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On a 200km stage, Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo TestTeam) was off the front for 195km. Most important, he was off the front at the very end of the day.
Haussler went clear with six others just 5km into a rainy day that featured five categorized climbs. After 60km it was only he, Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) and Ruben Perez Moreno (Euskaltel-Euskadi) off the front. After Perez Moreno was dropped on a climb, and Chavanel was dropped on a slippery descent, Haussler simply put his head down and went it alone.
“I love this type of weather,” said Haussler, an Australian-born German. The stage finished just a few kilometers from the German border.
Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and stage 7 winner Brice Feillu (Agritubel) attacked on the Col du Platzerwasel and stayed clear to take second and third, respectively.
Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r) finished safely inside the peloton, which crossed the line nearly seven minutes behind Haussler, to retain his leader’s jersey.
Rain capes and long escapes
A rainy 200km stage from Vittel to Colmar. The weather didn’t help the spirits of Astana’s Levi Leipheimer, who had to drop out after discovering his crash 2km from the finish of stage 12 had broken his wrist. The field was down to 164 men.
Nocentini (Ag2r) still held a six-second lead over Alberto Contador, with Lance Armstrong right behind. With Leipheimer gone, Bradley Wiggins (Garmin-Slipstream) slid up into fourth, at 46 second back, with Astana’s Andréas Klöden in fifth at 54 seconds.
The wet day featured five climbs, including the Cat. 1 Col du Platzerwasel, about 60km from the finish, then the Cat. 3 Col du Bannstein and the Cat. 2 Col du Firstplan. From the last climb, it was all downhill to the finish.
The race was barely underway when a seven-man move went up the road. Rabobank’s Manuel Garate was the best-placed among them, at 6:56 back from the race lead. The peloton kept a short leash on the breakaway, not allowing them more than a minute’s lead, until Haussler, Moreno and Chavanel attacked their breakaway companions at 60km in.
With the four men dropped from the break caught by the peloton, the gap to the leading trio ballooned up to over nine minutes by the time the peloton crossed the feedzone at the base of the Col de la Schlucht.
Hitting the lower slopes of the main claim of the day, the Cat. 1 Col du Platzerwasel, Astana massed on the front.
The laughing group including sprinters Mark Cavendish (Columbia-HTC), and Tom Boonen (Quick Step), were already well off the back from the previous climb.
Up in the break, Ruben Perez started to suffer, and fell off the pace of Haussler and Chavanel.
In the peloton, Saxo Bank added some gas to Astana’s fire, with Chris Sorensen taking a pull that spit many riders out of the back, including Wiggins and Rabobank’s Denis Menchov. Yellow jersey Nocentini held his own, though, clinging to the main pack — and his race lead.
With the rain pouring down, Astana grabbed command, blowing riders out left and right as the group climbed through a wall of noise with poncho-clad spectators crushing in on the riders.
Up at the top of the Platzerwasel, Armstrong rode smack on the front, climbing out of the saddle in his black rain jacket, with Contador right on his wheel. Although Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) jumped at the line for the KOM points, Astana’s two leaders looked perfectly comfortable with the uphill effort.
Brice Feillu (Agritubel) and Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi) attacked after the KOM on a false flat that came before the road plummeted down.
On the tricky wet descent, Haussler dropped Chavanel as the older Quick Step rider took the hairpins more cautiously. Once off the Platzerwasel, Haussler didn’t bother waiting for Chavanel but instead kept the pressure on, keeping his 20-second gap to his pursuer.
“I thought he was just playing with me,” Haussler said of Chavanel. “If I would have waited, I don’t know what would have happened. So I just went. I went like crazy.”
The peloton, however, had eased off its efforts somewhat, and many riders popped on the climb were able to catch back, including Garmin’s Wiggins.
Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) had a flat in the run-in to the last climb of the day, but with a quickly concerted effort from his team, he was on a new bike and back in the pack in no time.
With the rain starting to ease off, Haussler crested the last climb of the day more than three minutes ahead of Chavanel, and five minutes ahead of Txurruka, who had moved clear from Feillu. As the race got down to the business end, it was a virtual time trial on the road with four riders each on their own.
Txurruka caught Chavanel and flew right past. When Feillu came by on the flats nearing the finish, Chavanel found himself unable to hop on that wheel, too.
As Haussler came across the line, the water streaming down his face was not only rain.