullrich... Andrei Kivilev now has ideal pacing partner. He is about 10 meters behind the wheel of Ullrich, and has been able to maintain that distance for about 2km.

17H02 - Current Top 5... After Igor's finish, the top 5 at the finish is: 1. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano 61km in 1h15'40" 2. Rous at 1'00" 3. Serrano at 1'01" 4. Julich at 1'12" 5. Botero at 1'19"

17H00 - Ullrich About To Catch Kivilev! Jan Ullrich is about to catch his three-minute man, Kivilev. The German was 1'23" behind Armstrong's time at the 43km check. He has now just swept passed the rider who is loosing his grip on 3rd overall...

16H59 - New Best Time! Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano has set the time to beat. He has a time of 1h15'40" - exactly one-minute ahead of Rous' time.

16H58 - Only Two Previous Podium Repeats If Beloki moves up to third overall by the time the Tour reaches Paris, it'll be only the second time in Tour history that the same three riders have finished on the podium. The only other time was when Hinault, Zoetemelk and Agostinho repeated their efforts in 1978 and 1979.

16H56 - Three ONCEs In Top 5 At 43km... There are three ONCE riders in the top 5 at the 2nd time check. They are: Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, Beloki and Serrano.

16H55 - Gonzalez de Galdeano's 55.1km Time... At the 3rd intermediate time check, Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano is the new best time with 1h08'41". He is 24" faster than Bobby Julich.

16H54 - The Final Top 5 At 43km... At the 2nd time check the top five is: 1. Armstrong 43km in 53'40" 2. I. Gonzalez de Galdeano at 1'01" 3. Ullrich at 1'23" 4. Beloki at 1'50" 5. Serrano at 1'52"

16H53 - Armstrong's 43km Time Check Lance is still well ahead of all others at the 2nd time check. His time at the 43km mark is 1'01" better than Igor and 1'23" ahead of Jan Ullrich!

16H51 - Ullrich Still 2nd At 43km... Ullrich is 22" behind the leading time (of Gonzalez de Galdeano) at the 43km time check.

16H51 - Beloki Sure To Be 3rd Overall At End of the Day! Andrei Kivilev is 3'01" behind the time of Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano's time at the 43km mark. He has lost his grip on 3rd overall. (Beloki was just 49" behind his team-mate at the same mark.)

16H49 - Serrano .04 Behind Rous Didier Rous still has the best time at the finish... just! He is .04 of a second ahead of ONCE's Marcos Serrano at the 61km mark.

16H47 - Ullrich Pulls His Foot... Jan Ullrich has pulled his foot from the pedal as he works his way toward the 2nd time check of the stage. He lost a little balance, but didn't fall and has quickly recovered.

16H46 - Beloki's Time At 43km... At the 43km mark, Beloki has the 2nd best time of 55'30". He is 49" behind Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano at the 2nd time check.

16H44 - The Current Top 5 After Rous' new best time, the top 5 at the finish is: 1. Rous 61km in 1h16'41" 2. Julich at 11" 3. Vinokourov at 36" 4. J. E. Gutierrez at 36" 5. Kloeden at 52"

16H42 - Rous Beats Julich's Time! After sharing the best time at the 43km mark, then dropping to 2nd - 39" behind at the 55.1km mark - Rous now has the best time at the finish. He leads Julich by 11" at the 61km mark!

16H41 - 3 ONCE & 2 Kelme In Top 10 Of 21.5km Check... The team contest is very much alive. The team currently in 2nd place (ONCE) has 3 riders in the top 10 at the first time check of the day. Kelme, however, have 2 riders in the top 10...

16H39 - Two Riders Ahead of Julich's Mark at 43km Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano now leads at the 2nd time check. He is 51" ahead of his team-mate, Serrano and 55" ahead of Julich's time.

16H37 - Rous 39" Behind At 55.1km After sharing the best time with Julich at the 43km mark, Didier Rous is now 39" behind the American's lead at the 3rd time check.

16H36 - Armstrong Still Standing: But Definitely Not Standing Still! Lance Armstrong has ridden a lot of the time trial out of the saddle. He's spent much of the first 25km standing - but his style appears to be paying big dividends: he led Ullrich 34" at the 21.5km mark!

16H34 - Botero 5th At 43km At the 43km mark, the current top five is: 1. Serrano 43km in 55'32" 2. Julich at 4" 3. Rous at same time 4. J. E. Gutierrez at 16" 5. Botero at 17"

16H32 - Top 5 After Vinokourov's Finish The current top five at the finish is: 1. Julich 61km in 1h16'53" 2. Vinokourov at 20" 3. J. E. Gutierrez at 24" 4. Kloeden at 40" 5. Bertogliati at 1'51"

16H31 - Vinokourov 2nd At Finish... At the end of his time trial, Vinokourov has moved into 2nd place. He is 20" behind the leading mark of Bobby Julich.

16H30 - Beloki's Advantage Enough To Over Take Kivilev! Beloki's time is now 1'26" ahead of Kivilev - the rider who started the day 1'20" ahead on the general classification. The ONCE rider has moved into virtual 3rd overall at this stage of the time trial!

16H27 - Armstrong Riding Out Of Saddle... Lance is riding much of his time trial out of the saddle. Although the course is flat, he is maintaining his high-cadence pedalling style - and it appears to be working. He was 34" ahead of Ullrich at the 21.5km mark.

16H25 - Final Top 5 At 21.5km Mark Now that Armstrong is passed the 21.5km mark, the top five of the 1st check is: 1. Armstrong 21.5km in 25'01" 2. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano at 25" 3. Ullrich at 34" 4. Botero at 1'02" 5. Beloki at 1'02"

16H24 - Armstrong Sets The Best Time At 21.5km! Lance Armstrong is on course to win his 4th stage this year. His time at the 1st time check is 25'01" - 25" better than Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano and 34" ahead of Ullrich!

16H23 - Rous Equal Leader At 43km Didier Rous has exactly the same time split as Julich at the 43km mark. They are equal leaders with their time of 55'36".

16H22 - Ullrich 2nd At 21.5km! Ullrich is 9" behind Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano at the 21.5km mark.

16H21 - Beloki Makes Up 56" On Kivilev! Beloki is on course to move into 3rd overall at the end of the day. His gain on Kivilev at the 1st time check is 56"!

16H21 - Current Top 5 At 55.1km... The leading riders at the 3rd time check are: 1. Julich 55.1km in 1h9'05" 2. J. E. Gutierrez at 1'06" 3. Kloeden at 1'33" 4. A. Gonzalez de Galdeano at 2'45" 5. Bertogliati at 2'50"

16H18 - Beloki 3rd At 21.5km Beloki has the 3rd best time at the 1st check. He is 37" behind his team-mate Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano.

16H17 - Julich: Best Time! Bobby Julich has ridden the 61km course in 1h16'53" to post the new best time of the day. He thew his bike at the line to record an average speed of 47.63kph!

16H14 - Top 5 At 21.5km Mark... With five riders yet to pass the first time check, the current top five is as follows: 1. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano 21.5km at 25'26" 2. Botero at 31" 3. Rous at 38" 4. Julich at 46" 5. Serrano at 49"

16H12 - Julich Passed the 55.1km Mark... Julich's time at the 3rd check is the 1h09'05". Despite the timing computer saying that he's behing Alex Merckx's time, it seems sure that the American's time is the fastest of the day at 55.1km mark.

16H10 - Igor Beats Santiago's Time! There is now an ONCE rider in the lead at the 1st time check. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano leads Botero by 31" thanks to his time of 25'26" at the 21.5km mark.

16H09 - 3 Kelme Riders In Top 8 At 21.5km With Botero currently holding the best time at the first time check, there are three Kelme riders in the top 8 at the 21.5km mark.

16H08 - Gutierrez Beats Kloeden's Time Jose Enrique Gutierrez is keeping alive the lead of the Kelme squad in the team classification. He now has the best time at the finish. He covered the 61km course in an average speed of 47.36kph to beat Kloeden by 16"!

16H06 - Dry Roads For Lance... Despite a small shower about 40 minutes before Lance Armstrong started his time trial, the yellow jersey began his race on essentially dry roads. The warm conditions dried the roads up quickly after the shower. The current temperature at the finish is about 30 degrees Celsius.

16H04 - Kloeden Sets New Standard At The Finish! Andreas Kloeden has beaten the time of Bertogliati at the finish. The Telekom rider's average speed was 47.20kph. He leads Swiss Lampre rider by 1'10".

16H02 - Botero Sets New Standard At 21.5km Santiago Botero is now the leading rider at the first time check. He is 7" better than Rous and 15" better than Julich.

16H01 - New Best Time At 3rd Check Jose Enrique Gutierrez now has the best time at the 55.1km mark. He is 27" ahead of Kloeden and 1'39" ahead of Alvaro Gonzalez de Galdeano.

15H59 - Lance Racing! The final rider to start today, Lance Armstrong has begun his time trial. He has an aero helmet and black knicks (unlike the yellow ones he wore when he won the final time trial in the 2000 Tour).

15H58 - Kloeden Now Leading At 55.1km Andreas Kloeden is 1'12" ahead of the previous best margin at the 3rd time check.

15H58 - Armstrong Signs A Book In The Start House As he prepares to win his 4th stage this year, Lance Armstrong arrived at the start house and signed a copy of his book ('It's not about the bike') for one of the officials.

15H57 - Bertogliati Still Leading At Finish The 2nd rider to start today, Rubens Bertogliati, still has the best time at the finish. So far 110 riders have finished their race today.

15H55 - Julich Best Time At 43km! Julich is 12" better than the previous best time at the 2nd time check (at 43km). His time is 55'36".

15H54 - Rous 8" Better Than Julich at 21.5km Didier Rous has set the new best time at the 21.5km mark. He is 8" ahead of Julich and 15" ahead of Jose Enrique Gutierrez.

15H53 - Kivilev Now Racing... Andrei Kivilev has started the most important time trial of his life. He finished over eight minutes behind Armstrong in the final time trial of the 2000 Tour de France. This year, however, he is the 3rd last rider to start. He is only 1'20" ahead of Beloki (who is in 4th overall at the start of the day).

15H51 - Beloki Racing! Joseba Beloki has begun his quest for a second successive podium position in Paris. He began the day 1'20" behind Kivilev. In the same time trial last year, his time was over five minutes better than the Cofidis rider who currently holds 3rd overall.

15H48 - Kristin & Luke Visit Lance... With his start now less than 15 minutes away, Lance Armstrong has been paid a visit by his wife, Kristin, and son, Luke. He is still warming up on the hometrainer and appears to be super relaxed for a man who is about to attempt to win his 4th stage of the 2001 Tour.

15H47 - Laiseka 5th At 43km The winner of the stage to Luz Ardiden is proving that he can also time trial. Roberto Laiseka is now 5th at the 43km mark - 2'01" behind Jose Enrique Gutierrez.

15H46 - Guitierrez Now Leading At 43km Jose Enrique Gutierrez is the new leader at the 43km time check. His time is 53" better than Kloeden's mark.

15H45 - Chaurreau Now 3rd At 21.5km Inigo Chaurreau is now in 3rd at the 21.5km mark. His time of 26'20" is 8" behind the time of Julich.

15H43 - Kloeden New Best Time At 43km There are now three German riders in the top five at the 2nd time check. Andreas Kloeden has set the fastest standard with his time of 56'41".

15H42 - New Top 5 At 21.5km With 130 riders passed the first time check, the top five is as follows: 1. Julich 21.5km in 26'12" 2. J. E. Gutierrez at 7" 3. Vinokourov at 40" 4. A. Gonzalez de Galdeano at 40" 5. Brochard at 57"

15H41 - Jaksche 4th At 43km There are two Germans in 3rd and 4th at the 43km time check. They are Jens Voigt (41" behind the mark of Alvaro Gonzalez de Galdeano) and Jorge Jaksche (48" behind the current best time).

15H39 - Laurent Jalabert 6th At 21.5km Mark Laurent Jalabert, the King of the Mountains, is sixth at the 21.5km mark. He is behind: Julich, J. E. Gutierrez, A. Gonzalez de Galdeano, Brochard and Kloeden. His deficit to Julich is 1'01".

15H38 - Only The First Few Kilometers On Wet Roads Despite recent rainfall at the start, the roads are dry a few kilometers into the 61km course.

15H36 - Botero Now Racing... Botero is now racing the time trial. There are only eight riders yet to start today. They are: Boogerd, Sevilla, Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, Simon, Beloki, Kivilev, Ullrich and Armstrong.

15H34 - Armstrong On 'Home Trainer' 30 Minutes Before Start As is the norm for all riders before they start their time trial, Lance Armstrong is currently on the hometrainer in front of his US Postal team bus. He looks relaxed despite being the center of attention of oodles of spectators and media. His start time is less than half-an-hour away...

15H31 - Bartoli Into 4th At 43km Michele Bartoli has nudged his way into 4th place at the 2nd time check. He is behind 1'01" behind Alvaro Gonzalez de Galdeano's time at the 43km mark.

15H30 - Roads At Start Now Soaked... Recent rain has formed small puddles on the road at the start of the 61km time trial. Conditions are dry at the finish, but right now Garzelli, the latest rider to start, is riding over the wet roads.

15H28 - Julich New Best Time at 21.5km! Bobby Julich has started strongly. The US rider is now 7" ahead of Jose Enrique Gutierrez at the 21.5km mark - and currently has the best time of the day with 26'12"!

15H24 - Heras Now Racing... The rider who started the day in 13th place, Roberto Heras, has begun his time trial. The riders yet to start are: Rous, Garzelli, Serrano, Botero, Boogerd, Sevilla, I. Gonzalez de Galdeano, Simon, Beloki, Kivilev, Ullrich and Armstrong. The final start time is 4.00pm.

15H21 - Top 5 At 21.5km After 120 Riders... There has been a change to the top five at the 21.5km mark recently. The new scenario is as follows: 1. J. E. Gutierrez 21.5km in 26'19" 2. A. Gonzalez de Galdeano at 37" 3. Kloeden at 54" 4. Jaksche at 55" 5. Bertogliati at 1'04"

15H19 - Gutierrez Sets Best Time At 1st Check... Kelme's Jose Enrique Gutierrez has posted the best time of the day at the 21.5km mark. He leads ONCE's Alvaro Gonzalez de Galdeano at the 1st check by 37". Then comes the Telekom rider, Kloeden at 54" and ONCE's Jaksche at 57".

15H17 - Voigt & O'Grady Finish Together Voigt has caught his team-mate O'Grady at the finish. The German started four minutes behind the Australian. Voigt's time is good enough to be in 3rd position at the 61km mark. He is 20" behind the leading time of Bertogliati.

15H11 - Botcharov Now Racing In Rain The 17th-last rider to start, Alexandre Botcharov, has begun his time trial in the wet. Rain has started to fall in Montlucon, but conditions are still dry at the finish.

15H09 - Possibly An Error With Cuesta's Time The time given for Cuesta may be wrong. He is listed as having finished 9'00" behind Bertogliati, and his two-minute man (who Cuesta caught) is listed as being 7'03"...

15H06 - Cuesta Catches Cardenas Right On The Finishline... The Cofidis rider, Inigo Cuesta has caught his two-minute man, Felix Cardenas right on the finishline. The time of Cuesta is 9'00" behind the current leader: Rubens Bertogliati.

15H03 - 3 Minute Intervals Now Now that Axel Merckx is racing, the intervals between the riders at the start will jump from two minutes to three minutes. There are 19 riders yet to start their time trial today. They are: Sastre, L. Jalabert, Botcharov, Vinokourov, Chaurreau, Mancebo, Heras, Rous, Garzelli, Serrano, Botero, Boogerd, Sevilla, I. Gonzalez de Galdeano, Simon, Beloki, Kivilev, Ullrich and Armstrong.

15H00 - Julich Now Racing The rider who finished 3rd overall in 1998, Bobby Julich, has begun his time trial. The US rider was part of the Credit Agricole squad which won the team time trial in stage 5.

14H59 - Tailwind Picking Up... With Brozyna (who began the day in 22nd place) now on the road, the wind is now picking up slightly. There is now a light tailwind of about 10-15kph on the finishing straight.

14H57 - Voigt Into Top 3 At 43km Mark Jens Voigt has pushed his way into the top 5 at the 43km mark. After his arrival at the 2nd check, the top five is as follows: 1. A. Gonzalez de Galdeano 43km in 57'20" 2. Bertogliati at 26" 3. Voigt at 41" 4. Belohvosciks at 1'06" 5. N. Jalabert at 1'12"

14H51 - Beloki Looking For 2nd Tour Podium Today The rider in 4th overall, Beloki, will be looking to gain at least1'20" on Andrei Kivilev in today's time trial. That is the deficit of last year's 3rd overall on the current 3rd overall. In the final time trial of 2000, Beloki was 3'25" behind Armstrong; Kivilev was at 9'08".

14H47 - 2 Kelme & 2 ONCE In Overall Top 10 With one of today's main battles being the team classification - which is closely contested by the Kelme and ONCE teams - it's worth noting that both Spanish teams have two riders in the top 10 overall. The Kelme pair include the rider in the Aquarel-sponsored Best Young Rider jersey, Oscar Sevilla (in 7th) and Santiago Botero (in 9th). The ONCE pair are Joseba Beloki (in 4th) and Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (in 6th).

14H42 - Top 5 At 21.5km After 100 Riders Have Passed The first 100 riders have passed the first time check (at 21.5km). The top five is as follows: 1. A. Gonzalez de Galdeano 21.5km in 26'56" 2. Bertogliati at 27" 3. Voigt at 31" 4. Pinotti at 35" 5. N. Jalabert at 38"

14H40 - Nestl Aquarel's Prized Caravan... The 88th Tour de France should prove to be one of the most popular sporting events in 2001, with about 15 million spectators on the road, which justifies the existence of the publicity caravan which is a part of the Tour tradition. Thats why Nestl Aquarel created such a unique caravan. The Tour's new sponsor won three categories of the caravan prize. Elected by the peers Aquarel was rewarded with the Best Animation Prize, the Prize of the Public and the Grand Prix of the caravan.

14H36 - The Top 5 With 70 Riders At the Finish There has been no change to the top 5 at the finish for some time. With 70 riders home, the situation at the 61km mark is as follows: 1. Bertogliati 61km in 1h18'44" 2. A. Gonzalez de Galdeano at 9" 3. Belohvosciks at 1'08" 4. N. Jalabert at 1'56" 5. Morin at 2'04"

14H33 - Livingston The 104th Rider To Start The 5th last of the Telekom riders to start today, Kevin Livingston is now on the road. Unlike his team-mate Bolts, the American has modified carbon-fibre brake levers on his Pinarello bike. Another feature of this carbon bike include the rear brake calliper being on the chainstays...

14H29 - The Topp 5 Teams Before Today's Time Trial... Before the 18th stage, the top five in the teams classification were: 1. Kelme-Costa Blanca 233h51'52" 2. ONCE-Eroski at 8'57" 3. Rabobank at 35'20" 4. Bonjour at 35'36" 5. Deutsche Telekom at 43'32" The winner of this classification automatically qualifies for the 2002 Tour.

14H26 - Voigt 3rd At 21.5km Mark The German Credit Agricole rider who won stage 16 this year, Jens Voigt, is now in 3rd place at the 21.5km time check. He is 31" behind the best-time of the day (that of Gonzalez de Galdeano).

14H23 - O'Grady 7th At 21.5km Mark The reigning sprint king, Stuart O'Grady is 1'00" behind the time of Alvaro Gonzalez de Galdeano at the 1st time check. The green jersey wearer is currently in 7th position at the 21.5km mark.

14H21 - Ekimov at 5'30" The Olympic time trial champion, Ekimov has finished with a time of 1h24'14" - 5'30" behind Rubens Bertogliati who was the 2nd rider to start the stage.

14H17 - 102 Riders Have Started... So far 102 riders have started their time trial (and 60 have finished). The top five at the finish hasn't changed since Alvaro Gonzalez de Galdeano arrived about 25 minutes ago. He is still 2nd, 9" behind Rubens Bertogliati.

14H09 - Average Speed of Leading Rider Rubens Bertogliati, who still leads the stage (after 58 riders have finished) recorded a time of 1h18'44" to set an average speed for the 61km of 46.48kph.

14H08 - Yesterday's Winner in 40th At 3rd Check Serge Baguet who won the 17th stage, is currently in 40th place at the 55.1km mark. So far 60 riders have passed this time check.

14H07 - Bolts Using 10-Year-Old Brake Levers The latest rider to start, Udo Bolts, is riding a high-tech carbon-fibre Pinarello bike with Campagnolo's 10-speed Record groupset. But because he's using time trial specific gear levers, his brake levers are from about 10 years ago.

14H03 - Aquarel's Scenes of Life... Nestle Aquarel's vehicles - which were voted to be the best of the 2001 Tour's publicity caravan - included six scenes of life (from marriage to fire-fighters). They also had several large floats which were dressed up as huge 'Aquarel' bottles. The 'official water' of the 2001 Tour has certainly been a great asset during the hotter stages of this year's race!

14H00 - Nestle Aquarel Win The Grand Prize of the 2001 Caravan! One of the Tour's newest sponsors, Nestle Aquarel, has tasted success in their first year of involvement. Every year the Tour offers trophies for the best floats in the Tour's famous publicity caravan; and Aquarel was voted to be the best of the 2001 Tour.

13H56 - Top 5 With 50 Riders Home... With 50 riders having finished the stage, the top five is as follows: 1. Bertogliati 61km in 1h18'44" 2. A. Gonzalez de Galdeano at 9" 3. Belohvosciks at 1'08" 4. N. Jalabert at 1'56" 5. Morin at 2'04"

13H53 - Hamilton 11th At Finish Tyler Hamilton has just finished his time trial. He is currently in 11th place (3'24" behind Bertogliati). The US Postal rider has finished 2nd and 4th in the final time trial in the past two Tours.

13H52 - Brard 5'08" Behind At The Finish The rider who won the French time trial championships 10 days before the Tour, Florent Brard, is 5'08" behind the best time of the day (by Bertogliati) at the finish.

13H50 - O'Grady In The Start-House... The green jersey of Stuart O'Grady can be seen in the start-house. The Australian sprinter is also a good time trial rider (having finished 10th in the final Tour time trial 2 years ago, and 8th in the prologue). Today, however, he will most likely rest his legs a little as his lead over Zabel in the sprint classification is just 11pts.

13H46 - Hincapei 3'02" Behind At 21.5km The US Postal rider, George Hincapie, is 3'02" behind the leading time at the first check. Hincapie was the 73rd rider to start the stage.

13H44 - Gonzalez de Galdeano 2nd At Finish... The rider who has posted the fastest intermediate splits of the day, Alvaro Gonzalez de Galdeano, has finished behind the Bertogliati at the 61km final check. The ONCE rider was 9" behind with a time of 1h18'44".

13H36 - Tauler 8th At 21.5km The 2nd Kelme rider to start today, Antonio Tauler, is 1'16" behind the ONCE rider (Alvaro Gonzalez de Galdeano) at the 21.5km mark. These two squads are fighting for the lead in the teams classification. Currently Kelme lead ONCE by 8'57".

13H33 - Gonzalez de Galdeano Loosing Time, But Still Leading At the 3rd check, Alvaro Gonzalez de Galdeano, has posted the fastest time. His advantage over the 2nd-best, however, is dropping... he was 27" ahead of Bertogliati at the 1st check, 26" ahead at the 2nd check and is now just 5" ahead at the 55.1km mark.

13H31 - Hamilton 9th At 43km Tyler Hamilton has passed the 2nd time check with a time of 59'43". He was the 50th rider to start the day and was able to catch his two-minute man, his team-mate Steffan Kjaergaard.

13H28 - McGee 5th At 21.5km One of the two Australians in the Tour, Brad McGee has set the 5th fastest time of the day at the 21.5km check. He is 52" behind Alvaro Gonzalez de Galdeano.

13H22 - Verbrugghe 4'14" Behind At Finish Rik Verbrugghe's time is 4'14" behind the leading time of the day at the finish. Verbrugghe was the 33rd rider to start. He is currently 11th at the 61km mark.

13H21 - The Current Top 5 At 43km... After 45 riders have passed the 2nd time check, the top five is as follows: 1. A. Gonzalez de Galdeano 43km in 57'20" 2. Bertogliati at 26" 3. Belohvosciks at 1'06" 4. N. Jalabert at 1'12" 5. Morin at 1'54"

13H17 - Armstrong Due To Start In Less Than 3 Hours George Hincapie is the latest rider to start the 18th stage. He was the 73rd rider to leave the start-house. There are 145 riders still in the Tour and the overall leader, Armstrong, will be the last to start. His scheduled start time is 4.00pm.

13H12 - 40 Riders Passed 43km Check There are 40 riders now passed the 2nd time check. The rider who has the best time at the 1st check Alvaro Gonzalez de Galdeano, was the 45th to start today. The current best time at 43km is held by Bertogliati (57'46").

13H00 - Hamilton 10th At 21.5km The rider who finished 2nd and 4th in the final time trials of the 1999 and 2000 Tour, Tyler Hamitlon is currently 10th at the first time check. He is 1'29" behind the time of Alvaro Gonzalez de Galdeano.

12H58 - Olympic Time Trial Champion Racing... Viatcheslav Ekimov - the Olympic time trial champion who rides with the US Postal Service team - is the last rider to leave the start-house. He began his time trial at 12.57pm.

12H57 - Verbrugghe 12th At 43km Mark The rider who finished 5th in the final tme trial of the 1999 Tour, Rik Verbrugghe is now in 12th place at the 2nd time check. The winner of stage 15 this year, is 2'48" behind the best time of the day.

12H56 - 18 Nations Now Present In Tour The 2001 Tour began with 21 countries represented. There are now 18. The nations which are no longer in the Tour are: Great Britain (Millar), Etonia (Kirsipuu) and South Africa (Hunter).

12H55 - Brard 1'30" Behind At 21.5km Florent Brard, the rider who finished 3rd in the prologue - and won the French time trial championships a week before the Tour - has passed the 21.5km mark 1'30" behind the time of Alvaro Gonzalez de Galdeano.

12H53 - Durand 5'53" Behind At The Finish The rider who has previously won a time trial stage of the Tour - Jacky Durand, who won the wet prologue in 1995 - has finished his race today. He is 5'53" behind the early standard of Rubens Bertogliati.

12H51 - Maingan Not Showing Good Time Trial Form Today The two-time French time trial champion, Maignan isn't able to better the standard of Rubens Bertogliati. Maignan was 1'39" behind at the 43km mark and 2'20" behind at the 55.1km mark.

12H48 - New Best Time At The 21.5km Mark Alvaro Gonzalez de Galdeano has beaten the time of Bertogliati at the first time check. The ONCE rider leads the 2nd rider to start by 27" at the 21.5km mark. The team contest of Kelme and ONCE - 1st and 2nd in the team classification - has begun!

12H45 - Zabel Nearing First Time Check The rider who is currently in 2nd place in the sprint classification (Erik Zabel) is about to reach the first time check. The Telekom rider was the 44th rider to start the time trial.

12H34 - Bertogliati Still Best Time At All Time Checks With 10 riders now at the finish, Rubens Bertogliati still leads. The Lampre rider has the best times at all checks at this stage of the race. He leads Ludovic Auger by 2'21" at the finish.

12H32 - Kelme Lead ONCE By 8'57" Kelme currently lead ONCE by 8'57" - ONCE boast the likes of Igor Gonzalez Galdeano, Beloki and Sastre, all good time trial riders. But Kelme have improved their time trial in recent years. The winners of last year's team classification were 2nd at the Chamrousse mountain time trial.

12H31 - Curious Scenario Remains In Team Classification At the start of the 18th stage, the Kelme team are the leaders of the team classification. They are very motivated to win this prize for the second-successive year (as it gives them automatic selection for the 2002 Tour).

12H22 - Nicolas Jalabert In 2nd At 21.5km The 30th rider to start today, Nicolas Jalabert - the brother of the King of the Mountains and two-time stage winner this year, Laurent - is now in 2nd place (by 11") at the first time check.

12H21 - Saint-Amand-Montrond's Prize For Stage Winner... The winner of today's time trial will also win two special prizes awarded by the town of today's finish. There is a cash prize of 18,000 French Francs as well as a watch thanks to the kind folk in the municipality of Saint-Amand-Montrond.

12H17 - Recent Yellow Jersey Final Time Trial Results The rider in the yellow jersey has won the last two final time trials of the Tour de France. That was Armstrong in 1999 and 2000. In the 3 years before that, however, the yellow jersey was beaten by other riders. In 1998 Pantani was beaten by Ullrich; in 1997 Ullrich was beaten by Olano and in 1996 Riis was beaten by his Telekom team-mate, Ullrich.

12H15 - Vainsteins 2'57" Behind At 43km The Latvian Romans Vainsteins has passed the 43km mark. He is the 5th fastest at this stage of the race and is 2'57" behind the time of Bertogliati.

12H14 - Bertogliati The First Rider to Finish The 2nd rider to start the time trial, Rubens Bertogliati, has finished the 61km stage. He is the first rider to cross the line in Saint-Amand-Montrond. His time is 1h18'44".

12H13 - First Tour Stage Finish At Saint-Amand-Montrond This is the first time the town of Saint-Amand-Montrond has hosted a stage finish of the Tour de France.

12H12 - Top 5 At 43km Mark After 20 Riders... After 20 riders have passed the 2nd time check, the top five is as follows: 1. Bertogliati 57'46" 2. L. Auger at 1'47" 3. R. Sorensen at 2'03" 4. Jenner at 2'41" 5. Casper at 3'15"

12H09 - Bertogliati At 3rd Time Check Rubens Bertogliati has passed the 3rd time check. His time at the 55.1km mark is 1h11'55". He leads the rider who started two-minutes ahead of him (Casper) by 4'45".

12H07 - Brard Due To Start At 12.25pm The reigning French time trial champion, Florent Brard, is due to start at 12.25pm. The Festina rider finished 3rd in the 2001 prologue and wore the Aquarel White jersey as Best Young Rider early in this year's event.

12H05 - Maignan 3rd At 21.5km Mark Gilles Maignan hasn't been able to match the time of Rubens Bertogliati. The AG2R rider is 47" behind the early standard of the Swiss Lampre rider.

12H01 - Bertogliati Still Leads At First Check After 20 riders have passed the 21.5km time check, Rubens Bertogliati, still has the best time. He leads Rolf Sorensen by 40".

11H59 - Casper Now Over Three-Minutes Behind The 'sprinter' who finished 2nd last in yesterday's stage, Casper, is now 3'15" behind the leading time at the 2nd time check (at 43km). Bertogliati's time at the Saint-Bonnet-Troncaise check is 57'46".

11H47 - Auger Brothers In 3rd & 4th At 21.5km The two Auger brothers who race for the Big-Mat team are currently in 3rd and 4th at the 21.5km time check. Ludovic leads Guillaume by 10" at this stage of the race.

11H45 - World Champion 5th At 21.5km Romans Vainsteins, the reigning road race world champion, is passed the first time check in fifth place. The Latvian is 1'15" behind the Swiss rider who currently has the best time, Rubens Bertogliati (with 27'23").

11H35 - Maignan Now Racing The two-time French time trial champion, Gilles Maignan has just started the 18th stage.

11H35 - Five Riders Passed 21.5km Mark... With five riders now passed the first time check, the times are as follow: 1. Rubens Bertogliati (Lampre) 27'23" 2. Rolf Sorensen (CSC-Tiscal) at 40" 3. Chris Jenner (CA) at 1'25" 4. Jimmy Casper (FDJ) at 1'30" 5. Luca Bramati (Mapei) at 1'43"

11H28 - Locations of Intermediate Time Checks The three intermediate time checks for the 18th stage time trial are at Vallon-en-Sully (at 21.5km), Saint-Bonnet-Troncaise (43km) and Les Bretagnes (55.1km).

11H26 - Two Riders At The 21.5km Mark... The first two riders to start today have passed the first time check (at 21.5km). The Tour's 'Lanterne Rouge', Jimmy Casper, has already lost over a minute to Rubens Bertogliati. The time of Rubens is 27'23". Casper is 1'30" behind the Lampre rider's time.

11H15 - Verbrugghe The First 2001 Stage Winner To Start The first rider who has won a stage of the 2001 Tour to start today's time trial is Rik Verbrugghe. He raced to 5th in the equivalent time trial of the 1999 Tour when he finished 2'03" behind the time of the eventual winner, Lance Armstrong. Verbrugghe won stage 15 this year. He is the 33rd rider to leave today (at 11.57am).

11H12 - Hardly Any Wind Today The 18th stage will be raced in very still conditions. There is the lightest of breezes blowing now, but barely enough to raise a ripple on the flags which line the 61km course.

11H10 - Maignan Likely To Set Early Standard The first known time trialler to start today is the two-time French TT champion, Gilles Maignan. He starts the 18th stage at 11.37am and is the 23rd rider of the day. Jacky Durand, a former Tour prologue winner (in wet conditions back in 1995) is the 19th rider to start.

11H06 - Hot Conditions For the Time Trial The 18th stage will be raced in hot conditions. At the start the temperature was 23 degrees Celsius, but it is forecast to rise to 31 degrees by the time the final rider departs. The weather bureau has said there is a chance of thunderstorms later in the day. (We'll keep you posted...)

10H58 - Two Minute Intervals For First 126 Riders The first 126 riders of today's time trial will start at two-minute intervals. The final 18 will depart three minutes apart. The reigning race leader, Lance Armstrong, is scheduled to start his time trial at 4.00pm.

10H56 - Third Rider Now Racing... The stage 18 time trial has begun. There are now three riders racing. The first two, Jimmy Casper and Rubens Bertogliati started their race at 10.53am and 10.55am. Luca Bramati has just rolled off the start ramp. His departure time was 10.57am.

10H50 - Armstrong Has Won This Stage For the Past Two Tours The overall leader of the 2001 Tour, Lance Armstrong has won the final time trial of the Tour for the past two years. In 1999, he beat Alex Zulle (the eventual overall runner-up) by nine seconds and his team-mate Tyler Hamilton by 1'35". Last year he beat Jan Ullrich (again, the overall runner-up) by 25 seconds and Christophe Moreau by 2'12".

10H47 - Three Intermediate Time Checks Today There will be three time checks along the 61km time trial course. The intermediate check are at the 21.5km mark, the 43km mark and the 55.1km mark.

10H46 - Time Trial: 61km of Flat Roads The 61km time trial course today is essentially flat. The start in Montlucon is at 254m above sea-level. The highest peak is at Foret Domaniale de Trancais (at 34km) and is only 359m high. The finish in Saint-Amand-Montrond is at 184m. There are no categorized climbs for the 18th stage.

10H42 - Stage 18 Due To Start At 10.53am The first rider to start the stage 18 time trial will leave the start-house at 10.53am. The riders depart in reverse order of their overall standing after stage 17. The first rider to start is Francaise des Jeux's Jimmy Casper. His overall deficit to Armstrong at the start of the day was 3h42'10".

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