When the television coverage of the stage started we were already out of range of places in the department of Hérault we might visit this year on holiday. I was hoping for some pictures of Languedoc just inland of Sète, where we will be staying, the Bassin de Thau, a coastal lake (étang) and the Canal du Midi. The weather was bright when the Tour had left Montpellier but became increasingly overcast. The first pictures we saw were of the River Orb which ran alongside the road through Hérépian, Lamalou-les-Bains (we know people who have just visited some lucky British ex-pats who live here) and Colombières sur Orb, before flowing south towards the Mediterranean just after the town of Olargues. The riders continued to Riols and the very long town of Saint-Pons-de-Thomières with views of the Cathedral de St Pons. The commentator mentioned caves, some with evidence of ancient human settlement and marked on the map near St Pons is the Grotte de la Devèze. The riders climbed the steep winding and wooded road up the Montee de la Jeanté, battling against the stiff headwind towards Angles, with a large quarry nearby. At Boissezon we saw a village built on a hillside with houses winding down streets that led to the church on the summit. This stage ended at the city of Castres where we
saw aerial pictures of the ‘v’ shaped weir (pictured), the buildings with their balconies overhanging the River Agour and the attractive formal gardens around the Episcopal Palace.
This stage was dominated by a two man breakaway. Pierrick Fédrigo (Bouyges Telecom) and Amets Txurruka (Euskatel) went ahead at 52km and managed to stay away until just before the ‘flamme rouge’ marker for the final kilometre in Castres. The race was won by a sprint to the finish once again and a second win in this tour for Tom Boonen (Quickstep Innergetic) who had missed out on Stage 11 having been caught in a final kilometre crash. One shadow on the day was the information that the race leader Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) had, several months ago, contravened the rules about notifying his movements to those who do random drug testing. There seemed to be little further detail on this or on the effect it might have on Rasmussen’s tour, however there appeared to be no question of any drug offence investigation.
STAGE WINNER – Tom Boonen (Quickstep Innergetic)
2nd Eric Zabel (Milram) – 3rd Robert Hunter (Barloworld)
YELLOW (individual) – Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank)
POLKA DOT (climber) – Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank)
GREEN (points) – Tom Boonen (Quickstep Innergetic)
WHITE (under 25) – Alberto Contador (Discovery)
COMBATIVE – Amets Txurruka (Euskatel)
LEADING TEAM – Team CSC