Luis Sanchez earned a second victory for the Caisse dâ€™Epargne squad this year after an attack on the descent of the final climb in stage seven. He bolted into the lead with four kilometers to go an, just as he did on the downhill of the col du Tanneron in Paris-Nice, held off the charge of the peloton to claim victory ahead of an elite field. Of the top five in the stage to Aurillac, three have worn the yellow jersey in the 2008 edition while sixth place when to Sanchezâ€™s team-mate, the 2006 Tour champion Oscar Pereiro. So ended a stage that boasted a major bout of action at the halfway mark, when CSC split the peloton to pieces with a fine display of teamwork that rid the yellow jerseyâ€™s peloton of the rider in the polka-dot jersey and caused over half the field to lose significant time.
The Progress Report
The 159km seventh stage from Brioude to Aurillac began at 1.17pm with 176 riders still in the race. There were five climbs on the itinerary: the cat-3 cote de Fraisse (at 11km), cat-4 cote de Villedieu (52km), cat-2 col dâ€™Entremont (101.5km), cat-2 pas de Puy Mary (117km) and the cat-3 cote de Saint-Jean-de-Donne (150km). The intermediate sprints were in Saint-Flour (46.5km), Paulhac (74km) and Saint-Simon (148km).
Early Attacking Antics
Early in the stage Moreau (AGR) and Frischkorn (GAR) attacked but were caught by a peloton led by Columbia at 4km. Five riders â€“ Quinziato (LIQ), Arrieta (ALM), Pineau (BTL), Gutierrez (GCE) and Gerard (FDJ) â€“ attacked at the 22km mark but never got to over 30â€ť ahead of the peloton before being caught at the 32km mark. Credit Agricole led the peloton up to the sprint in St-Flour in the hope of helping Hushovd claim points for the green jersey; he did just that, but was beaten over the line by two Robbies: Hunter (BAR) and McEwen (SIL). On the approach to the second climb six riders established an escape, they were: Millar (GAR), Voigt (CSC), Scholz (GST), Barredo (QST), Florencio (BTL) and Vaugrenard (FDJ). The peloton was behind by 20â€ť.
Dramatic Escape Bid From GC Favorites
At around the 55km mark, real drama began. A crash claimed Jegou who broke his wrist and split the pack. At that stage six CSC riders seized the opportunity and bolted into the lead of an elite pack of 25 riders. They obliterated the peloton and gained a maximum lead of 45â€ť. The riders involved were: Evans, Cioni, Sastre, Cancellara, Gustov, Schleck, Schleck, Voigt, Valverde, Pereiro, Sanchez, Kirchen, Lovkvist, Pozatto, Kreuziger, Nibali, Kohl, Valjavec, Menchov, Freire, Cobo, Ricco, Vaugrenard, Vande Velde and Millar. They were caught by the second peloton with 66km to go. The team responsible for the reeling in the escape was Lampre as Cunego (who was involved in a crash earlier in the stage) was caught behind.
At the base of the third climb, Jufre attacked and was chased down by Sanchez (GCE). With 5km to climb, the pair led Nibali and De La Fuente by 15â€ť and the peloton by 45â€ť. The Columbia team controlled the pace of the peloton and crested the summit 1â€™15â€ť behind the four leaders. In between was Le Mevel who went over the top 45â€ť behind. Before the fourth climb, two more riders â€“ Moreau (AGR) and Gadret (ALM) â€“ would quit the Tour de France.
Puy Mary & Cote Saint-Jean-de-Donne
The frantic pace of the second hour eased as the riders crested the fourth climb of the stage. The four escapees cooperated well, leading Le Mevel by 45â€ť up the Puy Mary with the Columbia team in charge of the peloton 1â€™50â€ť behind on the 7.8km long ascent. Le Mevel would be caught but Astaloza attacked with 4km to climb. At the top the four led by 52â€ť to Astarloza while the peloton was led by Siutsou 1â€™30â€ť behind the leading quartet. Astarloza was caught 25km from the finish when the peloton was at 1â€™12â€ť.
With 20km to go, Euskaltel came to the front of the bunch that was 1â€™05â€ť behind Nibaliâ€™s quartet. De La Fuente attacked on the final climb and led over the summit to add another 10 points to his tally and take over the King of the Mountains classification.
Sanchez Into The Lead & Onward To Victory
With four kilometers to go, Luis Sanchez burst into the lead and, in much the same manner in which he has won two stages of Paris-Nice, opened up a gap that peaked at 20â€ť on the yellow jersey peloton. He was voted the most aggressive rider in the stage and celebrated his first victory in the Tour de France with a salute to the heavens as he finished six seconds ahead of Schumacher, Pozzato, Kirchen and Valverde. Fourth place in the stage ensured that Kirchen will wear the yellow jersey again in stage eight.
In 2006 he attacked and attacked day after day and David De La Fuente earned time in the polka-dot jersey before winning the title of the most aggressive rider in the Tour de France. In stage seven he repeated the antics that earned him a place on the Parisian podium; attack and see what happens. The lead in the mountains classification is his reward.
â€śIt was rather difficult at the start of the stage because our team has lot two riders in the first week who have sustained nasty injuries. At the same time, it began to go well with yesterdayâ€™s victory for [Riccardo] Ricco and I also felt better and better. In fact, the start of the Tour was very difficult because I am particularly uncomfortable in the cold and rain. Once the road is wet, I start to get a little frightened. Thatâ€™s why I lost time in the early stages.
â€śToday I felt in great form. With me, itâ€™s all or nothing from one day to the next. Initially I started the attack to supply my team-mate who was in front, after that I started to see the possibility of a coup. Now I hope to keep the polka-dot jersey but I would also like to have a quiet day. Ideally this would be achieved by seeing an escape of more than four riders get clear so I donâ€™t have to race to pick up more points.â€ť
Two years in a row, Luis Sanchez has won a stage at the end of Paris-Nice with an attack in the closing kilometers of a stage that featured a fast descent. The 24-year-old Caisse dâ€™Epargne rider employed similar tactics in stage seven to earn his premier victory in the Tour de France.
â€śThis victory is similar to the stage I won in Paris-Nice but there are some differences. In that race I was going for the stage but also trying to pick up the win in the overall standings so there was real rage in the finale. Here itâ€™s not the same for me.
â€śI had a difficult start to the Tour and needed this victory. Actually, I had a very bad time trial in Cholet where I hit a curb and had some mechanical problems. Now I donâ€™t feel so bad.
â€śWhen I saw that there was an opportunity to seize, I launched. But when were caught I thought I was all over. Then [Oscar] Pereiro came up to me and help and that gave me the inspiration to believe in myself again. Thatâ€™s the power of this team and I want to thank my team-mates who did a great job. I dedicate this victory foremost to my brother who died a few years ago.
â€śAs of tomorrow, Iâ€™ll be able to resume my role in the team which is to help Alejandro [Valverde] and Oscar, both riders in my team who are capable of winning the yellow jersey in Paris.â€ť
In a stage that will be remembered for a huge surge by the CSC team that split the peloton to pieces, Kim Kirchen lost a little bit of respect for two his two compatriots in the Tour de France. He didnâ€™t quite understand the antics of the Schleck brothersâ€™ team but said he coped once the gauntlet had been thrown down.
â€śMy team-mates had a pretty hard day. I had everything under control and, okay, in the final I was a little bit on my own on the uphill but I had great legs and could follow even the best guys.
â€śFrank Schleck and I had been friends but now that weâ€™re racing against each other itâ€™s a little different. We saw today that his team was very intent on trying to take the yellow jersey from me. There are two guys from CSC who Iâ€™m not so happy about. They tried to blow up the whole peloton when my team had been working very hard and I donâ€™t think it was really fair.
â€śMy team controlled very well from the start. They did a hard job and I just had to follow. Then, when CSC came up to ride, they saw the team had a little bit of difficulty because weâ€™d already done 50km at full gas and I couldnâ€™t really understand what they were doing but now Iâ€™m happy that we have the yellow, green and white jerseys in the Columbia team.
â€śI went the final climb in control, there was just one moment when I had to do 200 meters at full speed but I managed it and everything went according to plan.
â€śIf Iâ€™m in the front, why should I not sprint to take points for the green jersey? Maybe Iâ€™m going to lose the yellow jersey so afterwards I would be happy to have the green one.â€ť
Luis Sanchez attacked the yellow jersey’s peloton with 5km to go. The top 10 in stage seven is:
1. Luis Sanchez (ESP) GCE - 159km in 3h52’53"
2. Stefan Schumacher (GER) GST at 6"
3. Filipo Pozzato (ITA) LIQ at 6"
4. Kim Kirchen (LUX) THR at 6"
5. Ajelandro Valverde (ESP) GCE at 6"
6. Oscar Pereiro (ESP) GCE at 6"
7. Samuel Sanchez (ESP) EUS
8. Josep Jufre (ESP) SDV at 6"
9. Christian Vande Velde (USA) TSL at 6"
10. Andy Schleck (LUX) CSC at 6"
Luis Sanchez has pointed to the heavens as he crossed the line. He has given Caisse d’Epargne its second stage victory for the 2008 Tour.
There has been an attack by Schumacher in the chase but Sanchez is about to start celebrating his first victory in the Tour de France in much the same manner as his win in Nice in Paris-Nice earlier this year.
Sanchez has a lead of 15" on his nearest rival. The win is looking like it’s his for the taking. The yellow jersey is 35" behind the rider who has just reached the final kilometer of the seventh stage.
Sanchez is less than 2km from the finish. He has a lead of 15" over his nearest rivals. This is going to be the second stage win for his team, but his first victory in the Tour de France.