On paper it looked like a day for a break and in the end it came down to a straight fight between four men: Sandy Casar (FDJeux), Michel Astarloza (Euskaltel), Luis Leon Sanchez (Euskaltel), and Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R). Casar would have been the emotional choice - he'd been attacking from the off and clawed his way back every time he was dropped – but Sanchez was the realist's choice and so it proved to be.
Inside the final 3km Efimkin, who had done the least amount of work, attacked and while the other three couldn't agree about who should lead the chase the Russian went for the line. He had gone from a long way out though… at the kilometre mark the he had 25m on the others but suddenly it didn't look to be enough. with 500m to go Casar went for it, but just as he must have feared only succeeded in acting as Luis Leon Sanchez's lead out man as the Spaniard took the win for Caisse D'Epargne.
The day wasn't just about the break, there was some manouvering amongst the leading contenders for the general classification and a clever move from Thor Hushovd in the fight for the green jersey which saw the big Norwegian take it from the shoulders of Britain's Mark Cavendish – whose main preoccupation today was survival.
The fireworks started early when Cadel Evans attacked on the slopes of the day's first climb but that only spurred Astana to up the tempo and the Aussie contender had to admit defeat but a lead group of escapers had come together and without Evans in it the impetus for the peloton to chase it diminished. The composition of the lead group settled at Hushovd (Cervelo), Rosseler (Quick Step), Astarloza (Euskaltel), Sanchez (Euskaltel), Hincapie (Columbia), Efimkin (AG2R), Cancellara (Saxo Bank), Ignatiev (Katusha), Casar (FDJeux), Flecha (Rabobank).
Hushovd grabbed his place in the break with a fine piece of descending of the day's first climb and his eyes were on the points available in the intermediate sprints.Both of those safely bagged, he dropped back on the climb of the Col de Port and sat up at the summit to wait for the peloton – job done. Talking about the stage afterwards he said:
"That was the plan and the goal for today. I knew that first climb was really hard. I felt strong yesterday and I attacked just over the top and I was able to get those points.
"Cavendish is really fast and he's already won some sprints, so it will be difficult to win. Eleven points (lead) is nothing, so I will take it day-to-day and try to save some energy, because today I went really deep.
"I knew I had to fight on that climb. I did a good descent and I could get those points. It was important to me.
On whether he could hold on to the green jersey he said:
"The plan is to keep it as long as possible. We know that Cavendish is fast and it will be difficult. We have another mountain stage and then some flat stages, so we will see how the stages unfold. If I can take points at the intermediate sprints, I will."
What looked like it might be the big move of the day came when Andy Schleck attacked on the slopes of the final climb, the 1st category Col d'Agnes, splintering the peloton and taking all the main contenders with him – including Bradley Wiggins but not the yellow jersey holder Nocentini.
However, you don't just give up when you're wearing the yellow jersey and with his Ag2R team mate Stephane Goubert pulling the chasing group back up to the Schleck group – which had morphed into the Astana group with Contador, Armstrong and their lieutenants taking control the fireworks were over and the break had its chance.
Up ahead the breakaway was breaking up and reforming – Cancellara and Ignatiev had already been dropped and swallowed by the chasing pack, but plucky Sandy Casar who had started it all used his descending skills to get back on after being dropped in the approach to the summit of the Col d'Agnes , but despite his best efforts on the descent George Hincapie couldn't get back on and sat up to wait for the peloton.
As they hit the valley floor the four escapers had three minutes on the peloton – the winner surely going to be one of these four. Leon Sanchez made sure it was him on the day that his team mate, and 2007 Tour 'winner' Oscar Peirero dropped out of the Tour due to illness.
Tomorrow the riders tackle two Tour monsters the Col d'Aspin and the Tourmalet Nocentini
Top 10 Tour de France 2009 Stage 8
1) Luis León Sánchez Gil (Caisse d'Epargne) 4:31:50 2) Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux) 3) Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Euskaltel - Euskadi) 4) Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R La Mondiale) 0:00:03 5) Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Caisse d'Epargne) 0:01:54 6) Christophe Riblon (AG2R La Mondiale) 7) Peter Velits (Team Milram) 8) Sébastien Minard (Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne) 9) Jérémy Roy (Française des Jeux) 10) Thomas Voeckler (BBOX Bouygues Telecom)
Top 10 General Classification after Stage 8
1) Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale) 30:18:16 2) Alberto Contador Velasco (Astana) 0:00:06 3) Lance Armstrong (Astana) 0:00:08 4) Levi Leipheimer (Astana) 0:00:39 5) Bradley Wiggins (Garmin - Slipstream) 0:00:46 6) Andreas Klöden (Astana) 0:00:54 7) Tony Martin (Team Columbia - HTC) 0:01:00 8) Christian Vande Velde (Garmin - Slipstream) 0:01:24 9) Andy Schleck (Team Saxo Bank_ 0:01:49 10) Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) 0:01:54
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