Spain’s Luis-Leon Sanchez won a sprint finish among a four-man breakaway group to claim stage eight of the Tour de France over the Pyrenees on Saturday.
The Caisse d’Epargne rider timed his finish to perfection to cross the line just ahead of Frenchman Sandy Casar in a time of four hours 31 minutes and 50 seconds. Sanchez, Casar and two others — Mikel Astarloza and Vladimir Efimkin — had made a decisive break on the final climb, the Col d’Agnes, allowing the quartet to battle it out at the finish of the 176.5km hike from Andorra La Vella to St Girons. “I want dedicate this win to my girlfriend and my family. The first week was really difficult for me, but now I have a victory. Now I will try to stay strong and be ambitious as I’m the leader of the team,” said 25-year-old Sanchez, who won stage seven of last year’s Tour, as well as winning the prestigious Paris-Nice stage race earlier this year. Italy’s Rinaldo Nocentini finished in a 53-man peloton, a minute and 54 seconds behind the leading quartet, to retain the yellow jersey he took on Friday’s stage to Arcalis. The AG2R rider remains just six seconds ahead of 2007 winner and race favorite Alberto Contador, who is another two seconds clear of Astana team-mate and seven-times winner Lance Armstrong. Despite all the main contenders finishing together, Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck showed he will be a man to watch in the latter part of the race with an attack that split the lead group to just 15 riders, before the pace was slowed again. Nocentini was delighted to still be in yellow after being dropped for 6km when Schleck turned on the gas.
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“It was tiring up that big climb and I have to thank all the team — they worked so hard today,” Nocentini told France 2 television. “We managed to catch up the group in the final kilometers (of the climb). After that, it was better and I’ve been able to conserve the maillot jaune for another day.” Casar, awarded the combativity award after a busy day of climbing at the head of the field, was left to regret his inability to beat off the fast-finishing Sanchez. “I felt good at the end but the two Spaniards (Astarloza and Sanchez) worked together,” said the Francaise des Jeux rider. “I went 100m out but perhaps it was a bit too far out.” Although the yellow jersey standings remained unchanged, Norway’s Thor Hushovd picked up some bonus points to take over the sprinter’s green jersey from Mark Cavendish.
There was also a change in the king of the mountains competition with Frenchman Christophe Kern taking the polka dot jersey from Friday’s stage winner Brice Feillu. It proved a day of mixed emotions for the Caisse d’Epargne team after 2006 Tour winner Oscar Pereiro abandoned the race after 90km on Saturday, citing “accumulated fatigue”.