Saturday, July 09, 2005

Stage 8 - Saturday, July 9: Pforzheim - Gerardmer, 231.5 km

There were, essentially, two parts to this stage: the attacks on the mountain and the win. Of course several things happened outside of those two events, but that's basically it. And so, what does a stage made of those two things turn out to be? Probably the most exciting stage of the tour so far. Since this stage is just the beginning, the next mountain stages promise to be even more exciting. I truly hope that the are.

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(photos from yahoo)

There was a break, which was how Pieter Weening ended up out in front. It did what breaks do and sped along with the peloton chasing. Michael Rasmussen was in one of the first attacks (before the finally successful break) and managed to grab all the points on the first set of climbs. That gave him enough points to take the jersey from Fabian Wegmann, who had a rotten day (along with much of the rest of the bunch). Thor Hushovd attacked on the second sprint, earning a few more points. He now trails Tom Boonen by only five points. And, unlike Tom, Thor seems to have the legs to gather a few more sprint points and perhaps surpass Boonen for the green jersey.

Points classification
1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick.Step 133 pts
2 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole 128
3 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 96
4 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Cofidis, Le Credit Par Telephone 91
5 Robert Forster (Ger) Gerolsteiner 75

But the real action didn't begin until the break started to fall apart on the slopes of the Col de la Schlucht. Pieter Weening took it upon himself to attack, leaving his breakaway companions split into two groups of three. They would never see Pieter again until the finish. The first set of three fought for a bit, then sat up. The second set (Flecha, Commesso and Sorensen) lasted a bit longer, but as soon as the peloton hit the slopes, they were doomed. Weening kept riding, barely every looking back. But behind him, the excitement was just beginning.

Almost immediately the peloton began to split apart (even more than before, with riders falling off the back at an alarming rate). At first it was a rather large group containing most of Discovery, a few T-Mobile riders, some Liquigas, Illes Balears, CSC and a few others. And that's when the attacks started. The first to move is Alexandre Vinokourov, he attacks and he attacks hard. The group follows, losing more riders. Christophe Moreau attacks and Vino is right there on his back wheel. There are other challenges, almost all of them chased down by Vino, and then the rest of the group. By this time, Lance has lost most, if not all, of his team. Paolo Savoldelli was the last Discovery rider with Lance, but he, too, was dropped. But then Andreas Kloden attacked.

He jumped off the front and no one launched a chase. There were more attacks, but no one dared go after Klodi. And so Klodi rode across the break to Weening, who was only several seconds in front of the yellow jersey group. He caught Weening on the summit, passing over and taking the 20 points, much to Weening's dismay. Eventually they started working together and managed to open up a bit of a lead on the peloton. They would not be caught again. Back in the yellow jersey group, the attacks slowed a bit, but all the contenders were there. Ullrich, Basso, Vino, Julich and Landis, among others.

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By this, though, both Klodi and Weening knew that one of them was going to make it to the finish. They both worked, but eventually Klodi did the work while Weening, who had been out since about 2 km, sat on the back wheel, resting. Turned out to be a good thing, because the pair rounded the bend and there was the finish. Pieter made his move and they were, well, neck and neck. In the end it was Weening who threw his wheel over the line for the win. He won by two millimeters.

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The following is from cyclingnews.

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 Kloden 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!"

That race to the finish was probably the most exciting finish I've seen in a long time (akin to some of Paolo's exploits at the Giro this year). I tried hard to be irritated at Klodi for stealing the points for the KOM jersey, but I just couldn't. I like him. And, well, I like Pieter too. So I was pleased when it won. And it was nice of OLN to interview Klodi after the stage, and he answered the question that everyone had been asking (though I had figured this was what happened). All the T-Mobile attacks, Klodi said, had been planned. In a way, it's sad he couldn't win, but I'm quite pleased for Weening, a second year pro. Good for him!

I hope tomorrow is just as exciting. And we get two extra hours of coverage here. Thanks, OLN. You might annoy me, but I don't mind waking up at 6:30 for live cycling (and that is definitely not sarcasm). And I'll leave you with this picture of Pieter. I've never seen someone so excited about winning.

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