One might have expected the 175 riders who began the ninth stage to ride today at a mild tempo or, as they say in the bunch, play a bit of piano. But that certainly wasnt the case.
The action started right from the drop of the flag to indicate the start of the 185km stage from Pontarlier. And by the time the Tour arrived in Aix-les-Bains at the base of the Alps, the average speed was 46.677kph.
And thankfully, for the winner Sergei Ivanov, the pace had slowed down from the frantic 50.5kph first hour.
Rapid attacks were launched and chased for the first 30-odd kilometers, but it wasnt until Brad McGee jumped clear at the 36th kilometer that any significant gain was made.
Perhaps the eagerness of the chase of each escape attempt was an indication that the consensus was for a piano session today. Instead, what eventuated was a flat-knacker perpetual pursuit of McGee and his day-long escape companions, David Etxebarria and Fassa Bortolos lone Russian, Ivanov.
The organizers offer several predictions for the arrival time of each stage. And today, the pace was 15 minutes ahead of the fastest option. Its a stark contrast to the last time Aix-les-Bains hosted a finish of a Tour stage. (Back in 1998, the stage from Albertville was cancelled because of a rider strike which brought the peloton to the shores of Lac du Bourget three hours past the slowest anticipated time.)
In the end, the only real winner today was Ivanov who launched his final attack nine kilometers from the finish.
Etxebarria and McGee limped home 16 and 17 seconds later. The Australian was obviously exhausted and feeling the aches and pains of the race to Aix-les-Bains.
Seven seconds later Erik Zabel burst from the remnants of the peloton to claim fourth-place.
The German wont concede defeat in the green jersey competition easily. But with the leader of that classification the man who also leads the Tour de France Stuart OGrady coming in two places later its now going to be a battle within the war of whats yet to come in this years Tour.
Tomorrow is the rendezvous with one of the most famed finishes of the race: the beautiful ascent to the summit at Alpe dHuez.
On the way the riders face the prospect of the highest pass of this years event: the 2,000-meter-tall epic of the Col de la Madeleine. The race for overall honors really begins, and you can bet that therell be some maestros at the back of the pack who wished they heard a little more music today.
16H43 - O'Grady Keeps The Yellow... And The Green The peloton was led home by Zabel (for 4th), then Damien Nazon and Stuart O'Grady. O'Grady retains his lead in both the overall and sprint classifications.
16H41 - Etxebarria 2nd, McGee 3rd, Zabel 4th... The bunch mistimed their rush and finished about 70 meters behind Etxebarria and McGee.
16H40 - Ivanov Wins The Stage! Ivanov's attack with 9km to go has paid off. The Fassa Bortolo rider has won the stage!
16H40 - 10" Lead For Ivanov Ivanov is now 10" ahead of McGee and Etxebarria.
16H39 - 1km To Go Ivanov is in the final kilometer with a lead of about 200 meters.
16H39 - A Hard Pursuit For McGee Despite his strength in the 4km pursuit, McGee does not look like he'll be able to catch the attack by Ivanov. He is swapping off with Etxebarria but they are still well behind the Russian stage leader.
16H38 - Peloton 38" Behind Leader Ivanov is in the final 2km. He is 38" ahead of the peloton and 8" ahead of the two chasers.
16H37 - 3km To Go Ivanov is now 3km from the finish. He is 8" ahead of McGee and Etxebarria.
16H36 - McGee Now Helmetless With the stage leader now in the final 4km, McGee has taken off his helmet and is cooperating with Etxebarria in a chase of the stage-leading Russian. They are 6" behind with the peloton a further 38" behind.
16:35 5km To Go Ivanov is in the final 5km of the stage. He leads McGee and Etxebarria by 6".
16:28 13km To Go The three leaders are still working together at the front. They have an advantage of 1'00" on the peloton with 13km to go.
16:27 Etxebarria A Two-Time Tour Stage Winner In the 1999 Tour, David Etxebarria won two stages of the Tour. He is the only rider of the leading three to have won a stage of the Tour. McGee is riding his first Tour and Ivanov was one of the three who weren't allowed to start last year's 1st stage because of a high hematocrit reading before the start of the Tour.
16:25 Will The Break Last? The Bonjour and Telekom teams are leading the peloton's pursuit of the leading trio. They are 1'18" behind the group of McGee, Etxebarria and Ivanov.
16:24 Moreau Punctures The winner of the prologue, Moreau, has punctured. He has two Festina team-mates helping him to try and get back on to the first peloton.
16:23 135km Break For McGee McGee's trio are now 1'47" ahead of the Telekom-led peloton and 2'42" ahead of the Kirsipuu bunch. Two of the leaders have been away since the 36km mark - Etxebarria and McGee.
16:20 Big-Name Sprinters Off The Back... Romans Vainsteins and Jaan Kirsipuu are both off the back of the peloton. At this stage of the race, it means that the leading trio won't have to contend with the pursuit of the AG2R and Domo teams... because their in-house sprinters are busy trying to stay in touch with the pack (not contemplating which wheel to follow in the finishing rush).
16:16 Lead Back Up To 2'12" After dropping to 1'56", the three escapees have pushed their advantage back up to 2'12" with 21km to race.
16:11 Leaders Arrive Near Rumilly Sprint The leaders have just passed under the 25km to go banner. They are now 1km away from the 3rd intermediate sprint of the stage.
16:10 Lead Under Two Minutes The three leaders have dropped their advantage to 1'56" as the peloton passes through Vallieres (157.5km).
16:09 2'10" Lead For McGee, Etxebarria and Ivanov As Gutierrez is caught by the peloton, the three leaders have an advantage of 2'10".
16:08 Gutierrez Swamped By Peloton After gaining an advantage on the peloton of about 20", the attack by Gutierrez has been caught by the peloton. There are now 3 riders at the front of the stage.
16:07 A Splitting Round-About Aix-les-Bains, the site of today's finish, boasts a round-about which can be divided and moved to the edge of the road to allow the peloton of the Tour de France to pass through the center. This rather unique round-about is on the Boulevard Barrier.
16:01 McGee & O'Grady World Champion Team-Mates In 1995 When the Australian pursuit team won the world championship in Colombia in 1995 the team included both the Australians in this year's Tour de France: Stuart O'Grady and Brad McGee. Also in the troop was Tim O'Shannessey and Brad's brother, Rodney.
16:00 O'Grady Back With Main Pack O'Grady's second peloton has caught the main group. There are now three riders in the lead (McGee, Etxebarria and Ivanov), they are chased by Gutierrez and then the main pack. The peloton was at 2'30" at the summit of the Bossy Climb.
15:59 Gutierrez Attacks Peloton The Kelme rider Gutierrez, has attacked the peloton. He is now about 100m ahead of the main peloton.
15:58 The Complete Bossy Points Tally The full results of the Cote de Bossy are: 1. Etxebarria (EUS) 10pts 2. McGee (FDJ) 7pts 3. Ivanov (FAS) 5pts 4. Halgand (DEL) 3pts - at 2'30" 5. Brochard (DEL) 1pt.
15:56 Peloton Splits On Climb The yellow jersey of O'Grady is in a second group on the climb.
15:55 Halgand Comes Forward For Minor Points The Bonjour train at the front of the peloton has been interupted by the emergence of the polka-dot jersey of Halgand. He is in the hunt for the 3pts for 4th-place at the summit of the Cote de Bossy.
15:54 Etxebarria Climbed In The Big Ring The rider who won the 10pts at the top of the Bossy climb, Etxebarria, was the only one of the leading trio to pedal the final climb of the 9th stage in the big chainring.
15:53 Bossy Results The results of the Cote de Bossy are: 1. Etxebarria (EUS) 10pts 2. McGee (FDJ) 7pts 3. Ivanov (FAS) 5pts... the peloton is yet to reach the summit.
15:51 40km To Go At Summit The leaders are in the final kilometer of the 3rd climb today. After the Bossy summit, there are 40 kilometers to race.
15:50 Climb Claims Some Victims Verbrugghe, Dekker, Kirsipuu and Millar are three of the riders who are loosing touch with the peloton on the final climb today. The peloton is 3'05" behind as the leaders pass the 1km to go sign for the cat-3 climb up the Cote de Bossy.
15:48 Bonjour Continue To Lead Peloton Jean-Cyril Robin, Didier Rous and five other Bonjour riders are still setting the tempo at the front of the peloton's chase. They are now 3'15" behind the leading trio.
15:46 Agnolutto Caught By Peloton Agnolutto has been caught by the peloton right on the line of the 2nd intermediate sprint.
15:45 Leading Trio On Final Climb The leaders are now on the 3rd climb today. The cat-3 Cote de Bossy is 3.4km long with an average gradient of 7.6 percent.
15:43 Results of Frangy Sprint The results of the 2nd intermediate sprint (at 141.5km) are: 1. McGee (FDJ) 6pts 2. Ivanov (FAS) 4pts 3. Etxebarria (EUS) 2pts. The peloton is 3'25" behind the leading trio.
15:42 Leaders At 2nd Sprint The leading trio are on the approach to the 2nd sprint.
15:38 Less Than 50km To Race... The leading group of McGee, Etxebarria and Ivanov are in the final 50km of the stage. Their lead is down to 3'35" after reaching a maximum gain of 9'00". The break was started by McGee at the 36th kilometer mark.
15:37 Peloton Now Less Than Four Minutes Behind Lead Group As the peloton pass the summit of the Cote de Pralon, they were 3'50" behind the three leaders. The red, white and blue jersey of the French champion, Didier Rous has been at the front of the peloton (along with his Bonjour team-mates) for quite some time.
15:34 Agnolutto At 2'30" The lone chase by Agnolutto looks like it'll have now effect at all. He is still sandwiched between the two groups - 2'30" behind the 3 leaders and 2'00" ahead of the peloton.
15:33 Results of 2nd Climb At the Cote de Pralon, the points were won by: 1. McGee (FDJ) 5pts 2. Ivanov (FAS) 3pts 3. Etxebarria (EUS) 1pt They were 4'30" ahead of the peloton.
15:30 Lead Group On 2nd Climb The leading trio are on the Cote de Pralon (a cat-4 climb which peaks at 131.5km). They are 5'15" ahead of the peloton.
15:29 Bonjour Dominating Chase The Bonjour team of 2nd overall (Francois Simon) is lead the peloton's chase. They are now 5'30" behind the stage leaders.
15:27 Maximum Lead: 9'00" The leading trio reached a maximum lead of 9'00" at the 118km mark. They are now 5'30" ahead of the peloton.
15:26 Correction: 6 minutes - not 10! The advantage of the leading three is six minutes, not 10.
15:23 Lead Over 10 Minutes! As the peloton make their way through Confort (119.5km), they are 10'10" behind the leading trio of McGee, Etxebarria and Ivanov.
15:21 Agnolutto 2'35" Behind: Peloton at 9'00" As the chase by Agnolutto passes the 120km mark, he is 2'35" behind the three leaders. The trio up front represent three teams and three countries. They are: Brad McGee (FDJ) Australia, David Etxebarria (Euskaltel) Spain and Sergei Ivanov (Fassa Bortolo) Russia.
15:18 Leading Trio Push Advantage Up To 9'00"! The cat-4 climb of the Cote de Pralon is at the 131.5km mark. They leading trio are now about 10km away. They lead the peloton by 9'00"!
15:15 65km To Go The leaders are now in the town of Confort (at the 120km mark). They lead the peloton by over seven minutes and have 65km to race to the finish in Aix-les-Bains.
15:13 Bonjour Lead Peloton's Chase The Bonjour team are at the front of the peloton's chase. The leading trio are now 7'05" ahead of the peloton.
15:08 70km To Go With the leaders in the final 70km of the stage, they are 7'05" ahead of the peloton and 2'50" ahead of Agnolutto.
15:05 3 Lead Agnolutto By 2'50" Agnolutto is now 2'50" behind the three leaders. The latest margin from the leading group to the peloton was 7'30".
15:02 Lead Up To 7'30" The trio up front - McGee, Etxebarria and Ivanov - are now 7'30" ahead of the peloton.
15:00 Average Speed For 2nd Hour The average speed of the 2nd hour today was 43.6kph. After the rapid start, the overall average for the first two hours was 47.03kph.
14:58 The Situation Now The three leaders are 2'35" ahead of Agnolutto and 7'03" ahead of the peloton.
14:57 Fassa Bortolo At Front of Peloton There are four Fassa Bortolo riders at the front of the peloton. They aren't putting any effort into a chase (because Ivanov is in the escape). They stayed in Switzerland last night in a hotel which featured cardboard beds, desks and chairs... Yes, very solid cardboard.
14:54 Fallen Riders Okay Both Durand and Hushovd are okay after their falls. Hushovd took a while to get back on his bike, but he is now near the back of the peloton.
14:53 Etxebarria Best-Placed Of Leading Trio At the start of the day, David Etxebarria, was in 93rd place (57'25" behind O'Grady's overall lead). He is the best placed of the three stage leaders. Ivanov was in 126th and McGee was in 148th. Their escape is now 6'10" ahead of the peloton.
14:52 Both Falled Riders Now Chasing The two fallen riders, Thors Hushovd (CA) and Jacky Durand (FDJ) are back on their bikes and chasing to get back in the peloton.
14:51 Fall In Peloton! Hushovd and Durand have hit a tree at the back of the peloton. Neither rider looks too healthy, but they are now being put back on their bikes.
14:48 Peloton Over Four-Minutes Behind Leaders The escape by McGee (which began at 36km) is now working up a good advantage. He was quickly joined by Etxebarria and, later, Ivanov. This trio now leads the peloton by 4'05". Agnolutto is on his own between the two groups.
14:45 Blijlevens Abandons The Lotto rider, Jeroen Blijlevens, is the latest rider to abandon the Tour de France. There are now 173 riders in the race.
14:43 Lead On Peloton Now 3'20" After a mass of riders in the peloton stopped to relieve themselves, the advantage of the leading trio has jumped to 3'20". Agnolutto is on his own, 1'45" behind the leading group.
14:41 Halfway Through Today's Stage The leading trio are at the 92.5km mark - the half-way mark of the ninth stage. Their latest advantage is 1'45" on the chase by Agnolutto and 2'20" on the peloton.
14:37 Ivanov Back With Other Two Escapees After his daring descent, Ivanov has been caught by the two other escapees (McGee & Etxebarria).
14:36 Lamouller Abandons There are now 174 riders in the Tour. The latest rider to withdraw is Loic Lamouller (Big-Mat). The Frenchman fell in yesterday's stage.
14:35 Ivanov Taking A Chance On The Descent The Russian Fassa Bortolo rider, Ivanov, is taking a lot of risks on the current descent. He now leads McGee and Etxebarria by about 120 meters.
14:34 Agnolutto Attacks Peloton The winner of the stage into Limoges last year, Christophe Agnolutto of the AG2R team, has attacked the peloton. He is 1'30" behind the leading trio.
14:31 Chavanel & Den Bakker Back In Peloton The chase by Chavanel and Den Bakker amounted to nothing. There are now three leaders of the stage (McGee, Etxebarria and Ivanov).
14:30 Boogerd The Last Winner In Aix-les-Bains Michael Boogerd, the team-mate of yesterday's stage winner (Dekker) was the last winner of a stage to Aix-les-Bains. The Dutchman won his only Tour stage in pouring rain in 1996.
14:28 Two Riders Attack Pack Maarten Den Bakker and Chavanel have attacked the peloton. They are now in pursuit of the three stage leaders, Ivanov, McGee and Etxebarria. The leadion trio are at the feedzone at 80.5km - they lead the chase by 1'15" and the peloton by 1'25".
14:26 22nd Visit To Aix-les-Bains Today is the 22nd time in the 88-year history of the Tour that Aix-les-Bains has hosted a stage finish. The last stage to the city in the Savoie region was cancelled after the peloton went on strike following a late-night raid by police on the riders' hotels in Albertville back in 1998.
14:24 Lead Back Down To 1'30" The escape of McGee, Etxebarria and Ivanov is now 1'30" ahead of the peloton. The bunch is being led by the Bonjour and Kelme teams. There was a slight flurry of action from the French champion, Rous, at the front of the pack, but he is now working with the others at the front of the chase.
14:18 Dry Conditions So Far Today After yesterday's downpour, the 9th stage has been raced on dry roads (in overcast conditions) so far today. The stage is being led by McGee, David Etxebarria and Ivanov. They are 1'50" ahead of the peloton. But the chasing pack has picked up their pace.
14:15 Trentin Caught The chase by Trentin never lasted long. He is now back with the peloton.
14:14 Lead Grows Again The leading trio are now 1'50" ahead of the peloton. Guido Trentin (Cofidis) is in between the leaders and the peloton. The peloton were 1'30" behind the group of Etxebarria at the summit of the 1st climb.
14:13 The Climbing Points The peloton were 1'30" behind the leading trio at the summit of the Col des Rousses (68km). The points were won by: 1. Etxebarria (EUS) 10pts 2. McGee (FDJ) 7pts 3. Ivanov (FAS) 5pts 4. Halgand (DEL) 3pts 5. Goubert (DEL) 1pt
14:11 Halgand Leads Peloton Over Summit Patrice Halgand - the reigning king of the mountains - has led the peloton over the Col des Rousses.
14:10 Results Of Col des Rousses The leading trio have claimed the first three places at the Col des Rousses. The 10pts were won by Etxebarria. The Euskaltel rider was followed by McGee and Ivanov at the site of the first climb today.
14:09 Leaders 2'00" Ahead Now The leading trio are in the final kilometer of the summit of the first climb. They are 2'00" ahead of the peloton.
14:08 Bettini Leading Peloton's Chase The leading trio - McGee, Etxebarria and Ivanov - are still well clear of the peloton. Mapei's Paolo Bettini is setting the pace the front of the peloton. Behind the 2000 Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner are a cluster of Jean Delatour and Cofidis riders.
14:04 Lead Group On First Climb The leading trio are currently on the Col des Les Rousses (which peaks at the 68km mark). The latest time check had them 2'25" ahead of the peloton.
14:02 McGee's First Tour This is the first Tour de France for Brad McGee. The Francaise des Jeux rider in the leading group has had a great season so far in 2001 - with stage wins in the GP Midi Libre (in a sprint, the day after placing 2nd in a 19km time trial) as well as a time trial victory in the Rud du Sud.
13:59 Lead Up To 2'25" McGee, Etxebarria and Ivanov have pushed their advantage over the peloton to 2'25".
13:58 O'Grady's Rainbow Moments... The reigning race leader, O'Grady, won his two world championships in the team pursuit in 1993 and 1995. In 1993, his team recorded a new world record when they covered the 4,000m race in 4'03.840". (That mark has, of course, been broken since - with the German team setting a new world record at the Sydney Olympics.)
13:56 McGee & O'Grady Both Have Track Pursuit Background The two Australians in the Tour, Brad McGee and Stuart O'Grady, have both made a succesful transition from track racing to road racing. McGee, who is currently in an attack group, won his first pursuit world championship in the 3,000m event in the junior ranks back in 1993.
13:52 Three Riders Lead The Stage Ivanov has caught Brad McGee and David Etxebarria. These three riders now lead the stage by 1'20".
13:50 Ivanov Chasing... One rider has jumped off the front of the peloton in pursuit of the two leaders. McGee and Etxebarria lead Sergei Ivanov by 12". The peloton is 1'20" behind the two stage leaders.
13:49 Average Speed For the First Hour The first hour of racing today has been raced at over 50kph. The average speed so far for the 9th stage is 50.5kph!
13:41 Leaders' Maintain Their Advantage The pace of the ninth stage has been rpaid right from the start. The two leaders - McGee and David Etxebarria - have kept their advantage on the peloton. The latest time check for the two escapees is 32".
13:35 Lead Now 36" The two escapees have lost a little time in their break. McGee and David Etxebarria are now 36" ahead of the peloton.
13:32 Lead Up to 40" At the 41km mark, the two escapees have an advantage on the peloton of 40".
13:30 Two Riders Gain An Advantage Two riders have finally been able to gain a lead on the peloton. The riders involved are Brad McGee and David Etxebarria. Their lead is now 35". They began their attack at the 36th kilometer mark.
13:19 Peloton Together Again The peloton has caught Sevilla. The bunch is all together and riding at a rapid pace.
13:18 Sevilla Attacks Now The latest escape attempt has come from Oscar Sevilla of the Kelme team.
13:16 Verbrugghe Claims Sprint Points The attack of Zabel and Auger was caught just before the first sprint of the day. The points were won by: 1. Verbrugghe (LOT) 6pts 2. Bo Larsen (CST) 4pts 3. Chavanel (BJR) 2pts
13:15 Two Chasing Zabel & Auger There are now 2 riders chasing the attack by Zabel and Auger. Jean-Marie Leblanc, the Tour director, has said on race radio that they are from the Bonjour and Lotto, but no names were mentioned.
13:13 Zabel & Auger Try Their Luck Erik Zabel and Ludovic Auger are two riders who are now attempting to break free. They began their attack at the 26km mark. The peloton has reacted swiftly...
13:11 Three Small Climbs Today Today's stage features three low-ranked climbs. They are: the cat-3 Col des Les Rousses, 68km; the cat-4 Cote de Pralon, 131.5km and the Cote de Bossy, 145km.
13:09 Millar's Escape Over Millar's break is has been caught by the peloton. His biggest leading margin was 8". He was caught at the 23km mark.
13:07 Millar Now 8" Clear of Peloton David Millar is the latest rider to attack. The Scotsman has a lead of 8" on the peloton. His break is the first to have gained a large enough advantage to acquire a time check.
13:03 Break Over The break by Tosatto and Bettini has been caught by the peloton.
13:02 Two Riders Try An Escape Tosatto and Bettini are the two riders who have attmepted to break free of the peloton. The bunch is being led by Bonjour and Credit Agricole as they pursue the two Italian escapees.
13:00 Peloton At 16.5km Mark The ninth stage has begun at a very rapid pace. There were several early escape attempts, but the bunch is now all together at the 16.5km mark.
12:58 The Peloton Is At The 13km Mark The Fassa Bortolo team is now sending a few riders on the attack. The race is now at the 13th kilometer.
12:57 Three Sprints Today The 9th stage features three intermediate sprints (at Mouthe, 28km; Frangy, 141.5km and Rumilly, 161km). The green jersey competition is currently being led by Stuart O'Grady, but because the Australian also has the yellow jersey, Erik Zabel is in green for the ninth stage.
12:55 Peloton Together Again The attack by Verbrugghe is now over. The peloton is all together again after a series of early escape attempts.
12:54 Peloton Is About To Catch Verbrugghe The Belgian rider who attacked at the 8th kilometer, Verbrugghe, is about to be caught by the peloton.
12:52 Verbrugghe Attacks Now Rik Verbrugghe is the latest rider to attempt to break free of the peloton. He attacked in the 8th kilometer.
12:51 Peloton Together Again None of the early escape attempts have been successful. The AG2R team is leading the peloton now. The race is at the 8km mark.
12:49 Two More Attacking Riders Guerini and Bartoli are the latest riders to attack. They have a slight lead on the peloton at the 6th kilometer.
12:48 Peloton All Together The quick chase by the peloton has caught the four early escapees. The bunch is all together again.
12:44 Racing in Stage 9! The riders are now racing in the 9th stage of the 2001 Tour de France. The time of the official start was 12.44pm. There are 175 riders still in the race. No one abandoned the Tour after yesterday's cold, wet stage.
12:42 Stage 9 Due To Start At 12.40pm The 185km 9th stage of the Tour de France is scheduled to start at 12.40pm. There is a 2.1km neutral zone before the site of the start proper. The stage is from Pontarlier to Aix-les-Bains.