Good afternoon and welcome to live coverage of Stage 8 of the Tour de France. We join the race in progress.Anita Van Crey descibes todays action .
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Seven riders in a breakaway attempt: Knaven, Dekker, Kroon, Hinault, Auger, Belohvoskish and Renier, with a lead of 4.30 minutes.
Today's stage on quatorze Juillet has drawn the attention of some French riders.
There now is a breakaway group on its way to Plouay, with the french riders Sebastian Hinault, Franck Renier and Stephane Auger present, as well as Dutch riders Erik Dekker and Karsten Kroon from the Rabobank team and Servais Knaven from Domo. Last but not least is Lithuanian champion Raivis Belohvosciks. The current gap is over 4.30 minutes.
Two riders did not start today; Oscar Freire is suffering from back problems due to his fall yesterday and Lotto-rider Aart Vierhouten spent some time in the hospital cause of dehydration. He is suffering some major stomach problems and reached yesterday's finish a massive 20,27 later than stagewinner Bradley McGee.
McGee had a great win for Australia, which was copied by his countryman Cadel Evans. The former mountain biker won the last stage of the Austrian Uniqa Classic.
Dekker seems to be recovered well from all the injury problems he has suffered so far. His teammate Karsten Kroon, a debutant in this year's Tour, has tried several times to escape the bunch, so far without any luck.
Kroon is a young rider, who has worn the KOM-jersey in as well the Giro and Vuelta. He keeps his homefront informed on his website www.karstenkroon.com, maintained by his nephew, which he on a daily basis sends sms-es with his straight-on thoughts about the stages.
Will tomorrow's time trial have any effect on the attempts and determination of the bunch to make sure these seven rider do not make it to the finish?
I am sure the sprinters teams will want to chase the break down - Sébastien Hinault was born on the 11 Feb 1974 in St Brieuc, France and has ridden for Gan/Credit Agricole since 1996. A Former yellow jersey wearer, he has surprisingly only had one major success - in the 2000: Tour du Finistère.
Dekker has a thing with the 8th stages in the Tour, he won the 8th in 2000 as well as in 2001.
The current gap is 5.55, the bunch is making some more pace to make sure Renier is only virtuel leader, not wearing the Maillot Jaune tomorrow for real. The riders still have about 65 k. to race.
When we know that it takes about 10 k. to close the gap with a minute, it is about time the bunch shows some action.
ONCE is keeping the pace on a agreeable level, joined by the riders of AG2R, working for their sprinter Jaan Kirsipuu (whose last name means cherry tree in Estonian).
The peloton is heading towards Plouay, a little town which hosted 2 years ago the World Championships, won by Romans Vainsteins.
There are still 182 riders left; seven riders went home the first week.
Dekker told his former teammate Erik Breukink, now working at Dutch television, that he is improving by the day, but still misses a lot of real race km. His one leg is still a bit smaller, skinnier than the other.
Former Tour de Suisse winner Christophe Agnolutto shows up in the front of the bunch.
Vierhouten is hospitalised in a hospital in Rennes, has a viral infection and has to stay there for another day.
Also in the break is Raivis Belohvosciks (Lampre Daikin), nicknamed Belo by his team mates - and is the current Latvian Road race champion. Born in Riga in 1976 he has ridden for Cedico and Lampre and has won 7 races as a pro. He has also won his National time trial which makes him a double champion for his country.
Kroon is a good sprinter, took part in one mass sprint so far and ended 15th in this year's Le Tour.
Servais Knaven is one good rider too, specialises in timetrails and knows his way around escapes and attacks.
The seven reach the third bonus sprint, 6 bonus seconds to win. At the finish line there are 20 more to collect.
The seven work wonderfully together, Sebastian Hinault wins the bonus sprint.
The bunch seems to be more and more determined not to let any breakaway go away too far and decreased the gap to under 5 minutes.
After his win yesterday Bradley McGee today seems to be in good spirits again.
Two times he competed at the Olympics, at the track and his jersey shows the rainbow colours, referring to his world title on the track.
Two weeks before he had to compete at the Olympics in his hometown of Sydney he broke his collarbone, but managed (all taped and casted in) to win the bronze medal at the pursuit.
McGee is not the only one in this year's Tour Peloton who has won a medal at the Olympics, so did Eric Dekker.
He won a silver medal in Barcelona in 1992, behind the Fabio Casartelli, who died after a terrible fall in the Tour de France some years ago, when he hit ground in the descent of the Portet D'Aspet.
Also in the break is Stephane Augé who was born in Pau - which this year's Tour will visit on Wednesday - just before the Pyrenees. He was born in 1976 and rode for Festina and Delatour. He won stage 6 of the Deutschland Tour into Oberstdorf this year, and is generally not having a bad season.
Nice to read Igor Galdeano was not happy about gaining time on his rivals because of a crash.
"To gain time always it is important, but I am not happy how one has taken place. I like to win on the highway and not because my rivals have fallen. I hope, in addition, that Armstrong is not injured. The bad luck can happen to anyone - yesterday it was Armstrong, but today it could be me."
Ekimov is collecting some drinks for Armstrong and the other US-Postal riders at the team car.
Ekimov, of course, is another Olympian.
He stopped racing, began again and now is determined to go on to defend his Olympic title.
In his first years as a pro, he once went training in Belgium, got lost on his way, did not speak any other language than Russian, and drove around and around for hours and hours before finally finding his way back.
He learned fast in the years to come, and soon picked up the phone to warn his teammate at the time, Dutch Eddy Bouwmans at the Panasonic team, that 'women are all bad.'
Looks like a lot of the locals are lining the roads to see their countrymen race fast by.
Renier seems to have more than one pair of good legs this first Tour week. He also joined Jacky Durand in an earlier attack and now is wearing the red backnumbers of the classification of the most combative rider.
Servais Knaven enjoyed his most precious win last season when he defeated all in the spring classic with the most cobblestones: Paris-Roubaix. He was not able to defend his title properly, because he had had, in the week before the race in the northern part of France, a close encounter with some schoolgirls and boys, which caused Knaven some painful ribs.
One of the riders who is most likely to play Tyler Hamilton's part in 'who's going down most..." - Moreau is still in the race and shows his face up front. He has one good reason to stay IN the Tour, his lady is one of the podium girls presenting the yellow jersey...
Two climbs of 4th category are situated in the final, the last one is at about 4 k. off the finish line.
The final climb of the day the Cote de Ty Marrec; could well be the key to the stage - many riders will fancy their chances of launching a final attack from here - of course first the peloton has to catch the escapees.
Brochard, Jalabert and McGee will fancy their chances.
Bingen Fernandez of the Cofidis team joined his team car, collecting drinks and a helmet for a teammate. The current gap is 3.51.
Tyler Hamilton has warned that he is not the only threat to Armstrong and mentioned his team mate Carlos Sastre. "Carlos is riding really well and could be our major threat," he added. "And we've got Laurent Jalabert to win some sprints for us. "The message is to watch out for the CSC boys," he said on the BBC recently.
Lotto lost some riders, but not as many as they did some years ago. At the end there were only Farazijn and Tchmill still present...Tchmill only able to talk in French and Russian, two languages Farazijn did not speak at all. Must have been quite a funny sight, two riders pointing at things during breakfast, not being able to communicate to the other.
So far the Magentas with the big T on their jersey have not shown any sign of helping to close down the gap. The last gap reported was 3.50.
The riders are scheduled to finish at about 16.45 h. Current gap has developed to 3.54.
The escapees are climbing the climb at 32 k. to race.
The French hope they have more luck on their national holiday than the Belgians did on theirs this years. Belgium celebrates the remembrance of the Guldensporenslag at 11st July...a date at which this year Tom Steels left the Tour and Ludo Diercksens was not able to finish his attempt to win.
Dekker and Knaven do know each other very well, they live in the same village in Belgium and train a lot together.
Christophe Oriol has difficulties following the pace of the bunch and have to let them go.
His teammates of AG2R are setting the pace up front in the bunch, making it a tough day for fellow teamrider Oriol.
Ludovic Auger, one of the tallest riders, rides hard. He is the brother of the Auger in the lead, if I´m not mistaken.
Knaven has a special relationship with the Tour. When his wife was pregnant some years ago, she was scheduled to deliver in the last week of the Tour. Servais Knaven kept on checking every message, every phone call, kept everyone informed...This went on and on, went on in the week after the Tour too, with Knaven racing some crits in the Netherlands...when he finally one week after the finish in Paris could announce happily the birth of his daughter Britt.
The Ag2R riders conclude they are not able to close the gap all alone and wait for assistance of some other teams and riders.
The riders of the bunch just passed the 25k. to go mark.
Over the Cote de Kervalan - Raivis Belohvosciks (Lampre), Franck Renier (Bonjour) and Karsten Kroon (Rabobank) are the first to cross - they might have enough lead to hold off the peloton.
Correction on the name of the Ag2R rider setting the pace, it is not Auger but Flickinger, Andy Flickinger.
One of the riders in the breakaway group attacks. Dekker tries to get away, Auger won't let him, Knaven holds his horses.
The current gap is 3.25, the ONCE riders lead the bunch, making sure the gap is not getting too big. The way the bunch acts increases the chances of the breakaway group.
Chances are little the seven will stay together as they all have different points of view regarding their outcome of this stage.
Unless of course, Anita, the 7 escapees start attacking each other too much and start to lose time - they must still work together - Dekker would be favourite but he is course is coming back from injury.
Team director Adri van Houwelingen shows up front to inform his riders. Right after he has heard what his team director said, Dekker places an attack.
Less than a week ago this same Dekker did not believe in his chances to even finish the stage. Teammate Marc Wauters awaited him and talked him through his bad moments, making sure the 4 time stage winner from Hoogeveen, the Netherlands, did go on until the finish line.
Erik Dekker does not give in, attack after attack. Belohvosciks is riding to get him, with in his wheel Dekkers teammate Karsten Kroon, also from the northern part of Holland. The seven in the lead reach Plouay.
Maybe Dekker is trying to soften up the opposition for Kroon - the Rabobank duo should have the tactical advantage.
When Kroon has his chances in a sprint, he most certainly is not slow. Dekker is recovering in last position of the escapee group.
In the front, the seven riders all look at each other; they do not trust the other when it comes to riding together towards the finish line.
Kroon takes a look over his shoulder, checking out the competition.
The gap stays over 3 minutes; we now can state the breakaway group stays ahead.
3.20'' the gap - but this is a tricky closing circuit...
Kroon knows his opponents and is hoping for a sprint. Belohvosciks will not let it come down to that and attacks. Dekker has to let the group go, can he come back to the lead.
Or is he missing too many k. in races to complete an over 200 kilometres long stage?
Dekker still sees the leading group ride, he knows he can be of some use for his teammate Kroon in the last k.'s and is fighting to come back. The Latvian champion is attacking, Knaven reacts, together with Kroon.
Belohvosciks knows he must attack early the gap down to 3'.
Dekker rides at 0,08" of the six ahead of him. US Postal now is setting the pace in the bunch, closing the gap to 2.52.
The french riders in the lead calculate their chances on winning a stage on their national holiday, le quatorze juillet.
Of course the French would dearly love to win on their National day: Franck Renier (Bonjour), Stephane Auge (Jean Delatour) and Sebastien Hinault (CA), all in the escapees.
Triple Dekker - 3 times stage winner of the Tour - is now 10 seconds down .
It's clear what Belohvosciks wants; he wants to escape alone and win.
And once again the Lampre rider attacks. Kroon closes the gap.
It looks a lot like cat and mouse, who will take home the victory flowers at the end. The six slow down, Dekker is at 13", on the bottom of the climb he joins the six.
But Dekker loses contact once again. Kroon is showing his strength at the same climb where at the world championships Tchmill just could not make it all the way to the finish. Dekker is back again, can he help Kroon in the sprint downhill?
Hinault seems to be in trouble - the pace is beginning to tell.
Seven riders in the lead, with Dekker attacking once again. He sure has found his third or fourth breath in this stage.
2.52 the gap to the Peloton...
Dekker is riding calculated, setting a high pace for his teammate...or maybe even setting the pace too for Knaven. With 3,5 k. to go Belohvosciks attacks once again, Dekker is struggling to hold on to the six.
Knaven leaves, at the moment Belohvosciks was looking the other way.
Dekker sneaks away on the left side of the road, followed by Sebastian Hinault. The seven are making this finale a very very exciting one.
The seven all together again, with a bit over 2 k. to ride. Knaven tries, Renier counters. One k. to go.
Who will it be, tension is raising higher levels in Plouay. Dekker in second position making pace for Kroon.
Kroon on the right, wins the 8th stage!
This sure is one great victory for the young Dutchman with a mediate of over 47 an hour. I now go and celebrate!! Holland's Anita turns over to Podofdonny...
So a great win for Karsten Kroon -a professional since 1999 with the Rabobank team.
...and a great win for the Rabobank - who have finally changed their luck. The peloton now comes in; McEwen has taken the peloton sprint - has he taken the green jersey?
A Dutch one-two-three: Kroon beats Knaven and a remarkable Dekker on the French national holiday!
Dekker without doubt man of the day - such courage and determination to help his 26 year old team mate.
No, Zabel will keep the green jersey - just.
"I was able to stay as fresh as possible. I felt so good, all day. I know the circuit of the worlds, I knew it was downhill. I knew I did not have to start sprinting too late. I'm happy."
"That Belovois...Belohfo that guy sure made the best impression. I did fear the bunch get back, but they did not. Sure did Kroon succeed in a thing I had to wait for so many years, but he deserved the win."
1 Karsten Kroon (Ned) Rabobank 4.36.50
2 Servais Knaven (Ned) Domo-Farm Frites
3 Erik Dekker (Ned) Rabobank
4 Franck Rénier (Fra) Bonjour
5 Sébastien Hinault (Fra) Credit Agricole
6 Stephane Augé (Fra) Jean Delatour
7 Raivis Belohvosciks (Lat) Lampre
8 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Lotto 1.55
9 Erik Zabel (Ger) Telekom
So Holland 1, 2, 3 - celebrations in Cloggy land tonight, eh Anita?
Dekker stated there will be celebrations too in the Rabobank hotel in France this evening!
In the overall standings Igor Gonzales de Galdeano keeps his Maillot Jaune!
No change on the GC which means that Armstrong will have 7 ONCE men in behind him in tomorrow's time trial.
Overall Standings after Stage 8:
1 Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (Spa-One)
2 Joseba Beloki Dorronsoro (Spa-One)
3 Jörg Jaksche (Spa-One)
4 Abraham Olano Manzano (Spa-One)
5 Isidro Nozal Vega (Spa-One)
6 José Azevedo (Por-One)
7 Marcos Serrano Rodriguez (Spa-One)
8 Lance Armstrong (Usa-Usp)
9 Tyler Hamilton (Usa-Cst)
10 Andrea Peron (Ita-Cst)
This concludes the Stage 8 live reporting. Analysis and further news to follow in the main headline area. Thank you for joining us.