Clever and strong, Luis Leon Sánchez won this afternoon into Saint-Girons, adding this to his win at Paris-Nice earlier this year.
The stage today had three climbs, and began almost right away with the Port d’Envalira. Here, we saw lots of riders willing to give the race a shake, none more so than Sandy Casar, who jumped across to an earlier group of escapees then continued on ahead by himself to cross its crest first.
With groups forming and reforming until the third climb, the Col d’Agnès (12.4 km at 6.5 percent) some 40km before the finish in the valley, we saw a group of three riders, Sánchez (Caisse d’Epargne), Efimkin (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) crest the summit first, and Casar getting back on to make four.
Around four kilometres from the line, Efimkin attacked and looked very much like he’d stay clear and win the stage, but with 500 metres to go, the Russian (who never really got more than 100 metres in front) was caught by Sandy Casar. Sánchez played it as if he was spent, and Casar went past, not realising that Sánchez had slotted onto his wheel, able to get a quick breather, before sprinting past him. Astarloza did enough for third place, a few seconds later.
Sánchez said afterwards;
“I knew Efimkin had no choice but to attack. I know him quite well because he used to be one of my teammates.
“He isn’t that fast a sprinter though, so I knew he was going to attack from a fair distance.
“I said to Astarloza and Casar that we had to work together to get him back, and once we had I needed a bit of luck. I know I have a decent sprint, so I was able to win.”
Sánchez also took over the role of leader of Caisse d’Epargne after team-mate Oscar Pereiro, citing poor form, and is now quite well positioned on the overall classification. He started the day at 4:10 down on race leader Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale), and was for a time the yellow jersey on the road, finishing today 11th overall on GC.
Meanwhile, Cervélo’s Thor Hushovd used his racing savvy and strong legs to move into the lead in the green points jersey competition by getting into the break and winning two intermediate sprints in front of George Hincapie, who was trying to take the points to protect Mark Cavendish’s lead.
As soon as he won the second intermediate sprint, Hushovd sat up and waited for the peloton to catch him, job done for the day.
The Tour will wave goodbye to the Pyrénées tomorrow, in the ninth stage from Saint-Gaudens to Tarbes. The relative lack of distance will be compensated for with two of the most difficult climbs during three days of racing across the Pyrenees; the first-category Col d’Aspin before approaching the eastern side of the famous hors-category Col du Tourmalet at 90km.
After a long descent, the final 45km are down a long, wide-open valley to the finish in Tarbes.
“Nocentini should savour his day in yellow,” said me — I got that one wrong, and now it’s looking like the “I-tal-an” (as Sean calls them) could be heading for quite a few days en jaune.
In fairness to myself, I don’t think the Pyrenees have been as hard as perhaps we expected; the ‘heads’ minds are very much on the last week, and that Saturday on the Ventoux, in particular.
I managed to get the work, driving and hospital visits completed in time to see the last hour of the stage.
Viktor doesn’t like him, but I have a soft spot for Sandy Casar, two years ago he saved the Tour for the French with a great stage win — the man wants to win so badly, and you have to admire that.
But he was up against Sanchez on top ‘Al Pacino method acting’ form; “I’m finished, I can’t come through!” the Spaniard pleaded as he shook his head, in best Belgian style – but like Brian Smith says; “he won’t get away with that again!”
Brice Feillu’s stage win on Friday was a good one and it was nice to see a young French rider in the climber’s jersey; but socks and shorts too? — when I first saw him and all those dots, I thought, “jeez, my eyesight is getting even worse!”
Talking about jerseys, ‘nice one’ by Hushovd to nick the green one from Cav — the wee Manxman won’t like that, and that can only be a good thing for those of us watching the race.
Wiggins is very impressive; but why ride on the front, yesterday? It’s down to AG2R and the Kazakh Happy Gang to do that — best save that energy for the Alps, Brad.
Again, to quote Brian Smith; “A lot of guys get carried away because it’s the Tour.”
The Observer does us proud again, today – as has the Guardian, all week; there are colour pics, race report, diary, stage analysis; it’s not L’Equipe, but it’s a world better than we used to get.
I’ve never been a Daily Record reader, but I well remember how they did Robert Millar proud, back in those heady Vuelta-leading days of the 80’s.
OK, I’m getting nostalgic, best go and write up those Scottish 50 championship interviews. Ciao, ciao.
“Ruge Contador. AtacÃ³ y sacÃ³ 21 segundos al grupo de favoritos, Nocentini, lider”
“Roar Contador. Attack and gain 21 seconds on the group of favourites, Nocentini, leader”. That was the head lines in this morning AS.
Alberto said “NingÃºn favorito atacaba, asi que decide hacerlo yo” – he thought that if none of the favourites were not attacking, then he should.
After the finish he said he was pleased with how it went, but the next stages in the Pyrenees are complicated and the climbs on Saturday are harder than Arcalis.
Evans is complaining that “Astana are controlling the race, they have four of the strongest riders in the Tour”.
Armstrong was accused of sarcasm over the attack of “compañero” Contador in AS; “Contador no siguio el plan, no esperaba que lo hiciera” – he said “Contador’s plans were no secret, he couldn’t wait to go, it was no surprise to me”. Lance’s last statement; “El equipo no sera un problema”. Well if you say so Lance!
Nocentini was pleased to take the yellow jersey as it has been nine years since the last Italian to wear it, Alberto Elli in the Tour of 2000.
One of the headlines in Marca was a quote from Astana director, Johan Bruyneel “Contador y Armstrong tienen el mismo status”. So now they have the same status in the team? This seems to change from day to day and it looks as though it will have to be the legs that do the talking and if Bert shows the same speed he left the leaders yesterday then that might stop the in-house arguments.
Should be more action today as there are three hard climbs, the first is from the gun, ouch!