Holland?s Marianne Vos (DSB Bank) scored her third stage win in less than a week at the Tour de l?Aude at Espezel.
Nicole Cooke (Vision 1) crossed the line second, a repeat of stage four?s result. The only sprint finish not to have gone the way of the prolific cyclo-cross World Champion this week was stage three when the 21 year old crashed in the closing kilometre.
?Nicole is still looking for that elusive first victory in the World Champion?s jersey,? said Vision 1 team manager Stefan Wyman, ?but her form is coming so it won?t be far away.?
The penultimate stage in the ten-day event in south-west France featured four first category climbs that split the race apart for the fourth day running.
?It was really hilly as expected and the bunch ripped to pieces on the first climb at 30km,? said Wyman.
The five riders to profit from the early split were Vos, Cooke, plus team-mate Christel Ferrier-Bruneau, Grace Verbeke (Lotto Belisol) and Svetlana Bubnenkova (Fenixs). The fragmented bunch would not be seeing them again.
The final climb of Col de Belvis seven kilometres from the finish saw Ferrier-Bruneau lose touch, leaving a four-way sprint that Vos took from Cooke, with young Belgian prospect Verbeke third.
More than two minutes passed before the yellow jersey group containing Cervelo’s Claudia Hausler crossed the line, but the German remains in control with one day of racing to go. Vos moves up to third overall, relagating American Kistin Armstrong one position.
Sunday?s final stage of 87km starts and finishes in Limoux and offers no respite for weary legs, with five categorised climbs.
Stage eight: Axat-Espezel 101km
1. Marianne Vos (Ned) DSB Bank in 2-51-20
2. Nicole Cooke (GBr) Vision 1
3. Grace Verbeke (Bel) Lotto Belisol at 2secs
4. Svetlana Bubnenkova (Rus) Fenixs at 5secs
5. Trixi Worrack (Ger) Nurnberger Versicherung at 2-12
6. Claudia Hausler (Ger) Cervelo same time
7. Kristin Armstrong (USA) Cervelo same time
8. Amber Neben (USA) Nurnberger aat 2-13
9. Loes Gunnewijk (Ned) Flexbank at 2-33
10. Linda Villumsen (Ger) Columbia at 2-33
11. Lizzie Armitstead (GBr) Lotto Belisol
14. Emma Pooley (GBr) Cervelo
45. Lucy Martin (GBr) GB
46. Nikki Harris (GBr) GB
47. Christine Hare Williamson (Gbr) Fenixs
54. Helen Wyman (GBr) Vision 1
55. Leda Cox (GBr) Esgl93-Gsd Gestion
75. Katie Colclough (GBr) GB
78. Alexandra Greenfield (GBr) GB
1. Claudia Hausler (Ger) Cervelo 17-30-07
2. Trixi Worrack (Ger) Nurnberger Versicherung at 2-06
3. Kristin Armstrong (USA) Cervelo at 4-09
4. Marianne Vos (Ned) DSB Bank at 4-00
5. Nicole Cooke (GBr) Vision 1 at 8-08
6. Amber Neben (USA) Nurnberger Versicherung at 10-40
7. Regina Bruins (Ned) Cervelo at 12-24
8. Tina Liebig (Ger) DSB Bank at 13-29
8. Susanne Ljungskog (Swe) Flexpoint at 11-43
9. Linda Villumsen (Ger) Columbia at 14-29
10. Loes Gunnewijk (Ned) Flexpoint at 14-29
14. Lizzie Armitstead (GBr) Lotto Belisol
35. Nikki Harris (GBr) GB
49 Helen Wyman (GBr) Vision 1
33. Emma Pooley (GBr) Cervelo
57. Christine Hare Williamson (Gbr)
77. Katie Colclough (GBr) GB
73. Lucy Martin (GBr) GB
76. Leda Cox (GBr) Esgl93-Gsd Gestion
85. Alexandra Greenfield (GBr) GB