Andy Schleck of Team Saxo Bank showed today that he is ready to go on the attack in the Tour de France, separating himself from an elite peloton in the closing meters of the climb to Morzine-Avoriaz. While defending champion Alberto Contador took the responsibility to have his Astana team control the pace up the entire final ascent, Schleck sensed that the Spaniard was not ready to launch a characteristic attack and instead he took his own initiative to stamp his authority on the first real Alpine stage of the Tour. Schleck beat Olympic road race champion Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) to the line, surprising even himself with the stage victory.
"I didn't expect to win the stage today," Schleck said after the stage. "I have a goal in this Tour and I am going to take it step by step. Maybe it would have been possible to take the yellow jersey today but I want to have it in Paris."
"I was hoping for a decisive stage today," he added. "I was really nervous this morning because I know in a stage like this your legs are really important. I was really at one hundred percent both mentally and physically and I was surrounded by my team. I'm incredibly happy to have won the stage."
Among the overall favorites, Cadel Evans assumed the race lead and his first yellow jersey of the 2010 Tour. Evans became the first reigning world champion to don the yellow jersey since Greg LeMond in 1990. He now leads Schleck and Contador in the race for the podium as the peloton ends its first week on the road. The riders will enjoy a well-earned rest day in Morzine on Monday before continuing in the Alps Tuesday.
"Obviously (race leader) Sylvain Chavanel is not a specialist in this sort of climbing but congratulations to him on a great Tour," Evans said when asked whether he expected to pull on the yellow jersey.
"I don't want to lose too much time to Andy but I'm happy to finish with Contador today and being in the yellow jersey is not a bad position to be in," he said, adding a note of thanks to his new BMC team. "It's been incredible riding alongside George Hincapie in this Tour. It's been great riding with all the guys and I think this is the reward for them."
Armstrong Down, Out of General Classification
For seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, Sunday will surely rank as one of the worst (if not the worst) days he has experienced in the Tour. An unfortunate crash shortly before the first category 1 ascent of the Col de la Ramaz compromised the American's ability to stay with the leaders as the road tilted upwards. While he limited his losses on the first half of the climb, he ultimately began to lose ground on an increasingly select leading group containing every other Tour contender.
Lance Armstrong after he crashed and got distanced during the eighth stage of the Tour de France.
AP Photo/Bas Czerwinski
By the final climb to Morzine-Avoriaz, Armstrong knew his podium chances were finished and he struggled up the climb to finish more than 11 minutes down on stage winner Schleck. Long before he crossed the line he knew his podium chances were over.
"It was a very bad day," he admitted freely just after crossing the line. "I felt good early on, but I just came around a roundabout, touched the pedal and the front tire rolled off and I hit the ground."
"They started the Ramaz pretty hard and for me it went from bad to worse," Armstrong said of the leading group, of which he would see little by day's end. "I've had a lot of good days here... My Tour is finished but I'm going to hang in there and enjoy my last finish and support the team."
The Tour de France has yet to hit an hors cat?gorie (beyond category) climb, but today's ascents of the category 1 Col de la Ramaz and Morzine-Arvoriaz were important openers in this first mountain phase. The remaining leaders from an early break were Koos Moerenhout (Rabobank), Mario Aerts (Omega Pharma-Lotto), and Amael Moinard (Cofidis), who had moved clear from their initial companions by the top of the Col de la Ramaz. The trio was set to contest the finale to Morzine-Avoriaz together but after a long effort out front it was clear that the general classification behind would quickly end their chances.
Aerts appeared the strongest of the trio, but not long after a goodwill handshake from Moinard for a job well done, it was Moinard who put in a final dig to go solo. He was soon caught, however, setting the stage for the favorites- sans Armstrong- to test the legs and once more reshape the general classification. Yellow jersey Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) was a long way behind, not that he had expected to remain in contention in the high mountains.
In the dwindling lead peloton, Astana sent three men to the front to shepherd Contador up this first real Alpine test. After Alexandre Vinokourov and Maxim Iglinskiy peeled off, it was Paolo Tiralongo who did an enormous amount of work dragging the leaders up to Avoriaz. Whether the pace was too high or the heavy favorites too nervous, no attacks were made until the final kilometer, when Andy Schleck decided the moment had arrived. Only Sanchez could follow his wheel, and with the two away a sprint win for the Olympic champion seemed assured until Schleck dug deep and showed that time bonuses or no (none are on offer this year for stage winners), he wants to fight for stage wins as much as for the classification.
Safely in the leading group just ten seconds behind were the likes of Contador, Basso, Evans, Leipheimer, Menchov and Sastre. The men who lost time were Michael Rogers, Ryder Hesjedal, and Bradley Wiggins. Nonetheless, the time gaps in the top 20 places overall are not enormous, with most of the likely contenders sitting within two and a half minutes of the new leader Evans.
Stage 9 Preview
Monday brings the Tour's first rest day as the riders will either gaze happily at the race standings or lick their wounds from a tougher than average first week of racing. Cadel Evans said he is simply happy enough to be in yellow that he will not make any great declarations regarding his desire to keep his jersey at any cost. Andy Schleck, meanwhile, has shown that whatever nerves he may face at the beginning of each stage, he is a capable team leader and will not shy away from attacking the race's preeminent climber, Alberto Contador.
Racing resumes on Tuesday with stage 9 with a 204.5km mountain marathon from Morzine-Avoriaz to Saint Jean de Maurienne. Although this stage does not finish atop a mountain summit, the profile looks like a jagged saw blade with five categorized climbs ready to cut the legs of the peloton. The final ascent up the hors cat?gorie Col de la Madeleine will provide an opportunity for fireworks among the yellow jersey contenders before a fast plunge down to Saint Jean de Maurienne. Time gaps will have to be significant, however, as 13km remain between the end of the descent and the finish line.
Cadel Evans may not feel the need to defend his yellow jersey at all costs, but with the general classification stacked with overall contenders, he won't have the luxury of letting just anyone up the road. Alberto Contador is most likely to take his significant time gaps on the summit finishes, thus the profile may not incite him to attack. Then again, having lost ground to Schleck in Sunday's Alpine opener, the defending champion may have a score to settle.
Stage 8 Results
- Andy Schleck (SAX) - 04:54:11
- Samuel Sanchez (EUS) +00:00
- Robert Gesink (RAB) +00:10
- Roman Kreuziger (LIQ) +00:10
- Alberto Contador (AST) +00:10
- Cadel Evans (BMC) +00:10
- Cadel Evans (BMC) 37:57:09
- Andy Schleck (SAX) +00:20
- Alberto Contador (AST) +01:01
- Jurgen Van Den Broeck (OLO) +01:03
- Denis Menchov (RAB) +01:10
- Ryder Hesjedal (GRM) +01:11
8. Levi Leipheimer (RSH) +02:14
23. Christopher Horner (RSH) +06:33
39. Lance Armstrong (RSH) +13:26
Overall Points Standings
- Thor Hushovd (CTT) - 118 Points
- Alessandro Petacchi (LAM) - 114 Points
- Robbie McEwen (KAT) - 105 Points
King of the Mountains Jersey
- Jerome Pineau (QST) - 44 Points
- Sylvain Chavanel (QST) - 36 Points
- Andy Schleck (SAX) - 30 Points
Best Young Rider
- Andy Schleck (SAX) - 37:57:29
- Roman Kreuziger (LIQ) +01:25
- Robert Gesink (RAB) +02:17
189K (117.4 miles) - Sunday July 11
- Today marks the official start of the mountains with the stage finish at 1796 meters (5891 feet)
- This stage precedes the first rest day of the Tour
- Sprint Points at: Vulbens, Viuz-en-Sallaz, Morzine
- Mountain Passes: Cote de la Petite Joux located at 24 kilometers - 2.3km climb to 4.3 percent - Category 4; Cote de Gresin at 73 kilometers - 4.3km climb to 3.9 percent - Cat. 4; Col de la Ramaz at 154.5 kilometers - 14.3km climb to 6.8 percent - Cat. 1; Les Gets at 168 kilometers - 3.9km climb to 4.8 percent - Cat. 3; Morzine-Avoriaz at 189 kilometers - 13.6km climb to 6.1 percent - Cat. 1