Weening whips Klödi for stage win

Armstrong isolated from Discovery Channel Team on final climb

Long, lean Pieter Weening has been with the Rabobank program since 1999 and was esteemed as a major talent in the Netherlands since his junior days. Today in Gérardmer, the young climber confirmed it with his first pro win. The 24 year-old sophomore pro from Harkema, Netherlands, explained post-stage, "Today, my legs were not so good at the beginning of the stage. The first hour was really hard, but I decided to give it a try. Then I felt really strong in the break and when I got on the final climb, I went full gas to try for the win."

Earlier this season, Weening was caught in the final meters of a stage of the Tour of the Basque Country when he was alone in the lead. "When Klöden caught me at the top of the last climb, I said 'It's not possible today'. I was close before, but this time I made it!"

Weening made it to the podium by perfectly timing his match sprint with last year's Tour de France runner-up Klöden and took the victory by just 1 cm. "Today when I crossed the line, I didn't know I won; all I knew was that it was really close." Three summers ago, Weening dominated the difficult Transalsace U23 stage race, not far from where he took his first pro win today, and what a day it was today for Rabobank, as the Orange men also put Michael Rasmussen on the Tour de France podium with the maillot à pois jersey.

For maillot jaune Lance Armstrong, it was a "shitty day" as he told French TV's Jean-Rene Godard in a post-race interview. Armstrong suffered on the day's last ascent of the Col de la Schlucht, finishing 20th on the stage, 0'27 behind Weening in a 32 man chase group. "Clearly the team was not really on today and I wasn't feeling really good either, and the other teams did feel good. With situations like (today), it'll be hard to win the Tour, day in and day out. So now we have to evaluate where we are and make some adjustments."

Armstrong seemed genuinely perplexed when asked what went wrong today, saying, "I don't know. Perhaps we've been a little too active in the race, worked a little too much, maybe the guys are tired. I can't really comment without actually sitting down with them and saying 'what's wrong with you, how did you feel, what's your problem, was it your legs, was it the rhythm?

"It's a strange climb too; it's a long climb but not very steep, so you can keep 30, 40, 50 guys there and they can take shots at you from the back. It's hard to follow those."

"Definitely was isolated, definitely was suffering...I have an idea of what to do in the next week. Not a great situation to be alone on a climb like that, with a fast downhill, it's difficult for my teammates to come back. I think we had a bad day; we have to go home and evaluate where we are and where the others are. We can't cry over spilt milk. There's a long way to go, but not a good start for us today, and I think definitely a good start for some others. We held on to the jersey, but I think there's some bruised egos on our team tonight".

Armstrong's Discovery Channel teammate and 2005 Giro d'Italia winner Paolo Savoldelli was there for a while on the final ascent and told Alessandra Di Stefano of RAI-TV, "We were tired when we got to the base of the final climb. We tried to get rid of (maillot jaune) before but it just didn't happen. On the final climb, I closed a gap on Vinokourov and could have stayed there but Armstrong told me to back off. I wasn't even one of the riders who were supposed to stay with (Armstrong) today. I don't think that Lance could follow the attacks of Vinokourov because he was so strong...today things didn't go well but that's because it was a really fast stage (45.706 km/h avg.) with a high rhythm."

Armstrong knows that his team is designed for and well prepared for the tough Alpine and Pyrenean climbs to come and that today was likely an anomaly. The six time Tour de France champion explained, "So we'll see tomorrow and at Courchevel."

1997 Tour de France champion Jan Ullrich and his T-Mobile squad finally raced well today. They brought back an early attack with an impressive show of force and rode aggressively all day, culminating in a series of spectacular attacks by Vino on the final ascent to spring Klöden for the key move. "Today (T-Mobile) used the tactics that we have against Armstrong. Klöden was good today; his second place was worth more that just that. Now (T-Mobile) has three guys we can use against Armstrong."

How it unfolded

184 Tour de France riders left the warm, sunny center of jewelry city Pforzheim, across a band of gold foil at 11:45 AM in front of huge crowds of German cycling fans. Stage 8 was a 231.5km romp through the hills of the Black Forest, across the Rhine River valley, back to France and up into the Vosges Mountains of eastern France for the finish in the tiny lakeside resort of Gérardmer. Christophe Mengin (FDJ) didn't start Saturday as he broke his left cheekbone in his crash in Nancy and couldn't continue. Serguei Gonchar (Domina Vacanze) was the other non-starter.

First attack of the day was from Ludewig (Domina Vacanze) at km 0 and he was chased and caught by Bertogliati (Saunier Duval) and the duo gained a 0'20 lead up the Côte de Dobel, a Cat. 3 climb averaging 5.9% for 5.9 km. Gerolsteiner Discovery and CSC were riding tempo, while Ludewig dropped Bertogliati. Boogerd and Voigt hit the front and caught Ludewig while Sylvain Calzati (Ag2r) abandoned after 14km. Voigt was joined by Hincapie up front, while Boogerd launched Rasmussen (Rabobank) who took the first KOM among the huge Saturday morning crowds, followed by Voigt, Hincapie (Discovery Channel), Kashechkin (Credit Agricole) and Casar (FDJ).

After 29km, Rasmussen took the 2nd KOM on the Cote de Bad-Herrenalb, then waited for the other four. In the peloton. T-Mobile was riding the chase 1'30 behind, while Galvez (Illes Balears) abandoned. On the Zimmerplatz climb, a 1.9km ascent at 6.7%, Rasmussen won again and was now six points clear of current maillot à pois Wegmann.

T-Mobile cranked up the pace even more to chase back the break containing Voigt and Hincapie, and the gap fell to 1'09. After 64.5km in Sasbach, the Hincapie took the sprint ahead of Voigt and after 70km, the break was caught with the exception of Casar, who went on solo; mission accomplished by Rasmussen and Hincapie. Sørensen (CSC) tried to bridge to Casar but was pulled back. The FDJ man was riding solo through huge crowds as Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo) bridged across to Casar after 75km in Appenweier. Dutch champion Leon Van Bon abandoned, while Sørensen successfully bridged to Cancellara in pursuit of Casar. After 89km, Hushovd came across the 0'30 gap as others tried to get across, but failed.

Massive crowds lined the roads on both sides as the four escapees were still in Germany and in the feed zone at Freisenheim after 103km of racing, the break had 2'42. After his crash yesterday, maillot vert Boonen was distanced during the T-Mobile chase and was still trying to get back on. Davitamon-Lotto was driving the chase with Brandt and tall boy Van Summeren on the front of the peloton, while Hushovd was working hard up front to try and take the intermediate points sprint in Kenzingen.

With 106km to go, it was also mission accomplished for big Thor as he took the sprint in Kenzingen and he, Cancellara and Casar, with the exception of Sørensen, sat up after 126km with the peloton breathing down their necks. The CSC man just kept going and another group of six bridged across, including Weening (Rabobank), Commesso (Lampre), Vasseur (Cofidis), Scholz (Gerolsteiner), Jalabert (Phonak) and Flecha (Fassa Bortolo), and as the seven man break du jour passed over the Rhein River into France, they had a lead of 5'05. Sørensen was maillot jaune virtuel and as the Discovery Channel team rode tempo on the front of the peloton, the break still gained time. With 69km to race at the final intermediate sprint of the day in Illhaeusern, home of the famous three star restaurant l'Auberge sur l'Ill, it was Toto Commesso who grabbed the points 6'30 ahead of the peloton.

The gap rang the alarm bells behind, as Discovery Channel had nothing to chase for, so Liquigas-Bianchi and Illes Balears began chasing hard. After almost an hour of hard chasing, the break was just 2'00 ahead of the peloton at the base of the Col de la Schlucht. Weening got the word in his earpiece that the chase was closing and attacked hard at the base of the ascent. He rode a hard steady tempo, because behind, the ever diminishing peloton was blasting up the gentle 4% gradient in their big chainrings at almost 40km/h! With 5km to go to the summit, Weening was 0'30 ahead of a now thirty man strong groupe maillot jaune, where Armstrong was isolated: his Discovery Channel teammates had surprisingly already gone out the back!

Vinokourov began a series of attacks, countered by Valverde (Illes Balears), then Vino went again and was pulled back by Valverde's teammate Paco Mancebo. T-Mobile's Andreas Klöden countered this move and quickly got a gap as Vino and Ulle closed down the chase. Klöden bridged across to Weening at the summit of the Col de la Schlucht ascent and the two began the fast descent to Gérardmer with the groupe maillot jaune 0'20 behind. For a moment, it looked like the two escapees might be caught on the upper slopes, but by the finish in Gérardmer, the gap had grown to almost half a minute.

Klöden got beat by Weening by less than a tyre width - 0.0002 seconds officially - but the T-Mobile man moved into the top 10 and is now in 9th place, 1'50 behind Armstrong. T-Mobile now has three men in the top 10 (Vino 3rd, Ullrich 6th, Klöden 9th), while CSC has four: Voigt is 2nd, Julich 4th, Basso 5th and Sastre 7th. Rounding out the top ten is Floyd Landis (Phonak), and all nine are within 1'50 of maillot jaune Armstrong.

Almost an hour after today's winner, a battered but still game Dave Zabriskie struggled through the huge crowds on the final climb that made it almost impossible for the CSC man to get through to the summit to finish just minutes inside the day's time limit. The former maillot jaune, now last in classement generale may no longer be a contender, but he's no palooka and deserves a prize for most gutsy rider at this year's Tour de France.

Stage 9 - Sunday, July 10: Gérardmer-Mulhouse, 171km

Starting in Gérardmer, Stage 9 has the first serious mountain climbs of the 2005 Tour, culminating in the steep Cat. 1 Ballon d'Alsace. Once Stage 9 is over, the Tour de France entourage will make a post-stage transfer via air from Mulhouse to Grenoble.

Stage 9 rated climbs:

Cat. 3 / 6.5km: Col de Grosse Pierre-955m. / 3.1km climb-6.4% grade
Cat. 3 / 22km: Col des Feignes-992m. / 9km climb-2.9% grade
Cat. 3 / 32.5km: Col de Bramont-956m. / 3.4km climb-6.5% grade
Cat. 2 / 64km: Le Grand Ballon-1338m. / 21.9km climb-3.6% grade
Cat. 3 / 98km: Col de Bussang-731m. / 6.2 km-4.5% grade
Cat. 1 / 115km: Le Ballon d'Alsace-1171m. / 9.1km-6.8% grade

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