Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d’Epargne) won Sunday’s eighth 2009 Tour de France stage to Saint-Girons from a four-man escape, leaving the overall contenders to warily keep an eye on each other.
Compared to the previous week’s action, today’s second day in the Pyrenees was a muted affair. Having spent all of the previous day climbing up to Andorra, it was a largely downhill jaunt with almost all of the moves happening before the final climb – Col d’Agnes – which was placed way too far from the finish to have any real significance for the contenders.
Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) showed his hand for the first time in the race, with a dig on Col d’Agnes. However, he was swiftly joined by the overall favourites and the move was gently swallowed up by the bunch.
Race leader Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r) briefly lost contact with the contenders on Agnes, but finished safely at Saint-Girons in a relaxed-looking bunch to hold on to the yellow jersey.
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Britain’s Bradley Wiggins (Garmin-Slipstream) put in another strong ride in the mountains, staying in contact with Schleck during his attack and finishing in the bunch to maintain his fifth position overall.
Tomorrow’s stage nine features two Tour legends – the Col d’Aspin and Col du Tourmalet. However, both are slap-bang in the middle of the stage, too far from the finish to give the overall contenders any chance to gain time on their rivals.
HUSHOVD TAKES OVER GREEN JERSEY
Thor Hushovd’s canny move to join an early escape group meant that the Cervelo sprinter vacuumed up the first two intermediate sprints unchallenged, and snatched the green jersey from Mark Cavendish (Columbia-HTC).
With just one point separating Cavendish and Hushovd at the start of the stage, Hushovd knew he could take the lead in the points competition with some clever tactics. And his tactics were flawless.
As soon as Hushovd had collected the maximum six points for the two intermediate sprints between the Port d’Envalira and Col de Port climbs, he stepped off the gas and left his fellow escapees to it, job done. He now lies five points ahead of Cavendish, and starts tomorrow in the green jersey.
After yesterday’s uphill slog, the riders were faced with a largely downhill parcours today punctuated by three categorised climbs – starting with the first category Port d’Envalira immediately after the start.
The stage profile suited an attack, and the moves came thick and fast almost immediately, with riders trying their luck. After some yo-yoing, Sandy Casar (Francaise des Jeux) looked the most promising act, cresting the Port d’Envalira solo.
Behind, a chasing group containing Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) had also put air between them and the bunch.
Evans put in a lot of effort into the escape, keen to make it stick to try and claw back the time he’s lost to the overall favourites so far in the race. He was joined by seven other riders including former race leader Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) and Thor Hushovd (Cervelo).
Cancellara was very animated in the break, trying to get them to work to increase the slim lead over the peloton but everyone had their own agenda. Eventually, Evans had enough of the lack of progress and was swallowed up by the bunch.
The escapees continued, by the bunch didn’t allow them the luxury of time given to yesterday’s successful escape – three minutes was about the limit.
A group including Casar, Cancellara, George Hincapie (Columbia-HTC), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d’Epargne), Vladimir Efimkin (Ag2r), Mikhail Ignatiev (Katusha) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) reached the base of the final climb of the day, the first category Col d’Agnes.
That group then splintered, with Cancellara the first to start going backwards. Sanchez, Efimkin, Astarloza and Casar kept the pace high and left the others trailing.
Behind, Andy Schleck attacked the bunch and although he didn’t get clear it had the effect of pruning out the group. All of the overall favourites including Britain’s Bradley Wiggins (Garmin-Slipstream) made the split but race leader Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r) was not among their number.
Toward the top of Col d’Agnes, the peloton came back together after the overall contenders had their chance to test each other out. Ahead, Casar suffered for his early actions struggled to stay in touch with Astarloza, Efimkin and Sanchez – who by now had a lead of 2-40 over the bunch.
Astana, looking every bit a team in unison, took a firm control over the main group down Agnes and toward the finish in Saint-Girons.
The four escapees maintained their two and a half minute advantage over the bunch, who looked more than content to let them have their day of glory.
Efimkin leapt away with 2km to go, leaving the other three staring at each other before they realised they’d have to work together to chase him down. Efimkin kept away under the 1km-to-go banner, but was passed just before the line as Casar and Sanchez fought for the win.
Sanchez edged ahead of Casar, who paid dearly for spending all day in a break. It was a satisfactory consolation prize for Caisse d’Epargne, whose leader Oscar Pereiro abandoned during the day. Sanchez’s team-mate Jose Rojas took the bunch sprint for fifth, just under two minutes later.
Stage eight: Andorra-La-Vielle – Saint-Girons, 176.5km
1. Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
2. Sandy Casar (Fra) Francaise des Jeux
3. Mikel Astarloza (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at same time
4. Vladimir Efimkin (Rus) Ag2r at 3sec
5. Jose Rojas (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne at 1-54
6. Christophe Riblon (Fra) Ag2r
7. Peter Velits (Svk) Milram
8. Sebastien Minard (Fra) Cofidis
9. Jeremy Roy (Fra) Francaise des Jeux
10. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom all same time.
Overall classification after stage eight
1. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) Ag2r in 30-18-16
2. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana at 6sec
3. Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana at 8sec
4. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana at 39sec
5. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Garmin-Slipstream at 46sec
6. Andreas Kloden (Ger) Astana at 54sec
7. Tony Martin (Ger) Columbia-HTC at 1-00
8. Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin-Slipstream at 1-24
9. Andy Schleck (Lux) Saxo B
ank at 1-49
10. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita
) Liquigas at 1-54
1. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo 117 points
2. Mark Cavendish (GB) Columbia-HTC 106 points
King of the mountains
1. Christophe Kern (Fra) Cofidis
Best young rider
1. Tony Martin (Ger) Columbia-HTC
Bradley Wiggins again looked comfortable staying with the overall favourites
Rinaldo Nocentini stays in the yellow jersey
Luis Leon Sanchez takes the stage win
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