Tour de France 2011: stage 12 - as it happened

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Stage 12: Cugnaux to Luz Ardiden (211km)

All aboard the pain train! Choo-choo! Today the cyclists tackle three monstrous peaks in the Pyrenees in a stage that begins in Cugnaux, one of three settlements in southern France where death was officially prohibited by law due to one frustrated mayor's inability to secure more land from the government to expand packed municipal cemeteries and make room for additional corpses. It ends in the ski-station of , built at an altitude of 1720m and opened on January 16, 1975.

Luz Ardiden has featured as a stage finish for the Tour on several previous occasions, most notably in 2003, when . Leading the stage at the time, Jan Ullrich slowed down to wait for the pair, only to have his gesture of goodwill thrown back in his face by Armstrong, who collared him and pedalled off into the distance and stage victory. In Armtrong's defence, some argue that ... actually, I can't be the only one sick of listening to Armstrong's defence. Besides, those particular lawyers have more important things to be worrying about at the moment.

"The first truly key stage after all the build-up," writes Guardian cycling correspondent Will Fotheringham in our . "Three major climbs in the last 60 miles with the Col du Tourmalet the key one: any favourite who struggles here will have lost the Tour. The mountain-top finish is the nastiest in the Pyrenees. If Alberto Contador doesn't win, Spain will be asking questions."

Some housekeeping before we get on with the fun

Our chief sportswriter Richard Williams has taken up the cudgels for the Guardian in France and spent yesterday evening writing up in Lavour. If you read it while flicking through really, really quickly, it'll be almost like being there (bring your umbrella, it was very wet). Through the wonders of modern technology, we've also been able to provide moving pictures in the form of video highlights, which you can view above.

Current standings

Yellow jersey: Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) 45h 52min 39sec
Green jersey: Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) 251 points
Polka dot jersey: Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) 22 points
White jersey: Robert Gesink (Rabobank) 45hr 56min 40sec

The ascent to the top of the Col du Tourmalet in five minutes

My thanks to for steering me in the direction of this video, which gives some idea of the horrors that await the riders this afternoon. Bear in mind that the Tourmalet is just one of three monster climbs that must be negotiated today, so it's small wonder that Vacansoleil's French sprinter Romain Feillu has decided to throw his hat at this year's Tour, pull out and enjoy Bastille Day with a nice glass of red wine instead. His compatriot Thomas Voeckler is almost certain to lose the yellow jersey today, but can go to his grave a hero, safe in the knowledge that he wore the yellow jersey on La Fête Nationale.

Anyone wishing to learn more about the climbs on today's stage could do a lot worse than visit the , where there's a detailed analysis of today's climbs, including dinky coloured diagrams. If you , you'll get to look at , which shows the final, hairpin-tastic climb of the day to the ski-station at Luiz Ardiden.

Stage 12 so far: With 73 kilometres of fairly flat terrain behind them, a group of six riders that attacked at the two-kilometre mark has opened a gap of 7min 05sec on the peloton. They are: Geraint Thomas (Sky), Jose Ivan Guttierrez (Mov), Laurent Mangel (Sau), Biel Kadri (ALM) and Jeremy Roy (FDJ). Welshman Thomas is highest placed of the sextet on general classification in 31st overall at 5min 51sec, which means he's "virtual" race leader on the road.

12.08am: Anyone interested in crossing one rider off their list of potential punts for today's stage, I've hexed Euskaltel-Euskadi rider Samuel Sanchez by putting a whopping £3 on him to win at 16-1. As financial stabs in the dark go, it couldn't be more speculative, but I think he's a good value bet at decent odds. According to the official Tour website, Sanchez said this morning that he intends to "follow them and try to win the stage win, this is the main objective of the team." As game-plans go, it's a fairly uncomplicated one that's so crazy it might just work.

12.13pm: "It's great to see a Brit in yellow, even if it's virtual yellow," by jingos Guy Hornsby. "I wonder how Sean Yeats feels today about keeping the whole team back when Wiggins crashed last week? The 3min 18sec they all lost has really hurt Bossen Hagen and Thomas, who'd both be in the top 10 GC if it wasn't for that. Still, this is what the Tour's all about; the HC climbs, and I can't wait for the attacks to start coming. I have a sneaking suspicion that Contador will be attacked by both Schlecks and Evans today, and I'm sure I'm not the only one that hopes he cracks. He didn't look strong going uphill in the first week." Don't forget, Contador has also been complaining about a dose of knee-knack he sustained in a crash in one of the early stages in the Tour, although nobody seems to have a clue how bad it is. We'll find out in a few hours.

12.19pm: One of the highlights of today's Tour coverage, for me anyway, is the prospect of hearing Eurosport pundit Sean Kelly saying "Touuuuu-er-malet" over and over again in his soft, rural Irish burr. The way he rolls it around his mouth is a real treat for the ears, with each utterance of "general classement" an added aural bonus. For anyone interested, I've posted video footage of the climb to the Tourmalet summit in 1985 above. Bernault Inault was in yellow (riding with two black eyes, a broken nose and stitches in his head), Stephen Roche was in third and Kelly was fourth and in the green jersey. You can see part two of the video ; my thanks to the always amusing for the steer.

12.37pm: The gap between the escape party and the bunch is 7min 57sec. In the yellow jersey, Thomas Voeckler has told his team manager that he doesn't want any breakaways to open a bigger gap than eight minutes, so we might see some Europcar riders heading to the front of the peloton to step up the pace.

12.40pm: Next up for the cyclists is the feeding station in Lannemezan at the 101.5km mark, where the cyclists will get fed and watered before heading for the intermediate sprint in Sarrancolin 17.5km later. After that it's onwards and upwards to the first of today's three big climbs, the Hourquette d'Anzican (1,538m).

12.44pm: I love pedants. Really, I genuinely mean that. This from Ciaran Lennon: "Loving the live coverage," he says, setting me up for a fall. "Although the Tourmalet video's from the opposite side ... west instead of east." Gah!

12.46pm: The gap between the six-man breakaway group comprising Geraint Thomas (Sky), Jose Ivan Guttierrez (Mov), Laurent Mangel (Sau), Biel Kadri (ALM) and Jeremy Roy (FDJ) and the peloton has been stretched to 8min 33sec, with 100km completed. Just to go [superstitious min-by-min reporter hops on one foot].

1pm: "Nearly made it up last year at the Etape - nearly," shudders Guy Collier. "A bust pedal cleat at the foot of the previous HC climb did for me with 10km of the 184km remaning. It is a truly horrible climb. You could have put a gun to my head and I'd have gone no faster. ."

This bit's my favourite ...

Turn up to start the Tourmalet climb. I have 2 hours 5 minutes to climb the 19km 8.5% average. 160km ridden now and no shade. The heat. Too much. Sitting down has done for me, can't climb. Keep going. Barely turn the pedals. If I stop I won't get back on. Think of home. Do it for them. Crying again. How can I do this? How?

Pass Bareges. Time is running out and I know it. People in bits at the roadside. Thousands already eliminated. Men weeping. Me amongst them. Still riding. 9km to go.

Then it's over. Race Control pass and wave me down. Out of time. 5 miles from the summit they've caught me. Stop. Climb off. Fall down. Cry. Scream. Kick bike. Hate Look pedal cleats. You cost me a finish.

You've got to go back and try it again, mate. It'll haunt you to the grave if you don't.

1.25pm: Apologies - I'm not sure what happened there. I typed a big chunk of text that just disappeared.

1.26pm: Mark Cavendish mops up nine precious green jersey points as the peloton tackle the intermediate sprint. Job done, I suspect that's the last we'll be seeing of him today.

1.26pm: "There's a wonderful ," writes John Flannery. "Enjoy."

1.32pm: "As a 16 year old I rode the Col du Tourmalet with my father," writes somebody too ashamed to put their name to their email, for reasons that will soon become apparent. "Having paced him the whole way up, I launched my attack during the final kilometre. He approached the summit to find me fully dismounted, running alongside him Devil du Tour style screaming ALLEZ! How degrading. The guy has never forgiven me."

1.38pm: All eight remaining Europcar riders are towing the peloton along, with maillot jeune Thomas Voeckler about sixth in the procession. The gap between peloton and breakaway is down to 5min 36sec as the riders head up the first climb of the day, the Hourquette d'Anzican (1,538m).

1.40pm: It's been around for some time, but Hourquette d'Anzican is making it's maiden appearance in the Tour this year. Thomas Voeckler won a stage on this mountain in the Route du Sud in 2004. It's 9.9km from top to bottom at 7.5%.

Live blog: Twitter

1.43pm: Geraint Thomas sets the pace as the front of the six-man breakaway, as Jose Guttierrez gets dropped. Meanwhile back at the peloton, king of the mountains Johnny Hoogerland and Quick Step's Sylvain Chavanel launch a blistering attack and set off into the distance. That's incredibly brave riding by Hoogerland, who has 33 stitches in his legs and backside after being catapulted into a barbed wire fence in the accident caused by the French TV car on Sunday afternoon.

The Inner Ring @inrng "Hoogerland away with Chavanel now. Chavanel has spent a lot of time in altitude training, he has had his eye on a mountain stage"

1.48pm: Halfway up the Hourquette d'Anzican and assorted sprinters are getting shelled out the back of the peloton. It won't be long before they form their own little grupetto and make their way to the end of their own stage at a pace they're reasonably comfortable with that will enable them to make the cut-off time without having to pull up too many trees.

1.57pm: Astana rider Roman Kreuziger joins Johnny Hoogerland and Sylvain Chavanel to make it a three-man counter-attack between the leading five-man breakaway and the bunch. The peloton is 5min 38sec behind the leading group. The trio have 1min 20sec on the bunch.

2.00pm: Hoogerland has been dropped by Kreuziger and Chavanel as they approach the summit of the first climb of the day. He's out of the saddle, struggling badly. You can see red stains on the bandages on his legs and the left arse-cheek of his shorts where the blood is seeping through the dressings on his wounds.

2.02pm: The breakaway five hit the top of La Hourquette d'Ancizan with a lead of 4min over Kreuziger and Chavanel. Jose Gutierrez is still somewhere on the road between them, but going backwards.

2.06pm: Good grief. Beginning the descent, Geraint Thomas's back wheel goes out from under him, sending him off the road and towards the edge of the mountainside between two parked cars. He manages to stick out a leg and leap off his bike before going into the abyss - I'm not sure how steep the drop was, but no good could have come from hurtling over the side to find out.

2.08pm: Thomas remounts, continues his descent and almost immediately comes a cropper on the other, considerably less dangerous side of the road. He seems to be having a problem with his brakes.

2.11pm: Woahhh! The peloton go over the summit of La Hourquette d'Ancizen and several riders slip and come down in the exact same spot as Thomas did. Eurosport reports suggest there may be sand on the road, which is causing them to slide. Thomas Voeckler has a wobble but stays upright, but Radioshack rider Andreas Kloden comes a cropper.

2.15pm:"Johnny Hoogerland has already reached the status of cult hero here in The Netherlands!" writes Raymond Starke. "This 'incredibly good' good song is proof."

2:20pm: As things stand, a four-man breakaway comprised of Ruben Perez Moreno, Biel Kadri, Jeremy Roy and Laurent Mangel lead the stage down the first big descent. They're 45 seconds clear of Geraint Thomas and Jose Guttierrez, who are on the chase. Roman Kreuziger and Sylvain Chavanel are a further 2min 44sec back. They're 1min 14sec clear of Johnny Hoogerland, who is in turn 2min 06sec clear of Big Boys Group.

2.27pm: Idle chit-chat: Thomas Voeckler has been given a new bicycle and Andreas Kloden has remounted and is currently having a horribly gashed elbow dressed by the medics at the back of the peloton.

Live blog: Twitter

2.29pm: For those asking, yes, Sean Kelly did just give a stirring speech about the dangers of "cow shite" on Eurosport. I sincerely hope that my podcasting compadre James Richardson tut-tuts accordingly and apologises for such profanity when they hand back to him in the studio later on. "Sean Kelly on familiar Carrick-on-Suir territory talking about cow shite and mousse de vache," writes Ulto Ryan. "That town smells of slurry all year round."

The Inner Ring @inrng "There's a special prize at the summit of the Tourmalet, the Prix Jacques Goddet with €5,000 to the first rider across the top."

2.33pm: The riders are at the foot of the Tourmalet: a 17.1km up the eastern side at 7.3 degrees. Good luck all.

2.36pm: Geraint Thomas and Jose Guttierrez have re-joined the original breakaway, which is 7min 12sec clear of the Big Boys Group, where the entire Leopard Trek team of the Schleck brothers has taken over at the front and are towing the bunch along. That's an interesting development - Alberto Contador and Thomas Voeckler are both well-placed to deal with any attacks, but the increase in pace means the main group is going to be blown to bits as the riders head up the mountain.

Live blog: Twitter

2.39pm: "Don't know whether this will interest you for the pedal-by-pedal, but the FDJ directeur sportif has just revealed live on TV that Jérémy Roy was told not to attack today," writes Wilson Beuys. "And that he usually ignores what he's told to do - expecially when it comes to conserving energy. Today, apparently, he went on the attack anyway, saying 'I'll do what I want'. The DS went on to reveal he has a 'sale caractère' (is basically, difficult, outspoken or bad tempered) and is a pain in the arse to work with. He said that Jérémy has now taken his earpiece out, so he doesn't have to listen to his DS, so if they want to speak to him they'll have to get alongside in the car. Laurent Jalabert (commentating, but also one of the selectors for the French cycling team) thinks that's great, and it's better to have a strong character than none. This headstrong side isn't generally apparent. Roy is generally quite engaging in interviews and has a good diary column in L'Equipe - as interesting as Nicolas Roche's - which he writes himself. He's an intelligent bloke - he's recently qualified as a mechanical engineer despite studying while earning a living as a pro cyclist, and finished top of his class."

Catherine Wiggins @Cathwiggins1981: "Cow shite...tee hee hee"

2.43pm: Johnny Hoogerland has been swallowed by the main group and spat out the back - considering his injuries, that could be his Tour over. The breakaway group remains 5min 33sec ahead of them, with Roman Kreuziger and Sylvain Chavanel on the team in between.

2.47pm: The Leopard-Trek groupteam of Andy Schleck, Fabian Cancellara, Jakob Fugslang, Linus Gerdemann, Maxime Monfort, Stuart O'Grady, Joost Posthuma, Frank Schleck and Jens Voigt are towing the main group along with the other major contenders all in touch. All of them, that is, except Rabobank team leader Robert Gesink who has raised the white flag and been dropped. With a team-mate by his side urging him on, the man in the white jersey waves him away as if to say: "Stick a fork in me, I'm done."

2.51pm: David Millar (Garmin), George Hincapie (BMC) and Stuart O'Grady (who's put in a heroic shift at the front for Leopard Trek) are dropped less than halfway up the Tourmalet. If you want to monitor the location, heart-rate and wattage of various riders as they make their way to the top, .

2.55min: The six-man group at the front (Ruben Perez Moreno, Jose Gutierrez, Biel Kadri, Geraint Thomas, Jeremy Roy and Laurent Mangel) remain 3min 25sec clear of the main group led by Leopard Trek. Between the two groups, Roman Kreuziger is reeling in the leading sixwith every turn of the pedals.

2.58pm: Gutierrez is dropped from the leading six, but replaced by Kreuziguer, who passes him. Back in the main group, HTC-Highroad's German rider Tony Martin becomes the latest high profile casualty to be shed out the rear doors.

3pm: "Jonny Hoogerland has done brilliantly so far," writes James Cavell, who used to race against him as a young lad. "The plan must have been to go on
the attack, stay off the front as long as possible, then get dropped, get swallowed up by the main field, before struggling alone to the finish. There is no way the media Lionheart will quit, only good can come of him now - if he makes it to the finish inside the time limit
he's as much of a hero as if he doesn't. Regarding the wattage readings on the SRM site - a real shame its only the lesser riders. I would love to see the SRM files of Contador, Andy
Schleck, Cadel etc on the final climb. I suspect there's a goo[Snip!!! - Guardian Lawyers].

3.10pm: Geraint Thomas is out on his own in front, riding into the white jersey of best young rider and on the verge of winning himself €5,000 and a nice medal for being first man over the summit. He's being followed by a group of three (Perez Moreno, Kadri and Roy at 40sec), who are in turn being chased by Kreuziger. The main group are 3min 32sec behind Thomas.

3.15pm: "Seeing Geraint Thomas off the front with his floppy hair and his white framed sunglasses, can I point you to ," writes Sean Boiling. "Lucie Mazan - what a great look."

3.16pm: Jeremy Roy has caught and passed Geraint Thomas as the ride into the fog near the summit of the Tourmalet. Thomas is still in touch. Back in the main group, Andreas Kloden is the latest big name to hoist the white flag.

3.19pm: Vladimir Karpets (Kat) and Sandy Casar (FDJ) get dropped from the back of the yellow jersaey group, but are near enough to the summit of the Tourmalet to give them a chance to make up time on the descent. As the main group go over the top, assorted Tour lackeys hand them sheets of newspaper with which to cover their chests to avoid getting a chill.

3.23pm: The riders embark on the long, sweeping descent of the Tourmalet with Geraint Thomas and Jeremy Roy 3min 15sec clear of the yellow jersey posse, where race leader Voeckler himself is leading the chase. The next climb begins at the very bottom of this descent.

3.25pm: On Eurosport, Sean Kellystresses the importance for riders to eat and drink well on the way down the Tourmalet, in order to gain enough energy to climb to Luiz Ardiden. Personally, I'd be focusing all my attention on the racing line in a bid to avoid flying over the side of the road and landing in a field 100m below. I've been up and down the Tourmalet in a car and that was terrifying enough.

3.28pm: "," writes Alex Cowell. "Most of us amateur racers can put out similar watts to these fellows (in the 250-350 range), but by for us amateurs our heart rates would be in the 180's rather than in the 160's (ie we'd be vomiting our lungs through our noses), and we'd last about 10 minutes. The professionals are maintaining this power output for several hours while keeping their heart rates at manageable levels. And the guys the SRM site is following are 'just' the work horses of the peloton."

3.30pm: "!" writes Graeme Anderson. "Unreal, although surprisingly, he didn't appear to be pedalling!"

"I clicked on the rider data link and was marvelling at the fact that Roy was doing 88km/h only for all stats to suddenly disappear and his dot to stop moving on the map," writes Stu Howes. "Either he's fallen off the mountain on the descent, or there's a faulty link to his equipment. Any crashes to report?"

3.36pm: Geraint Thomas and Jeremy Roy continue on their descent, a minute clear of Ruben Perez Moreno, and Biel Kadri. A further 1min 35sec down behind them, Laurens Ten Dam, Roma Kreuziger and Laurnet Mangel are in hot pursuit. Christophe Riblon and Yury Trofimov are another 25 seconds back, while Philippe Gilbert, one of the stars of this year's Tour, is leading the yellow jersey bunch down the mountainside.

3.39pm: There are 14km to go, all of them uphill.The road to Luiz Ardiden (1,715m). The climb is 13.3km at a gradient of 7.4% and consists of steep ramps and many, many hairpin bends. If Alberto Contador wants to make up the gap on the race leaders, he really needs to make his move here.

3.41km: GO ON YA GOOD THING SAMMY SANCHEZ!!! My bet for today's stage has joined Philippe Gilbert at the front of the Big Favourites bunch.

3.43pm: Ignoring the burden of my £3 on his shoulders, Sammy Sanchez stands up in his pedals and starts pedalling like the hounds of hell themselves are snapping his heels. He's in a group chasing down the leaders, Geraint Thomas and Jeremy Roy. Such is the pace he's setting, Roman Kreuziger gets dropped.

3.45pm: Ireland's Nicolas Roche is still in the thick of things, riding alongside Thomas Voeckler in the yellow jersey group. The five-man Sanchez group is 30 seconds clear of them and a little under two minutes behind Thomas and Roy who lead.

3.48km: Thomas Vockler has two team-mates tapping out the rhythm at the front of the yellow jersey bunch as they ascend the mountain. He shouts instructions at them as Ivan Basso, Cadel Evans, Alberto Contador, Nicolas Roche and the Schleck brothers bide their time behind him.

3.50pm: Jeremy Roy and Geraint Thomas pass under the 10km To Go banner. They're 1min 18sec clear of their nearest pursuers and 1min 39sec clear of the yellow jersey group.

3.53pm: A pair of Liquigas riders take up pace-making duty at the front of the yellow jersey group which is now about 15-strong. In the only group that matters, Samuel Sanchez and Jelle Vanendert are about to get on the wheels of our two leaders. C'mon Sammy! Bring home the bacon for Baz!

3.57pm: Nicolas Roche is the latest to crack - the Irishman gets bounced unceremoniously out the tradesman's entrance of the main group.

3.58km: At the head of proceedings, Samuel Sanchez (Eus) and Jelle Vanendert (OLO) pass Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Jeremy Roy (FDJ). They're 46 seconds clear of the yellow jersey posse.

4.01pm: Geraint Thomas tries and fails to get on the wheel of the last man in the yellow jersey group passes him. He's ridden magnificently today ... and throughout the entire Tour. Sylvester Szymd, Ivan Basso, Pierre Rolland, Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans, Sandy Casar, Andy and Frank Schleck, Damiano Cunego, Tom Danielson, Levi Leipheimer, Laurens Ten Dam and Rein Taaramae are among the big names still in the main bunch of contenders.

4.09pm: With four kilometres to go Andy Schleck launches an attack on the yellow jersey group and Alberto Contador responds immediately. Moments later, Frank Schleck tries his luck and Ivan Basso gets on his wheel. Contador responds again and gets on Basso's wheel.

4.10pm: Those two bursts of pace result in Levi Leipheimer getting dropped from the main group. As the games of cat and mouse begin in the yellow jersey begin, surely the stage is there for the taking with Samuel Sanchez or Jelle Vanendert, who are 1min 10sec ahead.

4.14pm: With 2.4km to go, Frank Schleck attacks again and pulls clear of the rest of the yellow jersey group. He's a little over 2min behind of Voeckler on General Classification.

4.15pm: The yellow jersey group, which is now comprised of just six men, passes under the 2km To Go banner, with Ivan Basso on the front and Voeckler on his wheel. Cadel Evans and Alberto Contador are also with them.

4.17pm: Cadel Evans puts the hammer down and Basso and Contador follow him. Adriano Cunego and Thomas Voeckler lose several bike-lengths.

4.19pm: Ivan Basso, Andy Schleck, Damiano Cunego and Cadel Evans are now The Main Group, as Frank Schleck hoves into view over the shoulders of Samuel Sanchez and Jelle Vandenert. They've only 300 metres to go.

4.21pm: Samuel Sanchez wins the stage from Jelle Vandenvert, Frank Schleck finishes third.

4.23pm: After another courageous ride, Thomas Voeckler defies all expectation and stays in yellow on Bastille Day, while both Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans have put more time into Alberto Contador.

The top 10 in stage 12

1. Samuel Sanchez (EUS) 6hr 01min 15sec
2. Jelle Vanendert (OLO) +7sec
3. Frank Schleck (LEO) +10sec
4. Ivan Basso (LIQ) +30sec
5. Cadel Evans (BMC) +30sec
6. Andy Schleck (LEO) +30sec
7. Damiano Cunego (LAM) +35sec
8. ALberto Contador (SBS) +43sec
9. Thomas Voeckler (EUC) +50sec
10. Pierre Rolland (EUC) +50sec

Chapeau to Samuel Sanchez, the Spaniard who's just won his first stage for Euskaltel. He gets a mite emotional in his post-race interview, but points out that he'd tipped himself to win it this morning. Great minds etc.

General Classification: There's no sign of the convenient copy-and-paste list of riders on the news wires yet and I have to go, but if you're looking to see how today's stage has sorted out the men from the boys in the GC, you could do a lot worse than click on . Felt green hats off to Nicolas Roche, who recovered well after being dropped today to make it into the top 10. It's not from the ground he licked his ability to ride a bike uphill at speed.