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So, day two in the Pyrenees is over. Not quite the drama of the first day in the mountains but, without a summit finish, it was never going to be a particularly decisive stage. That's it from me - thanks again for keeping me company. Peter Scrivener will be back tomorrow to take you through stage nine, a 160.5km trek from St Gaudens to Tarbes. Be nice to him, and enjoy yourselves.
1622: TOUR DE FRANCE 2009 AFTER STAGE EIGHT:
Yellow jersey: Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita/AG2R)
Green jersey: Thor Hushovd (Nor/Cervelo Test Team)
Polka dot jersey: Christophe Kern (Fra/Cofidis)
White jersey: Tony Martin (Ger/Team Columbia)
The big winner today, apart from stage victor Luis Leon Sanchez, is Norway's Thor Hushovd
, who takes over the green jersey from Britain's Mark Cavendish
thanks to his two wins in intermediate sprints.
1615: OVERALL STANDINGS AFTER STAGE EIGHT:
1. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita/AG2R) 30hrs 18mins 16secs
2. Alberto Contador (Spa/Astana) + 6secs
3. Lance Armstrong (USA/Astana) + 8
4. Levi Leipheimer (USA/Astana) +39
5. Bradley Wiggins (GB/Garmin) + 46
All the big-hitters in the General Classification finished together in the main pack - a minute and 54 seconds back - so no change in the leading places overall. We might have to wait a bit longer for Mark Cavendish
to come in though, he got dropped a long, long time ago.
Vladimir Efimkin finished fourth in the end - which will please the other three, who felt he wasn't working hard enough in the closing kilometres. The Russian's excuse earlier was that he is on the same team (AG2R) as maillot jaune Rinaldo Nocentini but it didn't wash nearer the end. It looked like Sandy Casar would snatch it, but Sanchez stayed on the Frenchman's wheel and whizzed past him on the line - the perfect way to snatch a stage.
A clever ride by Sanchez that. He left it late though. Here comes the peloton now, in the race for the minor places and points...
1604: LUIS LEON SANCHEZ WINS STAGE EIGHT OF THE TOUR DE FRANCE! 1603:
Efimkin is fighting hard for this! This is going to be very close!
Phew. Efimkin being reeled in - just over 1km to go.
attacks and is off the front. He jumped out from the back with 3.5km to go. He has a decent lead on Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel), Luis-Leon Sanchez (Caisse D'Epargne) and Sandy Casar (Francaise Des Jeux). Can he hold on for the stage win?
Im_partial on 606:
"I'll take Vladimir Efimkin. He's done absolutely no work, so he'll have some energy. Someone will attempt to win it going away, I think."
That gap is coming down - to two minutes
left - but it won't be enough to catch the front four. Time to think about who will claim the stage win then...?
Looks very much like the winner of this stage will come from the front four - they have got a lead of two minutes and 26 seconds
to go. The top of the General Classification will not change dramatically, however, as Luis-Leon Sanchez
is the closest challenger out of the breakaway bunch and he is four minutes and 10 seconds behind the maillot jaune. He could break into the top 10 overall, though, unless the peloton change things.
Time for the final intermediate sprint of the day - at Vic d'Oust (at the 159.5km mark). No Thor Hushovd around for this one, he went backwards through the peloton around the summit of Col de Port, but the big Norwegian has done enough damage to Mark Cavendish's
green jersey bid already today. Sandy Casar took the six points, ahead of Spanish duo Sanchez and Astarloza - none of that three are contenders in the points catergory.
BBC Sport's Phil Sheehan on Twitter:
"People have been asking can Armstrong still do something or has Contador killed off his hopes...Armstrong is still relatively bullish, if you can be bullish in a subtle way (psychological warfare). He still thinks he can win, the question is when and how will he put time into Contador? The time trial around Annecy (stage 18) is mostly flat - that's one opportunity. But Lance has never got on well with Mont Ventoux and if the Tour is decided on the penultimate day he'll have to have a very good buffer."
1540: BBC Radio 5 Live's Alex Murray on 606:
"Sandy Casar is afraid of dogs, so he'll be hoping a stray one doesn't get in his way. Unless of course he's hoping to repeat the magic formula that saw him win a stage in 2007: plough, at high speed, into dog crossing road, win the stage."
Just 20km to go for the four breakaway riders - their lead is a steady two minutes and 41 seconds. Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel), Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R), Luis-Leon Sanchez (Caisse D'Epargne) and Sandy Casar (Francaise Des Jeux) are the men out in front.
Team Columbia's George Hincapie is still ahead of the peloton, although he is slowly being reeled in. Signs of life in that main pack - Saxo Bank's Kurt-Asle Arvesen made a break for it, only to be put in his place by the Astana heavy mob who want to keep control of this group.
are still leading the chase at the front of the peloton - I wonder how many times I've typed that sentence this week? The front four are still two minutes and 50 seconds clear, though, with 28km
of today's 176.5km
Oops, that final climb was worth 30 King of the Mountain points, not 15. That doesn't change the overall standings - France's Christophe Kern
will wear the polka dot jersey tonight after picking up 13 points on the first climb - he has a total of 59 points, ahead of Egoi Martinez
(54) and Brice Feillu
By the way, Sanchez needs to finish more than four minutes and 10 seconds ahead of Nocentini if he is to snatch yellow (obviously Armstrong and Contador will have a say in that too, though!). The indefatigable Sandy Casar is back with the front three and their lead is around three minutes at the moment with less than 35km to go until we reach the finish line in St Girons.
Astarloza made it over the top first in the end, to collect the 30 King of the Mountain points - and those three are on their way down to the finish now, all downhill from here. The Schleck/Astana/maillot jaune/Wiggo/Sastre group has around 50 riders in it now and they have just reached the top themselves, about two-and-a-half minutes after the leaders.
Luis-Leon Sanchez (whose name I've been spelling wrong all day) is still with Efimkin and Astarloza. Those three are about two minutes ahead of the big chase group containing the maillot jaune and all the big-hitters - Wiggo included. There are 44km
to go to the finish, around 1km to the top of Col d'Agnes.
Vladimir Efimkin makes a break for it - he wants to be the first over the top of Col d'Agnes - but Mikel Astarloza is having none of it and is back on his wheel.
I might have spoken to soon about Rinaldo Nocentini who, thanks to a phenomenal shift by his AG2R team-mate Stephane Goubert, has caught that second group containing the big-hitters.
The four riders still in the breakaway bunch have less than 5km
to go to the summit of Col d'Agnes, with 50km
to go to the finish line. Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel), Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R), Luis-Leon Sanchez (Caisse D'Epargne) and Sandy Casar (Francaise Des Jeux), who managed to catch up after briefly losing touch, are the men battling hard to stay in front. The Schleck brothers are still leading the chase, with four Astana riders, Carlos Sastre and Wiggins beside them - their bunch is 40 seconds back, the peloton another minute or so back down the road.
Just to make it clear - Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador and Bradley Wiggins are all in this group led by the Schleck brothers (Frank is with Andy too) that is chasing the breakaway bunch and leaving the peloton - including yellow jersey Rinaldo Nocentini - behind. Nocentini is trying to make up ground but it does not look good for him.
It's all happening now. Mikel Astarloza ups the pace at the front of the race and that front group is down to three. Down the road, Andy Schleck is still setting the pace and, followed by the Astana riders, is closing the gap rapidly. Bradley Wiggins and Carlos Sastre are both with Schleck too, battling grimly. But maillot jaune Rinaldo Nocentini is back with the main peloton, about 30 seconds further back.
Well, well, well - here's Andy Schleck, part of that failed break with Cadel Evans earlier on today, trying his luck off the front of the peloton and being helped by none other than Fabian Cancellara, his Saxo Bank team-mate. Willems is absorbed back into the main pack but right behind Schleck are the Astana heavy mob - Levi Leipheimer, Alberto Contador, Andreas Kloden and Lance Armstrong.
This climb looks a bit of a back-breaker and the front eight are spread out quite a bit already - Sebastien Rosseler
and Mikhail Ignatiev
have been dropped, while Juan Antonio Flecha
is also in trouble. A bit of movement off the front of the peloton too - the Astana boys are still there in force but Liquigas rider Freddy Willems
has gone of the front and is accelerating up the hill.
The gap to the front nine is coming down slightly - under two minutes now - and Fabian Cancellara
seems to be struggling a bit - he's off the back of that bunch anyhow. 'Spartacus' wearing the Swiss road race champion's jersey today by the way.
Some narrow streets - and a few sharp turns - for the riders to negotiate in Massat as they prepare to tackle Col d'Agnes. The lead is still around the two-and-a-half minute
mark - with 60km
Sebastien Rosseler has got back in touch with the leaders now - thanks to tgsgirl
for the info - so there are nine in that group again. And we get another chance to watch Fabian Cancellara descend again - 'Spartacus' is still poetry in motion but not in yellow today so at least I will avoid conjuring up any unfortunate toilet imagery this time...
The peloton is over the top of Col de Port too - guess who is leading them down the mountain? Yep, it's the Astana boys. They've already caught Thor Hushovd, and will probably make up more ground on the leaders during this descent...
1413: Sandy Casar
was first to the summit but fellow Frenchman Christophe is still top of the King of the Mountains category - he has 59 points, ahead of Egoi Martinez (54) and Brice Feillu (49). A short descent, then they will be heading upwards again to today's final climb - the 1,570m Cat-1 Col D'Agnes.
The leaders are approaching the top of Col de Port - more King of the Mountains points available here - the eight riders in this bunch are: Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank), George Hincapie (Team Columbia), Sandy Casar (Francaise Des Jeux), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel), Luis-Leon Sanchez (Caisse D'Epargne), Mikhail Ignatiev (Katusha) and Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R).
Big Thor Hushovd
has been dropped by the lead group but I doubt he will care too much after picking up 12 points from intermediate sprints today. Sebastien Rosseler (Quick Step) is also falling off the back of the breakaway bunch, leaving eight of them on their own...77km
to go, their lead is three minutes and 10 seconds
Plenty of fans in fancy dress are soaking up the sun on the slopes of Col de Port - a man in a fake suit of armour does a little dance as the peloton motors past him on their way to the summit. Their pace seems to have dropped a bit and they don't seem too bothered about catching the frontrunners at the moment.
The gap is up to two minutes and 31 seconds, with around 80km to go. Luis-Leon Sanchez
is the best placed overall of the breakaway bunch - the Spanish Caisse D'Epargne rider is 24th in the General Classification, four minutes and 10 seconds behind Rinaldo Nocentini in yellow.
Luiz-Leon Sanchez is following Ignatiev's lead and, together with George Hincapie, they have helped to open the gap on the peloton up to more than two minutes. Oh, and a sixth rider has pulled out of this year's race. Oscar Pereiro
, who won the 2006 Tour, has retired - just 174 men left now.
Four riders have made the leap from the peloton to the breakaway bunch - Mikhail Ignatiev, Sebastien Rosseler, Luis-Leon Sanchez and Mikel Astarloza. In fact, Ignatiev - of the Katusha team - is already attacking again off the front.
1340: Im_partial on 606:
"(Re 1329)Good stuff from Thor. He's in excellent form by the looks of things, and I look forward to see him and Cav go at it for the glory on the next flat stage."
The Hushovd/Cancellara breakaway group are about one minute and 15 seconds ahead of the peloton with about 90km to go. All the riders are on the slopes of Col de Port, a Cat-2 climb, and a few of them are tucking into their musettes. They have been on the road for about two hours now, and are roughly halfway through the stage.
More bad news for Mark Cavendish - Thor Hushovd
takes the second intermediate sprint of the day and collects six more points. Cav's Columbia team-mate George Hincapie tries to beat the Norwegian over the line but does not have the power to compete. In the race for the Green jersey, Thor now has 117 points, while Cav has 106.
1325: BBC Radio 5 Live's Alex Murray on 606:
"Cadel Evans is trying anything he can but no break is going to work with him in as the other riders all know it will be chased down. It's been a long time since I remember seeing this much attacking this early in a mountain stage."
No mountain-top finish today, that was yesterday, and the suspicion has to be that any escapees will be caught on the descent from the Col D'Agnes at 132.5km. Will still be intriguing to see who is in aggressive mood on the next two climbs, however, but it seems unlikely that Alberto Contador
or Lance Armstrong
will make any decisive individual moves today.
Just a reminder that you will be able to listen to the climax of today's stage via our live stream from
which starts at 1430 BST
. Oh, and if you are outside the UK then worry not, you can listen too.
A few riders are attacking off the front of the peloton, trying to bridge the gap to the front six, who are around 30 seconds clear with 100km to go...
Right then, there are about 104km
left of the 176km
the riders must cover today. There are six riders clear in front - Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), Thor Hushovd (Cervleo Test Team), Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank), George Hincapie (Team Columbia), Sandy Casar (Francaise Des Jeux) and Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R).
does win the intermediate sprint at Luzenac (at the 67km mark), taking the six points to move on to 111 points overall, which also puts him in the green jersey. Cav has 106 points but could be further behind tonight, there are two more sprints to come at Tarascon-Sur-Ariege (84km) and at Vic d'Oust (159.5km).
Astana have quashed that attack by Cadel Evans - he is back in the peloton now - but there are still five riders out in front, just about. They include Thor Hushovd, who is going for those sprint points...
There seems to be a difference of opinion over what various riders in the breakaway of 10 are trying to do. In the meantime Juan Antonio Flecha of Rabobank has gone out on his own and Fabian Cancellara, after a lot of talking, has gone to join him. The Astana
machine is about to catch the other eight breakaway riders, however, and it might not be long until they are all back together again.
ButThisIsBond on 606:
"One thing that surprises me is that there are not more of the type of attacks we have seen today - especially at the start of tours when the General Classification is still pretty open with a lot of riders close together.
For example, is there not a sense of everyone against Astana as they have so many of the favourites? Would it not be in other teams interests to fire off people a few minutes down and always let Astana do all the chasing?"
The front 10 are about 50 seconds ahead of the peloton with 123km to go. Cadel Evans
is still working hard on the front and trying to maintain that gap - he finished runner up in the 2007 and 2008 Tours but has a lot of ground to make up on the leaders this year after a poor first week; the Australian currently lies three minutes and seven seconds behind maillot jaune Rinaldo Nocentini in the General Classification.
Sandy Casar has just been caught by the Cadel Evans group, which also reigned in Thor on the way. Those sprint points might not be all Hushovd's for the taking after all, but he will still be favourite to snatch them if he can stick with this bunch. Fabian Cancellara is also up there - 10 riders at the front now.
Bad news for fans of the Manx Missile, Mark Cavendish
. Cav has been in the green jersey since winning the second stage on Sunday but that could be about to change - he is one point ahead of Thor Hushovd in the points category but the Norwegian has gone off the front of the Cadel Evans group and looks likely to pick up points in the next intermediate sprint, which is at Luzenac (after 67km). Where's Cav? In a Gruppetto off the back of the peloton - he's no climber.
Watching riders descend is always a fascinating sight, whether they are alone - like Fabian Cancellara
was yesterday - or a large bunch like the peloton is right now. The riders immediately behind Evans, including Cancellara, have caught the Australian and that will only help him on the next climb. They are about 55 seconds behind Sandy Casar and have the same advantage over the peloton. Astana are doing their best to change that...
1235: Christope Kerne
of Cofidis was the second man over the top of Port d'Envalira and the 13 King of the Mountain points he picked up are enough to give him the overall lead in that category. For now at least.
By the way, Bradley Wiggins is not in the group of five riders with Cadel Evans - the British rider is in the next bunch, along with Andy Schleck and Charles Weglius. The Garmin rider up with Evans is David Zabriskie of the United States. It's downhill for a long stretch now - a chance for everybody to get their breath back.
1223: Sandy Casar
was first over the top of Port d'Envalira (A Cat-1 climb) and gets 15 maximum King of the Mountains points. By the way, Cadel Evans
, not known for attacking, is now a minute ahead of Armstrong and Contador on the road...it is early days in this stage, though.
Casar is still up front on his own and Evans is now in a bunch of five that are about 50 seconds behind him. The other riders with the Australian are David Zabriskie, Egoi Martinez, Vladimir Efimkin and Christophe Kern. A bigger bunch, containing Andy Schleck and Bradley Wiggins are less than 30 seconds back, with the main peloton (Armstrong, Contator and maillot jaune Nocentini) another 30 seconds or so adrift. A fair few riders have fallen off the back and formed their own Gruppetto's already too - this is a tough old climb.
Not surprisingly, given the calibre of the second bunch of escapees, the Astana team have woken up and they are leading the chase at the front of the main peloton (apart from Andreas Kloden who is up ahead with Cadel Evans, Schleck and Wiggins). Nocentini is up there too, setting the pace. Interesting to see Evans on the attack again, but we are getting near to the summit of Port d'Envalira, though, and you would expect them to come back together on the long, long descent.
Riders strung out all over Port d'Envalira - this is what is going on. Sandy Casar, of the Francaise Des Jeux team, has gone off the front of a large breakaway group that did have more than 20 riders in it, but is now down to 12. Further back down the road, another bunch have escaped the peloton, including Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck and Britain's Bradley Wiggins. The yellow jersey of Rinaldo Nocentini, plus Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong are in the peloton which is about a minute behind Evans, Schleck and Wiggins.
I want to see Iniesta on a rugby field on 606:
"I think Contador will make Lance look a tad silly this year. Today's stage will probably be a bit boring though. Major climbs are too early. This tour will be decided in time trials and the penultimate stage. I miss Michael Rasmussen on days like today."
Rasmussen, who is currently banned from cycling for lying about his whereabouts when being sought for doping tests, was known for launching outrageous breaks in mountain stages.
More movement off the front of the peloton, and big-hitters like Andy Schleck, Andreas Kloden and Cadel Evans are among a group of riders who have opened up a bit of a gap. We're about 20km into today's 176.5km stage, and plenty is happening already.
A bigger group of 17 riders is joining up with the riders at the front. Yesterday's stage winner, Brice Feillu
, is among them, as is Britain's Charlie Wegelius.
Another rider has pulled out of this year's Tour, making it five in total. Agritubel's Spanish rider Eduardo Gonzalo Ramierz
, who was 143rd overall - 34 minutes and 42 seconds behind maillot jaune Rinaldo Nocentini, has withdrawn today.
Just a reminder of the standings after yesterday's stage seven:
Yellow jersey: Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita/AG2R)
Green jersey: Mark Cavendish (GB/Team Coumbia)
Polka dot jersey: Brice Felliu (Fra/Agritubel)
White jersey: Tony Martin (Ger/Team Columbia)
1. Rinaldo Nocentini 25hrs 44mins 32secs
2. Alberto Contador + 6secs
3. Lance Armstrong + 8
Four more riders have caught Txurruka, including two of his Euskaltel team-mates Egoi Martinez and Gorka Verdugo. David Moncoutie of Cofidis and Carlos Barredo of Quick Step are the other men up there. The main bunch are reacting - they won't want Martinez, who is 19th overall, to get too far away.
A few early attacks have been reeled in at the start of stage eight, and Euskaltel's Amets Txurruka is the latest man to try to get away on the climb up to Port d'Envalira.
Worth mentioning the brilliant performance by Britain's Bradley Wiggins
in stage seven too - he came home with Lance, Cadel Evans and Andy Schleck and said afterwards: "I felt great on the climb but I was trying not to get too excited as it only the first day in the mountains."
We also don't know whether Contador's move was on team orders or not...will Astana really leave him and Armstrong to fight this one out until they find out who their strongest rider is, and will that cause a split in the team as is feared? We will find out in the next few days...
Lots to talk about after yesterday. What did you make of Alberto Contador'
s stunning late surge that moved him back above team-mate and rival Lance Armstrong
in the General Classification and sparked more debate? Lance claimed he didn't follow Contador because it would have helped their rivals, but only he really knows whether he could have kept up with the super Spaniard even if he had wanted to.
Yep, after the drama of yesterday's mountain-top finish at Arcalis, the riders have three more climbs in front of them today during a 176.5km hike from Andorra La Vella to St Girons. The peloton is just rolling through the neutral zone - then comes the first ascent of the day, up to Port d'Envalira.
Morning all. Looking forward to another day in the mountains? Me too...let's see what the Pyrenees have in store for Le Tour today.