95th Tour de France
Stage 8 - Figeac to Toulouse - 172.5 km (107.0 mi)
12 July 2008
After four shorter climbs and a long run-in that allowed for the sprinters to catch back up for a field sprint, volatile young sprinter Mark Cavendish from Columbia let his legs do the talking to become the first multiple-stage winner of this year's Tour de France. On a rainy day in France, yet another breakaway had its dreams dashed as the sprinters' teams drove the peloton right past in the final kilometers to set up the bunch for a speedy finale. Columbia, working both for it sprinters Cavendish and Gerald Ciolek as well as its yellow jersey Kim Kirchen, looked as though it lost control of the finish as Quick Step and individual spritners like Robbie McEwen and Oscar Friere took charge in the final kilometer. But in the end, two bike lengths separated Cavendish from his teammate Ciolek as they both managed to pull out a furious finishing kick to take the stage one-two and keep Kirchen in the yellow...
The day's stage, what the Tour organizers call a "transitional" stage between mountain stages, began southwest of yesterday's finish in the town of Figeac. With ten riders already withdrawn from the race, 170 riders kicked off southward on an inclement-weather day for the Tour. Even riders such as breakaway animator Lilian Jegou (Francaise des Jeux) were unable to start the stage due to injuries, and one rider -- former Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Backstedt of Garmin-Chipotle -- finished outside the time limit on yesterday's stage. Another, Manuel Beltran, has been kicked out of the Tour after testing positive for blood-booster erythropoietin. Despite the absences, the race began as it has every day... with riders trying to escape from the drop of the start flag. The Tour goes on, and with four climbs packed into the first seventy-five kilometers riders were anxious to get the racing underway.
Through the first categorized climb, the fourth-category Cote de Loupiac, polka-dot jersey David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval) sprinted through ahead of Simon Gerrans (Credit Agricole) and Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi). De La Fuente sat up to reintegrate with the peloton after crossing the summit; Gerrans and Martinez vainly attempted to use the short descent to springboard into a cohesive breakaway, but they were soon swept back into the pack. The attacks continued off the front, the main group bringing the futile splinter groups back into the fold each time.
Around the thirty-kilometer mark, ten riders got clear of the peloton and four more quickly bridged up in the next few kilometers. The group soon gained a thirty-second advantage on the peloton, though one rider -- general-classification threat Stefan Schumacher -- sat up to wait for the peloton and give the thirteen remaining riders a better chance of staying away. The breakaway soon arrived at the foot of the day's second climb, the third-category Cote de Macarou... and the peloton was already back on their wheels as the roads turned upward. Several more riders attempted to take off ahead on the climb, led by Laurent Lefevere (Bouygues Telecom). King of the Mountains leader De La Fuente took off with two other riders in pursuit of the points. Lefevere stayed away to claim the maximum at the summit, with the polka-dot jersey bolstering his lead in second.
Lefevere used the summit to stay away. Soon he had thirty seconds on the peloton, but looked destined to fail as he was fighting the field by himself with no one to help set the pace. Yet the peloton decided to offer the Bouygues Telecom rider some rope, and at the forty-five kilometer mark Lefevere had strung his lead out to 1:45. Finally, three riders -- Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Christophe Riblon (AG2R) and Lefevere's teammate Jerome Pineau -- started working to bridge the gap before the third climb of the day, the fourth-category Cote de la Guionie. The first hour of the race came to a close with Lefevere 45.6 kilometers through the stage, holding a 90-second lead on the chase group of three and a three-minute gap on the peloton behind. Lefevere remained ahead over the climb, with Txurruka and Riblon taking the rest of the points.
With 110 kilometers remaining in Stage 8, the veteran Lefevere had seen his gap on the chase group hold firm at 1:30. The peloton, meanwhile, continued to let the gap grow. Only eight kilometers from the final climb of the day, the third-category Cote du Port de la Besse, the Frenchman was five minutes ahead of the Columbia-led main field. The rain let up for a moment as the leader started the climb. Unaware that he had a teammate in the chase group, Lefevere continued his solo break up the pitches of the third-category climb. He took the summit points, with Txurruka, Pineau and Riblon passing through 1:40 later in that order.
Behind in the peloton, several riders started encountering flat tires as the rain continued to slicken the roads and bring new obstructions to the surface. No one was immune from the dangers -- sprinter Cavendish flatted, dark-horse candidate Damiano Cunego (Lampre) flatted, team lieutenants George Hincapie (Columbia) and Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) flatted. None, however, were unable to catch back up with the peloton. With 90 kilometers remaining, Lefevere was only thirty seconds ahead of the chase group as the Bouygues Telecom team car had been able to get to him on the last climb to inform him of Pineau's presence in the group. Only a few kilometers later, the breakaway of one which had persisted in growing a lead for forty-five kilometers was now a cohesive group of four with a far better chance of maintaining its now-4:30 gap on the field.
Some in the peloton felt that a breakaway was just what the race needed after two hard days in the Massif Central. Yaroslav Popovych, riding for Cadel Evans on Silence-Lotto, told cyclingnews.com, "If Columbia is smart they will allow a break to go. After yesterday, we are all very tired and we have a few hard days to come." Yet the team of yellow jersey Kim Kirchen had other plans in mind, as did other teams looking to give their sprinters one last shot at victory before the Pyrenees put the climbers at the forefront. After passing through the feed zone at Blaye-Les-Mines-Village, the gap had increased to over five minutes as the peloton grabbed its food bags slowly and carefully on the slick roads to avoid a crash.
Rabobank and Credit Agricole were now assisting Columbia at the front of the peloton to try to bring back the gap for Oscar Freire and Thor Hushovd respectively. With 54 kilometers to go, the gap was down around four minutes -- completely manageable for the peloton at the 10-km-per-minute-down calculations usually used to predict whether breakaways will succeed. The pace started getting furious in the peloton, with the riders at the front watching their lead quickly erode. Seven kilometers from the previous time check, the gap had already reduced down below two-and-a-half minutes. The chances of Lefevere or any of the others to succeed was shrinking by the minute.
Riccardo Ricco, the winner at Super-Besse, tumbled at the back of the peloton and was grimly struggling 1:15 behind the peloton with his teammate Rubens Bertogliati to attempt to reintegrate. More Saunier Duval teammates drift back as the peloton continued to drive hard in pursuit of the breakaway. Ricco looked as though he might be injured, but eventually the rider and his teammates manage to catch back up with the main field. With less than a minute gap to the leaders, several riders split from the peloton to attempt a counter-attack.
In the end, though, the rain and the will of the Columbia team would prove too much. As the race descended upon Toulouse, the field kept their rabbit in front but remained ready to charge. The entire pack came together with only 2.5 kilometers remaining. Several teams attempted to get the jump on Columbia and Cavendish, but to no avail -- the British speedster eventually found himself comfortably celebrating his dominant victory, yet again. This surely will not be the last we see of the kid...
Results - Stage 8
- Mark Cavendish (GBR) Columbia -- 4.02.54 (42.61km/h)
- Gerald Ciolek (GER) Columbia
- Jimmy Casper (FRA) Agritubel
- Oscar Freire (ESP) Rabobank
- Robert Forster (GER) Gerolsteiner
- Erik Zabel (GER) Milram
- Gert Steegmans (BEL) Quick Step
- Sebastien Chavanel (FRA) Francaise des Jeux
- Thor Hushovd (NOR) Credit Agricole
- Robert Hunter (RSA) Barloworld -- all s.t.
- Kim Kirchen (LUX) Columbia -- 24.30.41
- Cadel Evans (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- +0.06
- Stefan Schumacher (GER) Gerolsteiner -- +0.16
- Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin-Chipotle -- +0.44
- Denis Menchov (RUS) Rabobank -- +1.03
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- +1.12
- David Millar (GBR) Garmin-Chipotle -- +1.14
- Stijn Devolder (BEL) Quick Step -- +1.21
- Oscar Pereiro (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne
- Thomas Lovkvist (SWE) Columbia -- both s.t.
- Oscar Freire (ESP) Rabobank -- 119 pts
- Kim Kirchen (LUX) Columbia -- 119
- Thor Hushovd (NOR) Credit Agricole -- 105
- Erik Zabel (GER) Milram -- 92
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- 87
- Mark Cavendish (GBR) Columbia -- 86
- Robert Hunter (RSA) Barloworld -- 82
- Romain Feillu (FRA) Agritubel -- 64
- Cadel Evans (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- 62
- Robbie McEwen (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- 60
KING OF THE MOUNTAINS
- David De La Fuente (ESP) Saunier Duval - 34 pts
- Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) Cofidis -- 27
- Thomas Voeckler (FRA) Bouygues Telecom -- 27
- Luis Leon Sanchez (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- 24
- Riccardo Ricco (ITA) Saunier Duval -- 20
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- 18
- Josep Jufre (ESP) Saunier Duval -- 18
- Cadel Evans (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- 16
- Frank Schleck (LUX) Team CSC -- 14
- Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Liquigas -- 14
BEST YOUNG RIDER
- Thomas Lovkvist (SWE) Columbia -- 14.05.28
- Andy Schleck (LUX) Team CSC -- +0.37
- Maxime Monfort (BEL) Cofidis -- +0.46
- Roman Kreuziger (CZE) Liquigas -- +0.59
- Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Liquigas -- +1.40
- Iouri Trofimov (RUS) Bouygues Telecom -- +2.20
- Riccardo Ricco (ITA) Saunier Duval -- +2.31
- Eduardo Gonzalo (ESP) Agritubel -- +6.03
- Luis Leon Sanchez (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- +12.32
- John-Lee Augustyn (RSA) Barloworld -- +25.20