July 11, 2009
Tour de France Stage Eight: Andorre-la-Vieille—Saint-Girons
176.5km (109.6 miles)
Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d'Epargne) pipped Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux) to claim the day’s top honors with a stage win in Saint-Girons. The men came to the line as part of a four-man group that also included Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Vladimir Efimkin (Ag2r) – they’d been riding in the breakaway (which changes composition several times during the race) for the better part of 150 kilometers.
In the main field, GC contenders worked to keep the gap down after a flurry of initial attacks including an ambitious move launched by GC-hopeful Cadel Evans. Astana drove the pace for most of the day eventually brought back all the important escapees. An attack on the final climb put yellow-jersey holder Rinaldo Nocentini into difficulty, but the feisty Italian was able to battle his way back into the group in order to retain his lead in the general classification and keep the maillot jaune for one more day.
Tony Martin remains in white, Cavendish relinquishes green… for the moment.
Columbia-HTC’s Tony Martin continued what is shaping up to be an impressive Tour de France performance, hanging in with the other GC contenders as they drove the pace up three major climbs. The effort allowed him to maintain his 7th place position in the overall classification and retain control of the white jersey given to the leader of the Best Young Rider’s competition.
Cavendish was not so lucky today and was forced to hand the green sprinter’s jersey over to rival Thor Hushovd, who went with an early breakaway to claim two intermediate sprints along the way. Teammate George Hincapie grabbed the second place points at both the intermediate sprints to minimize the damage to Cav's points position.
Hincapie did manage to stay with the wiry climbers in the break for most of the day, just barely getting gapped in the final kilometers of the third major climb. He gave chase for the first few kilometers of the following descent but was unable to reconnect with the race leaders and was forced to rejoin the peloton behind him.
How it unfolded
Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) attacked from the gun today, proving that he’s capable of the kind of aggressive riding that will be required if he hopes to make up the more than three minutes that he has already lost in this year’s Tour de France.
The Australian accelerated going up the first 23.2km Category 1 climb of the Port d’Envalira. Starting at an altitude of 1213 meters, the climb averages 5.1 percent and summits at 2408 meters above sea level. A strong group of riders went up the road with Evans, including Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Slipstream), Egoi Martínez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R La Mondiale), Christophe Kern (Cofidis), and Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux).
Shortly after, another small group managed to bridge up to the leaders - Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam), Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) and George Hincapie (Columbia-HTC) - for a total of 10 riders in the break. But with Astana on the front of the chase group keeping the time gap in check, Evans would not be able to stay away.
Hushovd and Cancellara eventually faded backward and with 113km of the stage remaining, the Astana group caught Evans, Zabriskie, Kern and Martínez. Just as the grade increased, Andy Schleck (Saxo-Bank) attacked the front of the peloton, a move that was marked by Astana but put the yellow jersey into difficulty (Nocentini was eventually able to claw his way back up to the group just before the summit).
Up the road, Hincapie was unable to match the pace on the final climb and Astarloza, Efimkin and Sanchez led over d'Agnes with 2:40 over the chasing group. Casar, who’d also been gapped on the climb, rejoined the three on the descent, but Hincapie could not close the gap, and was reabsorbed into the yellow jersey group.
Without any GC threats in the remaining group of four in the breakaway, Astana controlled the final 40 kilometers of the race, content to let the breakaway stick and give Nocentini another day in the maillot jaune.
The four escapees out in front played a wily game of cat and mouse coming into the final 5 kilometers with Efimkin, who’d done the least amount of work throughout the stage, attacking first. He put a 5 second gap on the chasing trio, but they were able to work together to reel him in with just 500 meters to the finish line.
Casar counter-attacked after the chase but Sanchez outsmarted the French Française des Jeux rider, ducking into his slipstream for just a few pedalstrokes and then accelerating around him in the final 200 meters to take the win.
Looking ahead to Stage Nine
Tomorrow brings the final mountain stage in The Pyrenees and includes some of the most legendary Tour de France mountain passes, including the Col d'Aspin (12km at 6.6 percent) and the Col du Tourmalet (17km at 7.5 percent). This stage will be similar to stage 8, but even harder.
The challenging climbs will make it difficult for an early breakaway to stay clear, especially since there are 50 kilometers left to ride after cresting the final summit. But the promise of a rest day after this third consecutive mountain stage might be just the motivation to inspire a big performance from an unexpected name.
Stage 8 Results: Top Five Individuals
1. SANCHEZ Luis-Leon CAISSE D’EPARGNE 4h 31' 50"
2. CASAR Sandy FRANCAISE DES JEUX + 00' 00"
3. ASTARLOZA Mikel EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 00' 00"
4. EFIMKIN Vladimir AG2R-LA MONDIALE + 00' 03"
5. ROJAS Jose Joaquin CAISSE D’EPARGNE + 01' 54"
Top Ten Individual Standings (GC) after Stage 8
1. NOCENTINI Rinaldo AG2R-LA MONDIALE 30h 18' 16"
2. CONTADOR Alberto ASTANA + 00' 06"
3. ARMSTRONG Lance ASTANA + 00' 08"
4. LEIPHEIMER Levi ASTANA + 00' 39"
5. WIGGINS Bradley GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM + 00' 46"
6. KLÖDEN Andréas ASTANA + 00' 54"
7. MARTIN Tony TEAM COLUMBIA - HTC + 01' 00"
8. VANDE VELDE Christian GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM + 01' 24"
9. SCHLECK Andy TEAM SAXO BANK + 01' 49"
10. NIBALI Vincenzo LIQUIGAS + 01' 54"
Columbia-HTC Individual Standings after Stage 8
7. MARTIN Tony 132. GRABSCH Bert
12. MAXIME Monfort 151. EISEL Bernhard
19. KIRCHEN Kim 155. RENSHAW Mark
29. HINCAPIE George 162. ROGERS Michael
131. CAVENDISH Mark