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Sergei Ivanov delivered the first Russian victory of this year’s tour with a massive effort in the final ten kilometers of the race. Ivanov had been in a break of 12 men for the better part of the 199 kilometer stage when he attacked his breakaway companions with 10 kilometers to go.

With such a long way still to go to the finish, it seemed like a risky move, but the six-time Russian National Champion used his time-trialing skills to stay clear of the group, crossing the line with a comfortable margin of 16 seconds.

Just behind him, Team-Columbia’s George Hincapie finished with the rest of the breakaway and, for a moment, it looked like his efforts might payoff with a day in the yellow jersey as the main field was still almost six minutes back.

But it was not to be.  A big push from AG2R (attempting to defend Nocentini’s race lead) and Garmin-Slipstream brought the gap down just enough to deny Hincapie his day in the maillot jaune. He’s now sitting second in the overall standings, 5 seconds off the pace of Nocentini, with Contador and Armstrong just behind in 3rd and 4th.

Woman killed by caravan vehicle

Overshadowing today’s race was the tragic news of a 60-year-old woman who was struck and killed while crossing the road after a breakaway group of riders had passed. She was hit by one of the several police motorbikes which accompany the race.

It was the first fatality since two children were killed in 2000 and 2002 hit by cars from the publicity caravan.

The biggest accident in the Tour’s 106-year history took place in 1964, when a police supply van struck a bridge in the Dordogne region, killing 20 people.

Racers are constantly engaged in close calls with spectators, who line the courses and congregate en masse (especially up the mountain-top finishes).

There’s no crying in cycling, but don’t tell that to Cervelo’s Heinrich Haussler.

The powerful Australian-born German crossed the line first today in a classic solo win over a challenging mountain stage. With his nearest challenger more than four minutes back, he had time to relish the moment of the first Tour de France stage win of his career – and the moment overwhelmed him.

Covering his face, rain-soaked and exhausted, Haussler sobbed visibly as he raised his hands for a victory salute.

Better known for his sprinting prowess, Haussler often serves as the key leadout man for Thor Hushovd. Today, however, the glory was all his. Heinrich went with a break of 7 that formed just 5k into today’s stage – by the time he’d shed his companions to cross the line alone he’d been off the front of the race for a grueling 195 kilometers.

How it unfolded

Biblical rain pounded the race as the riders set out to conquer five climbs including the Category 1 Col du Platzerwasel, an 8.7 km climb that averages 7.6 percent. The tough, winding 200k route, coupled with the abysmal weather made this a perfect day for a hard man to ride away with the win.

When the break of 7 formed early in the race, the peloton was determined to keep it on a short leash because of Rabobank’s Manuel Garate presence among the would-be escapees. At just 6:56 back from the race lead, he presented a serious threat to the yellow jersey.

Haussler eventually attacked at 60k with two others from the group: Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) and Ruben Perez Moreno (Euskaltel-Euskadi). The four remaining riders faded back to rejoin the peloton and the trio up front soon had a sizable gap that grew to as much as 9 minutes over the course of the race.

Saxo-Banks’ Niki Sorensen laid it all on the line today. His efforts were rewarded as he crossed the line first in Vittel, 48 seconds of his nearest challenger. Sorensen was part of a seven man break that got away from the main field at 64 kilometers into the race.

He and break-mate Agritubel's Sylvain Calzati attacked with about 20k to go, putting a quick gap on the five men behind.

With 5k to go, Sorensen attacked Calzati, who faded quietly back into the five-man chase behind him.

With a sizable gap established, Sorensen gritted his teeth and powered away for the solo victory, crossing the line with a look of utter disbelief and joy.

The day started out at a blistering pace as the field averaged over 30mph for the first hour of racing, with attacks coming fast and furious from all directions. When the break finally got away, the peloton was already hurting and chasing duties were left to yellow jersey holder Rinaldo Nocentini’s AG2R team (one rider in the break presented a possible threat to Nocentini’s race lead.)

The teams of the other GC contenders were unmotivated to do much work and the sprinter’s teams seemed equally content to save their legs for tomorrow’s challenging mountain stage. The main field finished six minutes behind the breakaway and Rinaldo Nocentini was able to hold onto the yellow race leader’s jersey for another day.

Cavendish extends his lead in the Points Classification

Mark Cavendish has been claiming not to be interested in winning the Points Classification this year, but it appears that a few days in green may have changed his mind – and his strategy.

Heading into today’s stage, Mark Cavendish had seven Tour de France stage victories to his name. Four in last year’s Tour and three in 2009. The common denominator? Every victory came on a pancake-flat finish.

They said he wouldn’t win if he had to sprint uphill. They were wrong.

What they forgot is that Mark Cavendish is riding with the best lead-out train in the pro peloton. Today, that team navigated a hair-raising final 10 kilometers to put the blazing Englishman within firing distance of a finish line that sat at the end of a slightly uphill run-in. By the time his sprint captain, Mark Renshaw, peeled off in the final meters of the race, Cavendish was in prime position to turn on the afterburners and smoke his charging rivals.

Garmin-Slipstream’s Tyler Farrar came close – pulling up alongside the Englishman for a brief moment – but was unable to seal the deal. Rival Thor Hushovd faded to fifth, which will force him to hand the green jersey of the Points Classification leader back to Cavendish for tomorrow’s stage. Cavendish now leads Hushovd in the heated battle for green by 7 points.

In addition to riding himself back into green, Cav’ also managed to ride his way into the history books. The win marked his eighth career Tour de France stage victory, which matches Barry Hoben’s previously held record for the most stage wins in the Tour de France by a British rider (Hoben won eight between 1967 to 1975). No doubt Cavendish will be keen to break the record outright in this year’s Tour – if not in another flat stage tomorrow, then on the storied Champs D’Élysées in the final stage heading into Paris.

How it unfolded

The Manx Missile showed once again that he is the man to beat when the finish is flat and fast. Following the wheel of trusted first lieutenant Mark Renshaw, Cavendish looked positively unstoppable today as he rode away from rivals Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Slipstream) to claim the day’s top honors.

The stage win (Cavendish’s third of this tour and the seventh Tour de France stage victory of his career) nudges him 5 points closer to reclaiming the green jersey of the Points Classification leader. He now trails Thor Hushovd in that competition by only six points.

How it unfolded
Thierry Hupond (Skil-Shimano) attacked four kilometers into today’s stage and was soon joined by Benoït Vaugrenard (Française des Jeux), Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne), and Mikhail Ignatiev (Team Katusha).

The quartet (which included three Frenchman looking for a little Bastille Day glory), enjoyed a lead over the main field that grew to as much as 3:20, but the peloton was reluctant to let them get much further up the road and at the 27.5k mark, they began to slowly close the gap.

At 12k to the finish, the break still had 40 seconds on the main field, but Team Columbia-HTC, Quick Step, Rabobank and Team Milram were on the front of the group with visions of a bunch sprint driving the pace. When they dropped the hammer, the gap came down in quick order and executed a perfectly timed catch, reabsorbing the breakaway with 1.6 kilometers to the finish – just in time to set up their leadout trains for the big crush to the line.

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.

© 2011