In a stage when four French riders collaborated most of the way from Auray to St-Brieuc, the big reward went to Norway. Thor Hushovd timed his sprint to perfection, bolting from behind his Credit Agricole lead-out man Mark Renshaw with just 300 meters to go. Although he was pursued by two riders from the Columbia team â Kim Kirchen and Gerald Ciolek â the Norwegian had the power to hold on and claim his sixth stage victory in the Tour de France. For the escapees â including local rider David Lelay and the perpetually aggressive Sylvain Chavanel, who was only caught in the last 1,500 meters â theyâll have to wait another day. Valverde also stayed up front in the frantic sprint, finishing 12th to ensure he keeps the yellow jersey for another day.
The Progress Report
The 164.5km second stage began at 1.11pm with 179 riders at the start. Light rain fell in Auray but conditions cleared in the first hour and the race was contested mainly on dry roads. The stage to St-Brieuc included four climbs â at Bieuzy-Lanvaux (cat-4, at 23.5km), Kergroix (cat-4 at 43km), the Mur-de-Bretagne (cat-3 at 92km) and the cote de Saint-Mayeux (cat-4 at 96km). The intermediate sprints were in Camors (28.5km), Pontivy (74km) and Corlay (103km).
Two Frenchman Establish Escape
Danny Pate of the Garmin team was the first to attack; he launched his bid in the first kilometer and was joined by eight others including Fischer (LIQ), Sylvain Chavanel (COF), Wegmann (GST), Eisel (THR) and Voigt (CSC). Bouygues Telecom was determined to reel in the escape before the first ascent and they achieved just that; catching the eight at 21.5km, the base of the cote de Bieuzy-Lanvaux. The rider in the polka-dot jersey, Voeckler (BTL) then tried to claim first place at the summit but his effort was foiled by Chavanel. Schroder (MRM) was third. The two French riders insisted with their effort; Chavanel taking first at the sprint (35â ahead of the peloton) and Voeckler leading over the second climb (4â00â ahead of the peloton). The average for the first hour was 44.8km/h.
Chavanel & Voecklerâs CollaborationâŚ
The maximum gain of the escape was 6â25â with 100km to go. Once the escape was established, the Caisse dâEpargne team took charge of the peloton and set the tempo. The average speed for the 2nd hour was 42.6km/h. Jalabert crashed in the feedzone but remounted quickly. Chavanel led Voeckler over the line at the second intermediate sprint and they collaborated well through to the Mur-de-Bretagne. At the top Chavanel again claimed first-place points, 2â00â ahead of an attack by two Agritubel riders â Moreau and Lelay. These two counter-attackers insisted with their effort and by the fourth climb they were 2â00â behind the leading pair with the peloton at 3â30â. By the 3rd sprint, the two leaders were 53â ahead of Lelay and Moreau and 3â15â ahead of the peloton.
Four French In Lead
With 57km to go, Lelay and Moreau caught Voeckler and Chavanel. The peloton was behind by 2â55â. At this time, the FDJ team sent riders to the head of the peloton to take responsibility for the pursuit of the four French riders. With 50km to go, the advantage dropped to 2â35â; 40km â 1â55ââŚ the average for the third hour was 39.4km/h. Soler was dropped by the peloton with 27km to go. At 25km the deficit of the peloton to the four escapees was 1â00â, and Soler was at 2â35â.
Setting Up The Sprint
Chavanel attacked his escape companions with 3km to go and, by then the sprint teams were lined up to send their leaders into overdrive. Quickstep controlled the peloton as they swallowed up Moreau, Lelay and Voeckler. Then Caisse dâEpargne took over with Valverde in second wheel at the moment they caught Chavanel (with about 1,500m to to). Under the âflamme rougeâ Cancellara launched an attack but he was caught 500m from the line. Mark Renshaw flew past the Swiss rider and then his captain, Thor Hushovd finished off a great lead-out job. Two Columbia riders were closing in but the Norwegian had the jump and would never be caught. It is sixth victory from sixth Tour starts.
He earned the polka-dot jersey by being involved in the escape on the opening day and that very fact prompted Thomas Voecklerâs team-mates to chase down the first escape of the second stage. In turn, that inspired him to try again to no avail. No stage win again, but he has another day in charge of the climbing classification.
âAt the start of the stage it was very difficult to gain any time because we were going very quickly. The team did an excellent job by not allowing the first escape to succeed which enabled me to pick up points at the first climb. All that motivated me so I started collaborating with Sylvain Chavanel. Then, when Moreau and Lelay joined us, we tried to speed it up a little more but I had no more legs.
âIâm not ashamed to say that today I was forced skip a few turns of pace â Iâm the sort of guy who always takes responsibility and contributes to the work of an escape. Quite simply, I didnât have the legs because I already spent a day in an escape and that cost me a lot of energy. And we must not forget that 95 per cent of escapes are caught by the teams of the sprinters.â
After being on the attack for over 100 kilometers, Sylvain Chavanel was swallowed up by the peloton 1,500m from the finish. Again a chance of victory has passed him by but heâs not giving up. Next objective: the time trial in Cholet.
âMe? Caught in the last kilometer? Yeah, I have a habit of doing this! Iâm joking, I donât want to keep doing this! Of course, itâs always disappointing to come so close, especially as the efforts made today will leave a mark. Initially, it was not the intention to go on the attack but when I saw Wegmann, Voigt and a few others go, I said that we should be in the move. Then I insisted, and I had the opportunity to go with Thomas Voeckler. Once it was established, we tried.
âIn the last 10 kilometers I still thought we had a one minute advantage but the headwind in the three or four final kilometers proved to be the fatal blow. Itâs a shame because otherwise I believe would could have pulled it off.
âI will try again on another stage, thatâs for sure. But right now I have to recover, primarily because I want to do a good time trial in Cholet as I did in Albi last year. I have the title of champion of France to honor.â
The climbs near the end of stages one and two have suited Kim Kirchen and although the windy conditions made it difficult to prepare a perfect sprint, the Luxembourger made the most of the situation, netting second place and the green jersey as a âconsolationâ prize.
âThere were a few crashes near the end and I had to brake a little and move up again. I was really tired and I knew it was a very strong headwind so it wasnât the sort of day to try and escape too early. I have been lucky because I happened to be on the right side of the road and a gap opened up for me.
âOkay, itâs not bad: yesterday fourth and today second. I could be very happy about.
âIt was a hard stage with the little climb and the wind. We couldnât control it from the front so it was difficult for Mark Cavendish to get up into position but Gerald was third and I think we have a good team. When itâs a little âCavâ well get his chance and the whole team will be in front for him.
âTwo days in a row there have been nice finishes for me. Okay, today I was a little lucky to take the second spot. Yesterday I was caught with 150 meters to go and today Iâve got the green jersey so already itâs been a good Tour for me.â
Sprinters often state that the pressure eases if they win a stage. That was the case again for one of the favorites for the points classification in 2008, Thor Hushovd. He timed his run to the line to perfection and now says he can relax a littleâŚ thanks to a well timed victory in St-Brieuc.
âThatâs the best way to start off the Tour de France. Now I can relax a little. Thereâs not too much pressure anymore; Iâve achieved something and now I can concentrate on the green jersey and perhaps a few other stages.
âWith 700 meters to go I was on Mark Renshawâs wheel and I said to him, âIâm here, donât panic.â And he went to 400 meters to go and I was right on his wheel. I really started to sprint with 200 to go and it came together in a perfect way. It was a good sprint for me.
âI knew it was the perfect sort of sprint for me. I almost canât believe that Iâve won it.
âWhen Cancellara attacks like that, heâs really, really strong. Itâs impressive how much power he has. Today it was my turn but I think weâll see more of Cancellara.â
The top 10 for the 164.5km stage from Auray to St-Brieuc is:
1. Thor Hushovd (NOR) C.A
2. Kim Kirchen (LUX) THR
3. Gerald Ciolek (GER) THR
4. Robbie Hunter (RSA) BAR
5. Erik Zabel (GER) MRM
6. Yury Trofimov (RUS) ALM
7. Oscar Freire (ESP) RAB
8. Jimmy Casper (FRA) AGR
9. Martin Elminger (SUI) ALM
10. Leonardo Duque (COL) COF
This is the sixth stage win for Thor Hushovd. The winner of the green jersey in 2005 burst into the lead in the final 300m to take a fine win ahead of other sprint specialists.
Thor Hushovd has come around everyone and claimed the stage. He beat a Columbia rider, probably Cavendish.
Cancellara has bolted into the lead. He has less than 1km to go and is being chased by Pozzato.
Valverde is currently second wheel in the bunch. Is he shaping up to sprint for stage honors again? It appears so. they have Chavanel in sight and now Cancellara is lighting up the bunch.