Carlos Sastre spent three weeks being sheltered by his CSC-Saxo Bank colleagues before delivering the decisive blow on the heralded summit of L‚ÄôAlpe d‚ÄôHuez. It was a 13km effort that saw him ascend the steep slope leading to the ski station on his own, onward to victory and into the lead of the general classification. Before the 17th stage he was ranked fourth overall, 49 seconds behind his team-mate Frank Schleck; after it, his advantage was one minute 24 seconds over the next best rider. But it was his performance in the time trial when he finished 12th and minimized his losses to Cadel Evans that the victory was sealed. The Australian gained another seven seconds thanks to a split in the peloton in the final sprint ‚Äď meaning that, for a second successive year, the Silence-Lotto recruit finished within a minute of a Spanish rider ‚Äď but the elation of Sastre‚Äôs team was evident at the finish in Paris.
Not only did CSC-Saxo Bank win the yellow jersey, Andy Schleck claimed the white jersey as the best young rider and the squad won the team classification with a dominant display.
The 33-year-old is the seventh Spaniard to win the Tour de France and he celebrated his success with his children by his side on the podium in the center of the Champs-Elysees.
The final stage was won by Gert Steegmans who finally gave the Quickstep something to savor in the 95th edition of the Tour.
The Progress Report
The 21st stage of the 2008 Tour de France, at 143km journey from Etampes to Paris, started at 1.53pm. There were 145 riders at the sign on with no one retiring after the final time trial. The stage featured two climbs, the cote de Saint-Remy-les-Chevreuse (at 48km) and the cote de Chateaufort (51.5km) and two intermediate sprints: one at the Haut-des-Champs Elysees on the second lap of the finishing circuit (99km), the next during fifth lap (118.5km).
As usual the opening stanza of the final stage was ridden at a tranquil pace. The average speed for the first hour was just 27.5km/h. Champagne was consumed by the riders and a festive spirit was the early theme of the final stage. The CSC-Saxo Bank team led the peloton onto the streets of Paris and the other riders respected the moment and refrained from attacking until the 92km mark when Auge (COF) was the first to launch. It lasted just 500m before he was caught. CSC insisted on controlling the peloton but couldn‚Äôt respond to every surge. Some of the aggressors were: Vogondy (AGR), Brard (COF), Barredo (QST).
At 107km Vogondy and Barredo gained a decent advantage: 12‚ÄĚ over Arrieta (ALM) and 20‚ÄĚ over the peloton at the 111km mark. They were caught at 117km.
Quickstep Leads Steegmans To A Stage Win
CSC retreated to the middle of the peloton in the final two laps and allowed the sprinters‚Äô teams to take control. Gerard (FDJ) attacked with 13km to go and when he was caught team-mate Gilbert had a brief stint in the lead but was caught 10km from the finish. With three kilometers to go, the winner of the Super Combative prize Chavanel (COF) launched another attack but was caught soon afterwards. Millar (GAR) led the peloton under the ‚Äėflamme rouge‚Äô and then four Quickstep riders took control. They led into the final turn, with one rider ahead of their protected man, Gert Steegmans who burst into the lead with 250m to go. He held off a late challenge from Ciolek and earned his team its only victory in the 2008 Tour.
Sastre: The Seven Spanish Winner
Despite the control that CSC had over the peloton, Carlos Sastre slipped behind in the final sprint. He finished 62nd in the stage, losing 14‚ÄĚto the stage winner and seven seconds to Cadel Evans (SIL). This is the second successive year that the Australian has finished within a minute of a Spanish winner.
The final stage is often spent celebrating the events of the previous three weeks but there‚Äôs also a lot of prestige attached to victory on the Champs-Elysees. This year, the sprint was won by a team that lost its usual leader just before the race began but Gert Steegmans gave Quickstep a successful conclusion.
‚ÄúThe team has worked perfectly so that I could win this sprint. I knew very well the last turn and I knew I‚Äôd timed it well enough not to be harassed by anyone in the final expect perhaps the two or three who were right on my wheel. Matteo Tossato gave me a pace that was so fast that I could not even get around him.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs great to win here. Tom [Boonen] is usually our leader. The fact that he is not here added pressure on me and also Stijn Devolder. It was not easy, and this victory has been a long time in coming, still, the team has consistently done its best and finally the work they were doing helped give me that little bit of extra confidence.
‚ÄúSeveral factors have prevented the Quickstep team from winning. The first is, of course, Cavenish. And then, Barredo was a little too nervous when he had the opportunity to win the stage a few days ago. But the team did not need to save its Tour; we had a meeting yesterday and our managers have praised our work although we had not yet won a stage.‚ÄĚ
A crash in the ninth stage is what Cadel Evans believes sapped some of his strength for the final week. The Australian is the runner-up for a second successive year and he‚Äôs content with the knowledge that he‚Äôs gained more experience for next year but also had a taste of what it‚Äôs like to lead the Tour de France.
‚ÄúThere were more dramas than I expected or wanted and fighting for every second at the end was exhausting. The crash before the race reached the Pyrenees was very taxing and it cost me a fair bit of strength; I used everything I had in the second week and perhaps that‚Äôs the price I paid in the third week. It showed in the final time trial. I rode consistently and reached all the time checks well but I was just not riding as fast as the other guys. That‚Äôs the way it goes.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm cursing one Spanish rider, number 29, who brought me down by accident but, well, that‚Äôs racing and there are a few years ahead of me yet.
‚ÄúTo wear the yellow jersey after such a selective week of racing was really something special and it was an experience that I think every bike rider wants to have. I‚Äôve never worn a world championship jersey but it was quite incredible to be in yellow. It‚Äôs a good experience and I‚Äôve learned things that will stand me in good stead for future Tours.
‚ÄúTo come back and finish second and be able to hold off the rider in third‚Ä¶ that‚Äôs something I‚Äôm happy with. And I‚Äôm pleased that I was able to continue after the crash. To come back and get yellow was a bonus. There‚Äôs always room for improvement otherwise I might have walked away feeling content with eighth place but I‚Äôve done a lot in the last four years to improve on that result.‚ÄĚ
The winner of the 95th Tour de France reminds people at every opportunity how important his CSC-Saxo Bank team has been for him during the race. Again he thanks the squad for their efforts on the day of his biggest cycling coup, but he insists that his greatest victory is a healthy happy family.
‚ÄúToday was a really nice day today. The team has done everything to make this Tour as easy as possible for me and even as we came to Paris for the final stage, they continued to work for me. It‚Äôs a great atmosphere now and I know that relief has set in and now everyone is happy.
‚ÄúIt was beautiful to have my children with me on the podium. It‚Äôs great to win the Tour de France but my kids represent the biggest victory in my life. They are so important to me and I want to share that moment with them and have them close to me.
‚ÄúNow I have a couple of races to do in Belgium and Holland before I go to the Olympic Games and then start to consider the Vuelta a Espana.
‚ÄúThere are so many Australians here because of Cadel Evans. For him to finish second again in the Tour de France‚Ä¶ well, I feel for him. I have finished third and fourth and I know what it is to get close but I believe he has every right to be happy because he did his best.‚ÄĚ
The CSC team had controlled the peloton all day but in the final run to the line, the yellow jersey found himself in a group that finished 14" behind the stage winner. Cadel Evans was seven seconds ahead. It means that, for the second successive year, the runner-up is less than a minute behind a Spanish winner.
The top 10 of the 2008 Tour de France is:
1. Carlos Sastre (ESP) CSC - 3,559.5km in 87h52’52" (40.490km/h)
2. Cadel Evans (AUS) SIL at 58"
3. Bernhard Kohl (AUT) GST at 1’13"
4. Denis Menchov (RUS) RAB at 2’10"
5. Christian Vande Velde (USA) TSL at 3’05"
6. Frank Schleck (LUX) CSC at 4’28"
7. Samuel Sanchez (ESP) EUS at 6’25"
8. Kim Kirchen (LUX) THR at 6’55"
9. Alejandro Valverde (ESP) GCE at 7’12"
10. Tadej Valjavec (SLO) ALM at 9’05"
Once again a bunch sprint has concluded the Tour de France. The top 10 in the 21st stage of the 2008 race is:
1. Gert Steegmans (BEL) QST
2. Gerald Cioleck (GER) THR
3. Oscar Freire (ESP) RAB
4. Robbie McEwen (AUS) SIL
5. Thor Hushovd (NOR) C.A
6. Julian Dean (NZL) GAR
7. Stefan Schumacher (GER) GST
8. Robert Forster (GER) GST
9. Leonardo Duque (COL) COF
10. Robert Hunter (RSA) BAR
Carlos Sastre has finished the stage nestled in the peloton. He has become the seventh Spanish rider to win the title of the Tour de France. The 33-year-old was embraced by Stuart O’Grady as he crossed the line.
Gert Steegmans has won his second stage of the Tour de France. He held off a late charge from Gerald Ciolek and Oscar Freire.
It’s the last kilometer of the Tour and the Quickstep team is in control of the peloton.