Stage 8 Saturday, July 11 2009: Andorre-la-Vieille - Saint-Girons 176.5 km | Results
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Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d'Epargne) wins stage 8 (image: AP Photo/Laurent Rebours)
Perfect Tactics Earn Win For Sanchez
Stage eight of the Tour de France saw another successful breakaway as four riders broke clear and held off the main field to the finish in Saint-Girons.
Behind them, although there was some muscle flexing amongst the main contenders, the profile of the stage didn't really lend itself to making significant gains. The climbs, although lengthy, came too early in the day to make clear-cut gains: there was always a chance that time made up on the uphill sections would be negated by a concerted chase on the long downhill run to the finish.
So, although Cadel Evans did attack early and escaped with a small group including Dave Zabriskie (Garmin Slipstream), he was brought back after just over and hour, with over 100km still to go to the finish. After that, the main contenders seemed content to ride the stage briskly, but without too many fireworks.
This left the stage set for some of the Tour's breakaway enthusiasts and soon after Evans was caught, a group of four riders - Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d'Epargne), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux) and Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R La Mondiale) - managed to detach themselves from the front of the field. Once they were over the final summit of the Col de Agnes, they had a trouble free run of some 40km into the finish, during which it became clear that they would contest the stage win.
Luis Leon Sanchez looked the strongest rider for much of the break and certainly did more than his fair share of the work. Meanwhile Vladimir Efimkin was a little more work shy and it came as no surprise when he made a strong attack at 4km to go and quickly built up a decent gap over the remaining trio.
To their credit, Sanchez, Astarloza and Casar re-organised themselves and worked well together to bring Efimkin back. Sanchez looked the most impatient as they slowly wound him in and was clearly getting frustrated as they went under the 1km to go banner still trailing by several lengths.
Finally, Sanchez took it on himself to close down the gap to Efimkin and one wondered briefly if, after all his hard work and in his eagerness see it not go to waste, he had played his hand too soon. But cannily he backed off for a couple of seconds as he caught Efimkin and Casar launched an attack over the top of the fading Russian. Quick as a flash, Sanchez was on his wheel and suddenly it was down to the two of them as Astaloza also drifted out of contention.
Sanchez stuck to Casar's wheel till the last possible second and then launched and irresistible sprint round him, which was as perfectly timed and judged as all his moves had been in those closing kilometre. He'd given a perfect lesson in how to handle a very tricky situation, doing some hard work, but not allowing it to cloud his tactical judgment.
Just under 2 minutes later, a big group of 53 rider was led in by Sanchez's team-mate Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil. All the main contenders came in safely, including Bradley Wiggins, who maintains his superb fifth overall.
It was a slightly less happy day for Mark Cavendish, who saw Thor Hushovd steal some early sprint points and take the green points jersey in the process. Irrepressible as ever, Cav' didn't seem too bothered and went on to win the autobus* sprint for 113th place.
*The "autobus" is the name given to the group of non-climbers who band together in mountain stages and ride with the sole ambition of avoiding disqualification from the race - all riders have to cross the finishing line within a published percentage of the time of the winner and lesser climbers work together to ensure that they slip within this time limit and at the same time limit their physical fatigue.