Don't miss a moment from Paris-Roubaix and Unbound Gravel, to the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta a España, and everything in between when you join Outside+.
Gontchar stays in yellow
By Andrew Hood
The 93rd Tour de France saw its first stage taken by a long breakaway on Sunday when the unheralded Frenchman Sylvain Calzati (Ag2r) attacked solo from a six-man move 32km from the finish of the 181km stage 8 across the hilly Brittany region.
Dave Zabriskie (CSC) figured in the breakaway that escaped from just 47km after the start in St. Méen-le-Grand, with Calzati going clear when the peloton showed signs of closing down the six-man break.
A week after Jimmy Casper won stage 1 in Strasbourg, Calzati earned France’s second stage win of this year’s Tour, while Ukraine’s Sergei Gontchar (T-Mobile) safely finished in the main bunch, 2:15 back, to retain the maillot jaune.
“I knew there was a little climb and my plan was to attack there,” said Calzati, 27, who won just his second race in four years as a pro (the other win was the Tour de l’Avenir in 2004). I can’t explain why, it was just a feeling, but I knew if I could get to the top first, I would be able to get to the finish as I was feeling very fresh.”
There were no major shakeups in the overall standing as the peloton was still making sense of Saturday’s surprising time-trial results. Some riders, like Floyd Landis (Phonak) and the dominant T-Mobile team, with five riders in the first 11, enjoyed a relaxed time before the start.
T-Mobile’s Michael Rogers, who’s lying third overall, 1:08 down on his teammate Gontchar, said, “I think we are the strongest team at the moment [even though] we’re only seven guys…. From the start of this year, this team has set its sights on this race and prepared well. We’ve showed the whole team is strong.”
Others, such as Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) and George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) were still looking for explanations of their respective disappointments 24 hours earlier. Leipheimer lost more than six minutes to Gontchar and sank to 62nd overall at 6:17 back while Hincapie was hoping for more, now 17th at 2:30 back.
Asked what happened to him Saturday, Leipheimer told VeloNews, “It’s nothing serious … I don’t want to, like, put a title on it because to me it’s just, you know … I mean, like somebody asked me if I peaked too early … but even if I was riding badly I wouldn’t lose six minutes. I mean, there’s definitely a reason, and I just wanna get past it.”
As for Hincapie, his Discovery Channel team manager Johan Bruyneel said, “We still have to be positive. Yesterday the team wasn’t on its level, but now we can go on the attack. I am most surprised about T-Mobile; thank God [Jan] Ullrich is not here because it would be all lost if he were.”
Out on the road, T-Mobile showed a hint of what the tactics might be in the mountain stages to come when its Matthias Kessler worked his way into the day’s winning break. As a result, Landis’s Phonak team rode the middle section of the stage at the front of the bunch to keep the move on a short leash.
“We didn’t know what T-Mobile’s plan would be,” said Landis, who remains one minute behind Gontchar. “But we didn’t do that much work. It’s a hard stage to ride regardless, it’s probably harder in the back than the front. We have to be careful. We don’t want to give T-Mobile more options. We’re confident. I don’t think we’re trying to hide anything.”
Breakout in Brittany
Jens Voigt (CSC) finished dead last in Saturday’s time trial, an uncharacteristic spot for the marauding German. It was a planned tactic, designed to save strength for an attack in Sunday’s stage.
The hilly course, coupled with some brisk head winds and a tired peloton starting to show the wear and tear of a rugged first week set the perfect scenario for a breakaway to stick.
Unai Etxebarria (Euskaltel-Euskadi) was the first to try to blast away from the bunch at about 18km and Voigt was right on his wheel. Maybe Voigt’s ploy was too obvious, but he found good company in Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r), Pieter Weening (Rabobank), Wim Vansevenant (Davitamon-Lotto), Vicente Garcia-Acosta (Caisse d’Épargne-Illes Balears), Ralf Grabsch (Milram) and Cédric Coutouly (Agritubel).
T-Mobile didn’t seem happy with the make-up of the group and started to chase. The break never got more than 35 seconds as Bouygues Telecom, T-Mobile, Quick Step and Lampre shut it down after covering the first hour in 45km.
Team CSC then unleashed another rider, sending Zabriskie jetting out at 47km to join Kessler, Calzati, Mario Aerts (Davitamon-Lotto) and Kjell Carlström (Liquigas), with Patrick Halgand (Crédit Agricole) chasing out to join after a few kilometers.
The composition of the break suited race leaders T-Mobile and away they went, rumbling through the lush, undulating farm country of France’s most western region.
“It’s perfect for us,” said Hendrik Redant of Davitamon-Lotto. “It’s the perfect situation because we have someone in the break with Mario [Aerts]. We know that Kessler and Zabriskie are also there, so the Phonak boys will be quite nervous. It makes life good for us because there’s no pressure for us to chase but we should see the other sprint teams start to help in the chase soon.”
Zabriskie was the group’s best-place rider, starting the day 10th overall at 2:03 (Kessler had the same time, but was ranked 11th), and before long, he slipped into the virtual maillot jaune as the lead grew to 7:30 at 62km
Zabriskie also suffered a bee sting along the way as Phonak set tempo on the front of the peloton.
“We’re chasing because of Kessler’s presence in the escape,” explained Phonak’s John Lelangue to French TV. “We don’t really need to catch the leaders but we need to ensure that the move doesn’t get a big lead. We are taking our responsibility but we’ll do it pragmatically because I don’t want my riders to get too tired.”
The lead started to dwindle under pressure from the bunch until Calzati went on his solo flier. Halgand began a belated chase with Carlström but they never got close to the inspired Frenchman. With 17km to go, Zabriskie, Aerts and Kessler were swept up and Calzati bravely fought on to score the big win.
For Calzati – a former winner of the prestigious Tour de l’Avenir – the victory had special meaning.
“It’s fabulous, especially when you think I was the last rider to be picked for the Tour de France team,” he said. “Last year I crashed out injured, but today I told the team’s mechanics that I was going to be at the front.”
The 170 riders who’ve survived the opening week were scheduled to board planes this evening for a flight down to Bordeaux ahead of Monday’s first of two rest days. The rest of the Tour contingent would face the 500km drive on the road.
More important for most people in Europe was the World Cup soccer final on Sunday night, with France facing off against Italy. All of France was ready to celebrate, but stage-winner Calzati, who lives near Lyon, said he was going to cheer for Italy.
VeloNews editorial director, John Wilcockson, contributed to this report.
1. Sylvain Calzati (F), Ag2r
2. Kjell Carlström (FIN), Liquigas, at 2:05
3. Patrice Halgand (F), Crédit Agricole, same time
4. Robbie McEwen (Aus), Davitamon, s.t.
5. Daniele Bennati (I), Lampre, s.t.
6. Erik Zabel (G), Milram, s.t.
7. Bernhard Eisel (A), FdJ, s.t.
8. Luca Paolini (I), Liquigas, s.t.
9. Tom Boonen (B), Quick Step, s.t.
10. David Kopp (G), Gerolsteiner, s.t.
1. Sergei Gontchar (Ukr), T-Mobile
2. Floyd Landis (USA), Phonak, at 1:00
3. Michael Rogers (Aus), T-Mobile, at 1:08
4. Patrik Sinkewitz (G), T-Mobile, at 1:45
5. Marcus Fothen (G), Gerolsteiner, at 1:50
6. Andréas Klöden (G), T-Mobile, at 1:50
7. Vladimir Karpets (Rus), Caisse d’Epargne, at 1:52
8. Cadel Evans (Aus), Davitamon, s.t.
9. David Zabriskie (USA), CSC, at 1:53
10. Denis Menchov (Rus), Rabobank, at 2:00
To see how the stage developed, simply CLICKHERE to bring up our Live Update Window.
Click Here to watch the stage 8 video race highlights.