Michael Rasmussen conquered the 2068-metre Tignes ahead of Iban Mayo (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) to take his third Tour de France win and first race leader's Maillot Jaune. The 33 year-old Dane attacked from an early escape with 18 kilometres to go in the 165-kilometre stage to shake off Antonio Colom (Astana) and David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne).
Overnight race leader Linus Gerdemann (T-Mobile) gave a respectable ride in the Maillot Jaune but was unable to contend; he was eventually dropped from a group containing Alexander Vinokourov and Andreas Klöden of Astana, but retains his Maillot Blanc - the best young rider's jersey.
"I thought there was no time for celebration," said Rasmussen who crossed the line without a victory salute because he was concerned about taking seconds for the overall classification, which he now leads by 43" over Gerdemann. "We can do that tonight; there will be plenty of time."
The Dane took stages in Mulhouse (2005) and La Toussuire (2006) and is a double winner of the Maillot à Pois Rouges. Today's mountains had set the stage for Rasmussen to take the jump up to race leader of the world's largest race, the Tour de France. No one was surprised by the wafer-thin climber who makes his home in northern Italy as he had his eyes on the climber's jersey, and there was not a better way to go about taking the red-dotted jersey then by capturing the stage and the race lead. The jersey for best climber will be put on hold because when the race re-starts on Tuesday from Val-d'Isère Rasmussen will be dressed in the coveted Maillot Jaune.
"As the day went on it appeared to be a possibility," Rasmussen continued. He doubts his crono abilities but he won't count out taking the yellow jersey to Paris. "But there are still two more weeks of racing and I still have 110 kilometres of TT to negotiate. ... I think that this could be that year but of course, I still have 110 kilometres of time trialing to do so everything is still wide open."
Rasmussen made his bid for stardom when the race was only 80 kilometres away from the Le Grand-Bornand, the finish of stage seven and the start of today's activities. At the base of the day's finale, the 16-kilometre climb of Tignes, German Gerdemann was seen struggling on the back of the Vino group. The race and Gerdemann's overall fate was decided on the gentle but long ascension.
Under the Alpine sunshine, Rasmussen opened the throttle on the remainder of his escape companions by attacking at two kilometres into the 18-kilometre climb (it topped out two kilometres to the finish). He dropped Spaniards Colom and Arroyo while behind Gerdemann was finally kicked from the Vino gruppo with six kilometres left to race. The 24 year-old from Münster was in a race to preserve his yellow jersey but he could not match the climbing prowess of Rasmussen, who finished 5'05" up the road and forced yesterday's winner out of the overall lead.
Meanwhile, French Champion Christophe Moreau (Ag2r Prévoyance) was lighting up the roads. His first attack came at near the same spot as Rasmussen's and caused shrieks amongst the French roadside fans. He quickly put himself past American George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) and formed a small gruppo with Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) and Fränk Schleck (Team CSC).
The Renaissance man Moreau attacked his new companions again and again but kept being pulled back mostly under the power of Spaniard Valverde, while Aussie Evans was on the defensive mode in the group. Iban Mayo (Saunier Duval-Prodir) was able to escape the grasp of Moreau and eventually finished 25 seconds over Valverde, who had escaped under the last 500 metres.
"Something had to be tried," said the adored 36 year-old Frenchman after finishing in fourth, ahead of Luxemburger Schleck. "I absolutely wanted to ride offensively as I did in the Dauphiné and French Championships." Moreau's aggressions were marked repeatedly. "To watch the big leaders waiting and watching each other upset me. I was the only one to take risks. I did not receive much help. It is a pity there was a big chance for the other guys to create a big gap on Vinokourov and Klöden. What happened to Vino today was expected but he is not dead yet [and] as long as he will have the use of two legs in this Tour de France we will have to count on him. But I am not disappointed about what happened today. I still think it is a good stage for me."
Evans, in sixth, thought that Moreau pulled off a number today but will wait until Tuesday to make his final decision. "Moreau was impressive again," said the 30 year-old in sun-drenched Tignes to Cyclingnews' John Trevorrow. "I've never seen the big hitters attack so much and when there's no one to ride well. Considering tomorrow is a rest day, I don't know what he's going to do," he continued; The Aussie is now 2'53" back with the Frenchman at 3'06". "It is very difficult if everyone is riding against each other tactically."
Andrey Kashechkin (Astana) finished seventh and was followed by the trio of Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel), Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and Carlos Sastre (Team CSC). Contador tried to drop the Russian and Spaniard on a couple of occasions; he was able to finish slightly clear of the duo, with a four-second advantage, but 3'31" behind Rasmussen. The winner of Paris-Nice is now the highest placed of his Disco teammates in the GC at 3'10"; Levi Leipheimer had mechanical difficulties (3'53") and Yaroslav Popovych suffered in the heat (7'32").
"Linus was able to save the white jersey, and that is also a victory for us," noted T-Mobile General Manager Bob Stapleton. His team lost the yellow jersey and lost a contender for the overall in Aussie Michael Rogers, who crashed with 54 kilometres to go and was forced to abandon. "We enjoyed the ups and downs of the sport in a 12-hour period. Losing Rogers is a big blow."
"In the final kilometres it was very hard," Gerdemann added of his yellow Jersey defence. "We battled hard for the jersey. Having the yellow jersey was not a burden but a pleasure. It was priceless."
How It Unfolded
With two weeks still to race in the 2007 Tour De France, Sunday's second Alpine stage started right on time at 12:50, when 180 riders took the start outside of Le Grand-Bornand. There, yesterday's big stage winner Linus Gerdemann of T-Mobile was proudly wearing the maillot jaune, the 24 year old German ready for his first day in yellow.
It was a hot, sunny afternoon with a short, nervous and very difficult day in store for the Tour riders. Right from the start, stage 8 saw all-out action on the first climb, the fourth Category Col du Marais. It was a 3.8 kilometres ascent at an average grade of 4.1 percent, and on these slopes Amstel Gold winner Stefan Schumacher tore off on the attack.
The Gerolsteiner rider was joined by other opportunists like Stéphane Augé (Cofidis), Lilian Jégou (Française des Jeux), Marcel Sieberg (Milram) and Alexander Efimkin (Barloworld), who had a thirty second lead atop the first climb of the day, Col du Marais. Schumi took top points here.
Behind in the maillot jaune group there were many attempts to bridge across to the leaders on the narrow, twisting mountain roads. By the time Schumi took the second set of KOM points atop the steep third Category Côte du Bouchet-Mont-Charvin (22 km), there were now 16 riders away. They were US Champ George Hincapie (Discovery Channel), José Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d’Epargne), Jens Voigt (CSC), Mario Aerts (Predictor Lotto), Jose Luis Arrieta and Stéphane Goubert (Ag2r Prévoyance), Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel Euskadi), Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre Fondital), Stefan Schumacher and Bernhard Kohl (Gerolsteiner), Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel ), Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux), Juan Manuel Garate (Quick Step Innergetic), Antonio Colom (Astana), Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom) and David Millar (Saunier Duval - Prodir).
The group had a twenty second lead on the peloton but Voeckler wasn’t satisfied, attacking on the descent and taking the sprint points at the base of the descent in Faverges after some 36 kilometres.
More riders had bridged across by Faverges , including Michael Rogers (T-Mobile), Jorge Azanza (Euskaltel Euskadi), Christophe Le Mevel (Crédit Agricole) and Frederik Willems (Liquigas). Bruseghin had dropped back to the Rabobank-led peloton, while young T-Mobile sprinter Mark Cavendish abandoned his first Tour De France.
There was some good news for the team, though; Rogers may be a Tour danger man and may have started the stage 14th on GC, but he managed to escape. The squad leading the teams classification also had the maillot jaune and seemed to have the right cards to play in the Tour's tactical game.
Next climb on the menu of Stage 8 was the second Category Col de Tamié, a 9.5-kilometre climb at a four percent grade with the summit after 46.5 kilometres. Here Voeckler took the points ahead of the still hard working Schumi, who was doing a fantastic job to set up his Gerolsteiner teammate Kohl.
Rabobank was still riding hard on the front of the group maillot jaune, 1'50 back, and were looking to set-up their super climber Michael Rasmussen for an attack on the hardest ascension of the day, the six percent Cormet de Roselend.
The feed zone in Beaufort came at the base of the first category climb, 88 kilometres from the finish, and here the large front group began the 19.9-kilometre ascent with the same 1'50 margin. The unlucky Millar had a flat and lost contact with the group. Then, as the group maillot jaune began the ascent, Rasmussen made his move and only Mercado, Arroyo and Paulinho could follow.
The front trio of Kohl, Colom and LeMevel had been absorbed by the Rogers / Rasmussen group atop the summit of Cormet de Roselend, 65 kilometres from the finish. By this point the group maillot jaune had slowed considerably as T-Mobile and Rabobank had shut off the tempo. Their gap to the front of the race was almost six minutes and Rogers had now become maillot jaune virtuel.
Rasmussen took the KOM points as he and Arroyo, Goubert, Rogers, Kohl and Colom passed over the summit of the Cormet de Roselend in the lead. A second group was chasing at 1'15, containing Hincapie, Gutierrez, Voigt, Txurruka, Verdugo and Paulinho. Other remains of the original break were caught in between, while Ballan (Lampre Fondital) had gone to the front of the group maillot jaune to up the chase pace. He led the groupe maillot jaune over the summit 5' behind.
There was a long, technical descent of the Cormet de Roselend to Bourg-St-Maurice and the Rogers / Rasmussen group could see the penultimate ascension of the day looming ahead, the 15.3 kilometre climb of Montée de Hauteville. Suddenly, with 54 kilometres remaining, Rogers and Arroyo crashed on a tight left hander; the Caisse d'Epargne man did a header over the barriers into a ditch but both riders seemed to have little damage. They quickly got back on their bikes in pursuit of the six front runners.
In Bourg-St-Maurice, the late afternoon sun was baking the valley as the temperatures had soared to almost 30 degrees. Kohl was powering the front Rasmussen group as Rogers and Arroyo chased hard to rejoin. The Hincapie group was closing at one minute, while the group maillot jaune, led by Ballan and Righi (Lampre Fondital) were at 4'15.
Leipheimer was all alone off the back with a broken rear derailleur and got a bike change in Bourg-St-Maurice. He quickly got back to the group maillot jaune, who was absorbing the second chase group, the remains of the big break.
After a few kilometres of the Montée d'Hauteville, Chicken Rasmussen flew the coop and only Arroyo and Colom could stay with him. Kohl and Rogers were suffering. The chasers were losing time and after five kilometres of the climb, there were three riders up front. Rasmussen, Arroyo and Colom were thirty seconds ahead of Rogers, Kohl and Goubert.
The Hincapie group was still losing time at 2'10 while Lampre riders Benatti and Vila was doing the heavy lifting on the front of the group maillot jaune, 3'50 back.
In the break, Rasmussen was putting a major hurt on Colom and Arroyo. Meanwhile the unlucky Rogers had lost contact with Kohl and Goubert as he had been hurt in his crash. The T-Mobile Aussie was no longer maillot jaune virtuel and, to make matters worse, he was grimacing in pain from his injuries and was soon caught and dropped by the Hincapie group eight kilometres from the top.
Next to be caught by this group was Goubert, who upped his pace and managed to stay with them. It was game over for Rogers, though; after 130 kilometres of racing, he pulled to the side of the road and abandoned the 2007 Tour De France in tears. His injuries were too much for him to continue.
Rasmussen goes for broke
At the summit of the long ascent of the Montée d'Hauteville with 28.5km left to race, Rasmussen's group was flying. Kohl, who had been riding solo, was caught by the Hincapie chase group at 5'05. The group maillot jaune was at 6'15.
Rasmussen had begun the day in 39th on GC, 4'42 back. With his lead he had been flirting with becoming maillot jaune virtuel and now had a more than a minute and a half in hand on Gerdemann.
With Rogers out, big Axel Merckx took up the pace on the front during his final Tour de France, riding for his teammate maillot jaune Gerdemann. But Astana's Russian hitman was now on the front with his team lined out behind as the orange clad Dane had put the fear of god into the rest of the peloton.
The descent from the summit of Montée d'Hauteville was a fast, wide-open ride to Ste-Foy-Tarentaise. The final ascent of Stage 8 began here, namely the 5.4 percent, 18-kilometre category one Montée de Tignes. On the descent to Ste-Foy CSC's 38 year old Cuesta, the oldest rider in the Tour, crashed. However he got back on after a hard chase.
As the final ascent began, Rasmussen attacked hard to dump Colom and Arroyo. Neither had pulled a meter due to team orders to mark the great Danish climber.
Behind, Moreau attacked from the peloton and Mayo, Valverde, Kashechkin and Evans got across. Vino, Klödi, Leipheimer and Menchov couldn't follow, while Karpets was surprisingly even further back.
While Rasmussen continued his angelic ascent, Colom and Arroyo hung on in no-mans land, 40” behind the Rabobanker. The eight-man Hincapie group had shattered behind Rasmussen and were spread all over the mountain.
Mayo countered with 16 kilometres to go, but was brought back. He went slightly off the front of the chase group again, with Moreau, Valverde, Kashechkin and Evans following. They were then joined by Disco Boys Popovych and Contador and CSC's Frank Schleck, while Astana's Savoldelli was on the front of the group maillot jaune making a desperate chase behind.
With 12 kilometres remaining, Rasmussen still wasn't losing a second of his lead and was on his way to a stage win and the maillot jaune. It was a pursuit match to Tignes, as Rasmussen was trying to put as much time as possible into maillot jaune Gerdemann, while the Moreau / Mayo group was trying to get away from Vino and the rest of the Astanas. With his maillot tricolore of French champion, the Ag2r man was doing the forcing along with a brilliant Popovych, while Rabobank's Dekker was helping Astana in the chase for his team leader Menchov.
Moreau was making monster moves on the ascent to Tignes, attacking time after time as the French champion was having a fantastic day. Valverde and Mayo were mostly covering the moves and despite the irregular rhythm, the Moreau group was gaining ground on the Vinokourov / Klöden chase group. With 10km left to Tignes, Rasmussen was still flying home solo. Arroyo was hanging tough at 2'30, the Moreau group was at 4'15 and the Vino group was 5’30 back. Here maillot jaune Gerdemann was still hanging on for dear life.
With six kilometres to go, Moreau went again. His move stripped Popovych off the second group. Further back in the Vinokourov bunch, Klöden hit the front and his hard pace dumped the brave young maillot jaune Gerdemann for good. Vino was still there, while Leipheimer, Menchov, Pereiro and Klodi's forcing had pulled back 45" from the group Moreau, who had caught Arroyo with 2.8km to go.
Contador had a wheel change after a puncture and was sucked up by the chase pace of Astana, but it was all too much for Vino, who began to fade. Contador then attacked out of the Vino group with 2.5 kilometres to go, followed by Sastre and Menchov, while Klöden was trying to pace Vino, who had croaked in the last kilometres of the Tignes ascent.
Rasmussen remained unstoppable up front as he passed under the flamme rouge with 1km to race. Behind, Mayo made another attack from the Moreau group and, this time, he got a gap. It turned out to be too much for Valverde who dropped off the pace. As he passed over the finish line in Tignes, Rasmussen, the only Danish rider in the 2007 Tour De France broke the bank, as he won the stage, took the maillot jaune and the Best Climber classification as well as most combative rider on the day. It was the ride of his life.
Mayo came across the line in second, 2'47" behind. Valverde had clawed his way back and sprinted home third, 3'12" behind Rasmussen. The impressive Moreau was just behind with Schleck, Evans and Kashechkin. Contador got his second wind and was the best of the rest in eighth,
3'31 back, and just ahead of late attackers Sastre and Menchov.
His Discovery Channel teammate Levi Leipheimer had a smart, conservative ride on Stage 8 to finish 12th at 4'. Vino and Klödi didn't fold under pressure today but the Astana men are not at their top after the recent crashes, losing 4'30" to new maillot jaune Rasmussen. The gutsy former maillot jaune Gerdemann came home at a a respectable 5'04", and maintains 2nd in GC. He will start Tuesday with the maillot blanc of Best Young Rider.
A hierarchy of sorts is now starting to emerge after Stage 8. New maillot jaune Rasmussen is clearly the best climber in this year’s race and can likely maintain his maillot jaune until next Saturday's stage 13 time trial in Albi. Here the cadaverous Dane will lose time to more complete riders, but his great escape may have put him within reach of the podium.
Lurking behind Rasmussen on GC are more complete riders who can time trial and climb well. Cadel Evans is one and he is at 2'53. French champion Christophe Moreau is 3'06 back and Levi Leipheimer is at 3'56.
It seems too soon to tell if Astana men Klöden (12th at 3'46) and Vinokourov (22nd at 5'23) are completely out of the game due to their injuries. If so, they can turn to young team talent Kashechkin (5th at 2'52"), who could become leader by default for Astana.
Rest Day: Monday 16 July / Tignes
Stage 9: Tuesday 17 July Val d'Isère-Briançon / 159,5kilometres
Bang! Right from the start of Stage 9, the Tour peloton will ascend from the exclusive ski resort of Val d'Isère up the windy, wide-open slopes of the Col de l’Iseran (15km @ 6%) to the 2770m. high summit, one of the highest in Europe.
Coming as it does on the day after the rest day in Tignes, the climb will be doubly hard and once over the top, it's a long, fast downhil run down the Maurienne valley to St.Michel-de-Maurienne.
There the long, legendary double ascent of the Télégraphe (12.0 kilometres climb @ 6.7 % grade / 1st Cat) and Galibier (17,5 kilometres @ 6.9 percent) begins, will certainly make a crucial selection, especially on the steep final 10km of the Galibier.
Then it's a long, fast descent past the monument to Tour founder Henri Desgranges with 37km to go to the finish in Europe's highest city of Briançon and a steep, difficult stage finish in the Fort de Salettes.
Km 15: Col de l'Iseran: 15.0kilometres climb @ 6 % grade / Beyond Category
Km 99: Col du Telegraphe: 12.0kilometres climb @ 6.7 % grade / 1st Cat.
Km 122: Col du Galibier: 17.5kilometres climb @ 6.9 % grade / Beyond Category
Km 33.5: Le Villaron (Bessans)
Km 60: Bramans