A very exciting finish to a rather lackluster stage today ended in triumph and annoyance for the English speaking riders in the peloton. The day was dominated by a long breakaway of three riders: Leon Van Bon of Domo-Farm Frites, Franck Renier of Bonjour, and Anthony Morin of Credit Agricole. All three riders were trying to bring a little glory to teams that have turned in sub-par performances so far in the Tour. The breakaways were eventually caught, and unfortunately, the day that started with hope turned sour for both Bonjour and Credit Agricole. A crash late in the stage left Bonjour's talented leader Didier Rous with a broken collarbone. The same crash also took down most of Credit Agricole, leaving their leader Christophe Moreau doubled over with pain for a couple of minutes before he remounted and continued the race. He eventually finished 4' 20" down on the day, another blow to the French GC hopeful's chances for a good finish in Paris. Also taken out in the crash was World Road Champion Oscar Freire of Mapei, who held his back while laying in the ditch by the side of the road before remounting and riding to the finish.
That was not the last major crash of the stage, either. With three kilometers left, a crash at the front of the field slowed down both Lance Armstrong and Laurent Jalabert. While Armstrong didn't hit the deck, he did get tangled with Roberto Heras and had to pause a few moments while he clipped back in got back up to speed. Both he and Jalabert were aided by teammates as they made a mad dash to try to catch up to the main field. Alas, the crash was at the perfectly wrong time, and both riders crossed the line 27" behind the peloton and Yellow Jersey holder Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano. While the whole debacle was annoying, it could have been much worse, and both Armstrong and Jalabert did well to limit their losses.
Meanwhile, at the front of the peloton, a steep uphill incline to the finish line once again frustrated the hopes of the sprinters. Mapei's leadout man Pedro Horillo jumped early and looked as though he might stay away to the line. However, that powerful and cagey young Aussie "Mad" Bradley McGee of FDJeux.com had other ideas. McGee launched himself in pursuit of Horillo, catching and passing him just a few meters from the line. Horillo threw his arms up in disappointment as he watched McGee's celebration over his first ever Tour stage victory. McGee came close to victory in a couple of long breakaways last year, but couldn't manage to pull it off in the end. Today's win will certainly go a long way to help McGee forget his frustration from last year, and marks the first of what will likely be many victories for McGee in his Tour career.
Ham-Gazers of the Day:
Was anyone ham-gazing today? Once again, there were so many dust-ups that it was hard to sort out who was having a bad day, who was sitting on, and who had just been caught up in or delayed by a crash. Many teams had riders on the front or up the road today, so it was really another no-ham-gazing day in the Tour. Even Euskaltel had a rider attack today, as David Etxebarria took an unsuccessful flyer up the climb to the finish (finally a climb for the boys in Orange!). Fred Rodriguez of Domo-Farm Frites and Stuart O'Grady of Credit Agricole finally found their legs again, as they finished 9th and 6th respectively on the stage. Not exactly a win, but this bodes well for these two in the days to come.
The lack of ham-gazing will definitely come to an end with Stage 9, the next time-trial. From that day forward, there will be a lot of riders just trying to survive while the main contenders slug it out all the way to Paris.
Golden Hams of the Day:
Grazed Hams of the Day:
- "Mad" Bradley McGee, FDJeux.com. A great win for a brilliant rider who will give us thrills for years to come. His win continues the strong performance of his team during the first 8 days of the Tour.
- Jaan "Bless You" Kirsipuu, AG2r Prevoyance. He finished in second today, continuing the great performance of his Stage 5 victory. In the race for the Green Jersey, "Rabid" Robbie McEwen of Lotto-Adecco finished in 4th place, just ahead of Erik Zabel of Team Telekom. Zabel still leads McEwen by 5 points.
- Oscar Freire, Mapei-Quick Step (183rd @ 6' 23"). He ended up in a ditch holding his back, and it looks like he aggravated the back injury that has severely hampered his career over the last couple of years. He climbed back on and made it to the finish in visible pain. Here's hoping the injury is minor and that he can come back strong tomorrow.
- Credit Agricole. The riders for this team have spent so much time on the pavement during the Tour that you'd think they were made of rubber. Jonathan Vaughters' legendary bad luck seems to have spread to his whole team. Moreau, Vaughters, and three others struggled to the line again today, 4' 20" behind the peloton. Here's hoping that their luck changes for the better, and that they can start to get the results their talent and toughness deserves.