â€śThe escape came back at the right time and we polished it off with a perfect one-two finish.â€ť Mark Cavendish and his lead-out man Gerald Ciolek finished first and second in the 172.5km stage from Figeac to Toulouse, earning the Columbia team its second stage victory. The squad still lead the general and youth classifications and appears to be in complete control of the Tour de France on the eve of the first day in the Pyrenees. â€śItâ€™s one of the last days for the sprinters,â€ť said the stage winner, â€śand when it comes to a bunch sprint at the end, Iâ€™m usually fast enough to be able to finish off the job
The Progress Report
The 172.5km seventh stage of the 2008 Tour de France began at 1.11pm with 170 riders still in the race. The non-starter was Manuel Beltran (LIQ). The day featured four climbs in the first half of the stage â€“ the cat-4 cote de Loupiac (at 9km), the cat-3 cote de Macarou (36.5km), the cat-3 cote de la Guionie (52.5km) and the cat-3 cote du Port de la Besse (70.5km). There were also three intermediate sprints which were in La Slvetat-Peyrales (57.5km), Carmeaux (85km) and Rabastens (134.5km).
Establishing The Escape
Almost as soon as the flag fell to signal the start of racing seven riders attacked. Again the effervescent Garmin rider Frischkorn was part of the early action. The others involved were: Cheula (BAR) Rosseler (QST), Riblon (ALM), Terpstra (MRM), Vaugrenard (FDJ) and Auge (COF). After four kilometers it was all over. A handful of hopefuls also tried to escape but the bunch refused to let anyone go in the first hour. The average speed was 45.6km/h. On the approach to the second climb, Lefevere (BTL) gained a slight advantage and pushed on with his escape. At the second intermediate sprint he was 1â€™30â€ť ahead of a counter attacking trio: Txurruka (EUS), Pineau (BTL) and Riblon (ALM). Then Columbia took control of the peloton and allowed the escapees to gain time. The best-placed of the escapees at the start of the stage was Pineau, ranked 30th on GC, 4â€™32â€ť behind Kirchen.
Pineau Becomes Virtual Leader
Lefevere continued on alone over the final climb and then eased up and waited for the counter-attackers. They caught him at the 84km mark At the sprint in Carmaux the points were won by Riblon, Lefevere and Txurruka. The peloton was behind by 4â€™25â€ť. The average speed for the second hour was 40.8km/h. The maximum gain for the escapees was 5â€™15â€ť at the 110km mark.
The Chase Beginsâ€¦
With 60km to go, Credit Agricole, Rabobank and Liquigas riders came to the front of the peloton to try and reel in the escapees. In Gaillac (55km from the finish) there was a crash that involved Voigt, Ciolek and Ricco. The winner of stage six lost about a minute to the peloton but, with the support of three Saunier Duval team-mates returned to the peloton after a five kilometer chase. The effort of the Credit Agricole team quickly diminished the advantage of Pineauâ€™s group and, by the final intermediate sprint, the four led by just 50 seconds.
With 33km to go, Auge and Bichot attacked the peloton, they were chased down by Terpstra (MRM) who then insisted with his escape: 30km from the finish Pineauâ€™s quartet led the Milram rider by 17â€ť and the peloton by 32â€ť. Liquigas has seven riders at the front of the peloton and, 25km from the line, they caught Terpstra and Pineauâ€™s group was 50â€ť ahead. With 20km to go, the four led by 45â€ť. Pineau attacked with 13km to go, dropping Riblon and Lefevere but Txurruka was able to follow. With 10km to go, the two led the peloton by 40â€ť.
Cavendish: â€śFastest Man In The Worldâ€¦!â€ť
The Liquigas team dominated the head of the peloton in the final kilometers but, once Pineau and Txurruka were caught 3.5km from the finish, Quickstep and Columbia took over. They led all the way to the final kilometer when Quickstep took charge leading Steegmans out for the sprint. The Belgian started the sprint with 350m to go but then Mark Cavendish hit overdrive and came from behind Ciolek to burst into the lead 50m from the line. He beat his German team-mate by about four bike lengths. Kirchen finished 41st and will keep the yellow jersey for another day. There was no reshuffle at the top of the general classification.
It took 50km before an escape of any real substance was able to get clear of the peloton. When it did, the most persistent man was Laurent Lefevere of the Bouygues Telecom team. Like most others who have won votes for the Most Aggressive Rider prize, he started his move with the hope of winning but it this time it wasnâ€™t to beâ€¦
â€śWith the weather we had today it was really difficult at the beginning because the pace was really fast and then we had really long, straight roads. It took a long time to get an escape to stick but I wanted to be part of the move because I felt that I had good legs. Then it took me a long time to understand that Jerome [Pineau] was in the small counter-attacking group because my radio was broken. I soon realized that he was coming up and then I waited and rode with them. When the peloton started to come back there was not much that could be done.
â€śWhen you start an attack like this, of course you have to believe in something and tell yourself itâ€™s possible to win the stage. I wanted to do what I could today because the stage ended near my home. I come from the north but two years ago I moved to this region. So thatâ€™s why I took a gamble today. It was a good chance to get some exposure for the jersey but it would be much better to do so by raising the arms for a victory salute.â€ť
The mountains are on the horizon but Kim Kirchen insists that, despite the toil of the first week, he and his Columbia colleagues are still fresh and ready for the next challenge of the 2008 Tour de France, the rendezvous in the Pyrenees.
â€śWhen you work hard, you get paid for it. Thatâ€™s how itâ€™s been for the Columbia team in the first week of the Tour. I know the course for the next three days very well and itâ€™s maybe an advantage to have done a reconnaissance but you also have to have good legs to be able to perform well.
â€śToday the team was working well to keep the escape within a reasonable margin and then set up the sprint. When we got to within three kilometers from the finish, I knew I was safe â€“ if I crashed I wouldnâ€™t have lost time â€“ so I sat up a bit and made sure I stayed out of trouble. The priority was to be up front until the 3km to go sign. It was really dangerous in the wet today and thatâ€™s why I tried to stay as close to the front as I could.
â€śEvery day in yellow is pretty hard. Iâ€™m beginning to learn that. We tried to control it from the start and there were many attacks and the team was able to manage it. You could see in the final that weâ€™re still relatively fresh and we could even get our sprinters up there to have a very nice finish.â€ť
A wet stage on the eve of the first day in the Pyrenees boasted a fast start, the obligatory escape and capture after a chase by the teams of the sprinters. They were all there but no one had the speed to hold off the charge of the two young guns from Columbia Mark Cavendish and Gerald Ciolek.
â€śItâ€™s canâ€™t get any better than this. We said that, before we came to the Tour, that weâ€™d be a dominant force and after a week weâ€™ve shown that we are. We won, got the yellow jersey and now weâ€™ve won again so itâ€™s obvious that weâ€™re at the peak of our game.
â€śI completed the Giro a couple of months ago so I know what itâ€™s like to get over mountains. Itâ€™s not the Pyrenees but Iâ€™m not aiming to get any results in the next few days; Iâ€™m just going to try and survive. I donâ€™t know how many more sprint stages thereâ€™ll be but hopefully Iâ€™ll be up there again if there are some.
â€śWe got the race lead and have ambitions to keep it now so to be able to get through this first week with the yellow and white jerseys and then get first and second in the stage means weâ€™re in a pretty strong position.
â€śI was a little far back in the finale today and I lost Geraldâ€™s wheel and I started from 10 riders back but didnâ€™t panic because I know I can make up that ground because Iâ€™ve got the speed to but it wasnâ€™t the ideal situation. Ciolek started to lead it out before I was there with him but it worked out perfectly. I got the run off from catching him and then I was able to accelerate a lot faster. It was brilliant and Iâ€™m really happy he could get second.â€ť
Mark Cavendish rode the perfect sprint to win the stage by five bike lengths. The Columbia team has now won two stages and they keep the lead in the general, points and youth classification!
The top 10 in stage eight is:
1. Mark Cavendish (GBR) Columbia - 172.5km in 4h02’54"
2. Gerald Ciolek (GER) Columbia
3. Jimmy Casper (FRA) Agritubel
4. Oscar Freire (ESP) Rabobank
5. Robert Forster (GER) Gerolsteiner
6. Erik Zabel (GER) Milram
7. Gert Steegmans (BEL) Quickstep
8. Sebastian Chavanel (FRA) FDJ
9. Thor Hushovd (NOR) Credit Agricole
10. Robbie Hunter (RSA) Barloworld
Cavendish and Ciolek have finished first and second in stage eight of the Tour de France.
Cavendish has raced past Steegmans in the final 200m to win his second stage of the 2008 Tour de France.
Quickstep is in control in the final kilometer but the sprinters are about to open up the throttle... let the sprint begin!
Pick your sprinter! With less than 1km to go, they’re all represented and, despite the wet roads, there’s not been any falls in the finale.