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Sanchez showed he had the best form of a breakaway group of four in the 8th stage today.  In the final kilometer, he first closed the final 5-second gap to the escaped Efimkin then clipped Casar at the line for the win.  It was a great performance on a dynamic but uneventful stage.

Luis León Sánchez Nips Sandy Casar at the Line to Take Stage 8

Luis León Sánchez Nips Sandy Casar at the Line to Take Stage 8

Today’s stage had a category 1 climb right out of the gate.  There was a great deal of churn as riders attempted to break on the challenging climb.  The peloton split into groups as Astana tried to stabilize the pace.  Sandy Casar got the KOM points followed by Kern and Martinez on the climb.  The rest followed in a string.  Casar maintained the lead over the summit followed by a chase including Cadel Evans, Zabriskie, Egoi Martinez, Efimkin, Kern, and La Mondiale at 53 seconds back.  The peloton was a further 2:10 back.  All this was occurring at 17km into the race.

On the decent Hincapie, Hushovd, Fletcha and Cancellara joined the chase though they couldn’t put time on Casar initially.  Eventually Casar is reeled in.  The break now had 1:35 on the Yellow jersey bunch.  It seems the battle for KOM and Green jersey points was providing the motivation for the composition of the break both for and against the titles.  Astana was controlling the peloton as expected.  They had it down to 45, not giving Cadel much latitude.

At 113km to go mark the pressure of the looming peloton forced a bailout by some and a capitulation to the capture by others.  The remaining break included Fletcha, Casar, Hushovd, Hincapie, Efimkin, and Cancellara with a 20 second gap.  Hushovd took the intermediate sprint making him the Green jersey on the road.  There were many changes as riders tried to bridge the relatively small gap.  Sanchez, Ignatiev, Astarloza and Rosseler joined on at that point while Cadel dropped off.  Hushovd took top points on the second sprint line to tighten his grip on green.  The break had 1:30 at the 86km to go mark.

On the second climb of the day at 72km to go, it was Hincapie, Cancellara, Sanchez, Ignatiev, Efimkin, Flecha, Astarloza, Casar and Rosseler who was falling off but caught back on descending.  The Yellow jersey group were at 2:57, still climbing.

Andy Schleck upped the pace on the accent up the final climb of the day up the Col d’Agnès at 55km. The added pressure forced split in the peloton.  Notably the Yellow jersey fell behind the split.  It was a yeoman’s effort by the veteran Stephane Goubert to help Rinaldo Nocentini (GC leader) bridge back to the lead chase group prior to the summit.  He had lost more than two minutes prior.  That would have been it for Rinaldo had he not bridged.  Schleck’s brought the gap to the break down to 2:40 by the summit.

Several riders fell out of the breakaway leaving only Efimkin, Astarloza, Sanchez and Casar while the others fell back.  At 46km to go, Efimkin jumped halfway up the climb dropping Astarloza, Sanchez and Casar.  Astarloza and Sanchez fought back only to be dropped again by a resurgent Efimkin.  Casar fell off the pace trying to conserve energy the rest of the way up.  Efimkin was caught 2km prior to the summit and resolved to stay with the break.  Casar crested the summit shortly after and caught back on the break a few km down the mountain with a fabulous decent.

Just after cresting the Col d’Agnès with 40km to go Columbia’s Hincapie accelerated away from the chasing peloton.  He bombed the decent trying to bridge to the four in the lead break.  He knocked the gap to 1:10 before the break riders started working together to extend the lead again to over 2 minutes.  Hincapie started looking back after that giving up and waiting for the peloton to absorb him back in.  The peloton was just under 3 minutes back at 25km when the Astana lead pack finally reeled him in.

The peloton whittled away the lead slowly but surely.  At 15km the gap was reduced 40 seconds to 2:30. Nocentini’s AG2R squad assumed the lead at this point to protect the jersey on the run in to the finish.  The gap dropped below 2 minutes at the 7.5km mark

At the 4.5, Astarloza leaped but was quickly marked.  Seconds later AG2R’s Efimkin did a brilliant jump holding on to about 500 meters.  It was Sanchez who turned on the afterburners to close the gap with Casar and Astarloza close in.  Casar starts the sprint but Sanchez is just two strong and swings by in the last 50 to take the stage.  The peloton cut the gap to 1:50 by the end with no significant changes in the order.

Tomorrow’s stage presents the Col d’Aspin (12km at 6.6 percent) and the Col du Tourmalet (17km at 7.5 percent) both notoriously difficult climbs.  The tour organization strangely placed the climbs smack in the middle of the stage, which will limit any damage done by an enterprising rider of breakaway.  I expect there will be a few GC contenders who will have to give it a go.  In previous years Discovery would send up a sentinel who could fall back for support.  This year, politics may prevent all be a few nonthreatening teammates from the task.  Still it is a possibility.   My guess would be Popovych who made a similar attempt on stage 16 of the Giro this year.  He was caught on the mountain top finish by Sastre with just 2.5km to go after giving it all he had.  I think he would enjoy the green light to give it another shot.

As for the Astana drama, both Lance and Alberto were conciliatory in their morning interviews.  Apparently “it’s all good”.  Bruyneel, in an effort to build trust I suppose has offered that both riders will have an opportunity to challenge for the Yellow, So much for Leipy and Klöden’s ambitions.  Article by Martin Rodgers describing the goings on.

Stage 9 Profile

Stage 8 Profile

Stage 9 Map

Stage 8 Map

Stage 8 Recap

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Stage 8 Results

1           Luis León Sánchez Gil (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne           4:31:50
2          Sandy Casar (Fra) Française des Jeux
3          Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi
4          Vladimir Efimkin (Rus) AG2R La Mondiale          0:00:03
5          Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne          0:01:54
6          Christophe Riblon (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
7          Peter Velits (Svk) Team Milram
8          Sébastien Minard (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne
9          Jérémy Roy (Fra) Française des Jeux
10          Thomas Voeckler (Fra) BBOX Bouygues Telecom

Polka Dot Jersey Standings

1           Christophe Kern (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne           59           pts
2          Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi          54
3          Brice Feillu (Fra) Agritubel          49
4          Christophe Riblon (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale          46
5          Sandy Casar (Fra) Française des Jeux          43
6          Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi          38
7          Vladimir Efimkin (Rus) AG2R La Mondiale          35
8          Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale          34
9          Johannes Fröhlinger (Ger) Team Milram          32
10          Luis León Sánchez Gil (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne          26

Green Jersey Standings

1           Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team           117           pts
2          Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team Columbia – HTC          106
3          Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team Milram          66
4          Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne          65
5          Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank          55

Overall Standings

1           Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale           30:18:16
2          Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana          0:00:06
3          Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana          0:00:08
4          Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana          0:00:39
5          Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin – Slipstream          0:00:46
6          Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana          0:00:54
7          Tony Martin (Ger) Team Columbia – HTC          0:01:00
8          Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin – Slipstream          0:01:24
9          Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank          0:01:49
10          Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas          0:01:54

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The highlights of the stage were an exceptionally well ridden break by David Millar followed by a blistering sprint by Thor “The Hamma” Hushovd. Besides that the stage was marked wreck after wreck on the rain slicked roads mostly on the later half of the race.

Hushovd does a picture sprint to take the win and get back into contention on the green jersey competition

Hushovd does a picture sprint to take the win and get back into contention on the green jersey competition

In early riding, Zabriskie, Hincapie, Fletcha, Millar and Freire all took a stab at a break today. At around the 50 km mark, by Millar, Auge and Chavanel. They quickly gained a minute on the field over the next 5k or so. The lead grew to its max of 3:30 by the 65km mark. The peloton learned from the previous day not to let the break get to far out either that or Millar was seen a significant enough of a threat to keep it close.

A light rain began at the 80km mark, which didn’t bode well relative to the hilly terrain ahead. Astana comes to the front to keep its riders out of trouble. Txurruka gets free and bridges to the break by the 110km mark. Just after the base of the final climb, Millar attacks his compatriots. He gets a gap the others can’t match. He had about a minute over the peloton with the mountain and decent, a flat section of about 10km and some steep rollers in the last 2km to conquer.

Millar’s lead over the peloton slips to 30 seconds but by the end of the decent is back up to over a minute. Millar is burying himself on the flats to hold on to the tenuous lead. After 10km of wrecks, and looking at each other, the peloton wakes up and accelerates. The question is will someone jump to snag a few seconds, will Millar take advantage of the indecisive peloton or will it go to an unexpected sprint?

As the peloton bears down on Millar, Columbia’s Martin is up front with Cavendish but where was his regular lead out guy, Renshaw? Millar was caught at the 1km after a supreme effort. Columbia’s Martin tried to control the pace through the final Km to set up the sprint for Cavendish to no avail. On the sprint, Pozzato went left and Freire went right with Hushovd on his wheel. Hushovd takes it at the line.

Hushovd narrowly missed taking over the Green jersey lead over Cavendish by one point. What was expected to be a Cavendish rout is shaping up to be a very competitive sprint competition.

The unexpected sprint wins the day.

All eyes are on stage 7 and the mountains near Andorra. Tomorrow is the day were we see who has got the legs and more importantly which of Astana’s leaders can assert control. I think Lance is counting on strategy and experience and maybe seniority to hold onto control where Contador has raw horsepower. Either way it goes, it will be exciting to watch. There are several riders including Cadel, Sastre, and Schleck who are in need of some seconds and minutes. They may just have to take a chance and scramble for it on what is likely a Astana dominated stage.

Climbs of the day
Km 32.0 – Côte de Sant Feliu de Guixols – 2.0 km climb to 5.4% – Category 4
Km 55.0 – Côte de Tossa de Mar – 3.8 km climb to 4.2% – Category 4
Km 98.0 – Côte de Sant Vicenc de Montalt – 3.3 km climb to 5.2% – Category 3
Km 110.0 – Collsacreu – 4.1 km climb to 5.2% – Category 3
Km 159.0 – Côte de la Conreria – 4.7 km climb to 4.5% – Category 4

Stage Profile

Stage 6 Profile

Stage 6 Profile

Stage 6 Recap
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Stage 6 Video
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Stage 6 Results
1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team 4:21:33
2 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank
3 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
4 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team Milram
5 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas
6 Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Team Katusha
7 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre – NGC
8 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
9 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence – Lotto
10 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank
11 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana
12 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale
13 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank
14 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas
15 Sébastien Rosseler (Bel) Quick Step
16 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team Columbia – HTC
17 Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Quick Step
18 George Hincapie (USA) Team Columbia – HTC
19 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas
20 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana

Green Jersey Overall
1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team Columbia – HTC 106 pts
2 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team 105
3 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team Milram 66
4 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin – Slipstream 54
5 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank 53

Overall Results
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank 19:29:22
2 Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana
3 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 0:00:19
4 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana 0:00:23
5 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana 0:00:31
6 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin – Slipstream 0:00:38
7 Tony Martin (Ger) Team Columbia – HTC 0:00:52
8 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin – Slipstream 0:01:16
9 Gustav Erik Larsson (Swe) Team Saxo Bank 0:01:22
10 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Team Columbia – HTC 0:01:29

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