Good morning and welcome to our live coverage of the Tour de France Stage 8.
Stage 8: Pforzheim-Gérardmer, 231.5 km
The action has started very early today, on what is a bright and sunny day in Germany. On the first climb of Cote de Dobel Rasmussen (Rabobank) attacked and when Jens Voigt sprung out of the peloton, Hincapie was sent to police him. They were joined by young gun Kashechkin (C.A) and Sandy Casar.
Rasmussen, who has his eyes on the Polka Dot jersey, has set off on a solo adventure but after the climb of the Cote de Bad-Herrenalb the escapees rejoined together to make an escape of 5 men.
With no T-Mobile riders in the escape, it was the T-Mobile who led the chasing peloton, while already the sprinters began to suffer on the third of the climbs.
190 km to go – the 5 escapees have around 2 minutes, huge crowds cheer the escapees on. A very exciting day so far, Hincapie’s presence in the escape means that Discovery and Lance Armstrong will not have to work and it is a wedge of magenta at the front who are trying to reduce the gap, which is still around 1’40’’.
The four men still together on the last of the small climbs at the start of this race - Rasmussen takes yet more points for his KOM jersey - and we see more suffering at the back of the peloton, Isaac Galvez who crashed yesterday abandons as has Sylvain Calzati.
180 km to go - the five "fuyards" still have around 1'40'' on the T-Mobile-led peloton, and all the riders start the descent down into the valley after the Cote de Zimmerplatz. T-Mobile, are forcing a hard pace, they do not want Jens Voigt to have too much limelight.
Interesting that the tactics of CSC and Discovery have turned the tables on T-Mobile who must now do the work at the front of the peloton.
175 km to go - through the packed town of Buhl the lead is down to 1' 09'', so the T-Mobile work is having its effect. Behind the peloton Erik Dekker is working hard to get back on after a puncture.
It will now be a long hard chase across the flat valley floor, and Dekker finally makes it back to the peloton.
Through the sprint at Sasbach, Rasmussen drops out of the escapees and will rejoin the peloton. He has got his KoM points and will let Hincapie, Voigt, Casar and Andrey Kashechkin who is from Kzyl Ordinskaia continue.
Sandy Casar continues and the other three riders sit up too - so with the exception of Casar the escape is over.
So early excitment, the group Maillot vert is 3'40'' down already and attacks at the front of the peloton again.
Bad news for the riders is that it is raining at the finish - so they are heading towards a wet finish.
Fabian Cancellara (Fassa bortolo) launches an attack of the front of the peloton and tries to join Sandy Casar, who has about 25'' on the peloton.
Cancellara is joined by Sorensen (CSC) and they bridge to Casar at the front of the peloton.
150 km to go - Three leaders, Casar, Sorensen and Cancellara are working well together, Discovery have restored order to the peloton, the group Maillot Vert is still around 4 minutes back. As Thor Hushvod attacks and tries to bridge the gap.
145 km to go - The mighty hammer of Thor has worked very hard and he will join the 3 leaders, he will be thinking of the Green jersey and the intermediate sprints to come. The four leaders have 33'' on the peloton.
138 km to go - The 4 leaders have 25 seconds on the peloton which is now lead by Discovery, with T Mobile behind them. 4'14'' minutes back Tom Boonen, Backstedt and many other riders are working hard to try and reduce the gap.
132 km to go - the gap up to 1'46'', the peloton has slowed slightly, as riders take natural breaks and generally reorganise themselves. The gap will rise - indeed it does, it is up to 2'22'' at 130 kilometres.
125 km to go - huge crowds fill the towns and fields to watch the riders go by. The roads long, flat and straight, as Lotto Davitamon take up the chase at the front of the peloton. Robbie McEwen is still in the main peloton and they will also be thinking of Cadel Evans for a stage win. The gap still around 2'24''. The peloton goes through the feed zone and the pace drops slghtly in the peloton. The 4 leaders are working well together, Sorensen, Cancellara, Casar and Hushvod all have good motors and they will take some catching.
120 km to go - The peloton strings out, the riders now fed and refreshed. Still Lotto with 2 riders at the front the gap down to 1'46''. Still the sun shines on the peloton, the riders will be hoping to avoid the very heavy showers today. The peloton passes not a vineyard but a BMW field, thousands of cars lined up for distribution. Ullrich and Vinokourov riding close together looking very relaxed after the hectic start. With Boonen way down the field today, McEwen may start to rethink about contesting for the Green Points Jersey.
113 km to go - The gap is dropping and the peloton is now strung out, Lampre also helping at the front. They may well fancy Salvatore Commesso for the stage win. But Davitamon Lotto still the driving force at the front the battle for the green jersey is having an effect on how the days racing is progressing.
With Boonen obviously suffering from his injuries Hushvod is driving the break along, the break has just 30 seconds advantage with 4 kilometres to the intermediate sprint, the points competition this morning was-
Points Classification after Stage 7
1 Boonen Tom Qst Bel 133
2 Hushovd Thor C.a Nor 122
3 Mc Ewen Robbie Dvl Aus 96
4 O’Grady Stuart Cof Aus 91
5 Förster Robert Gst Ger 75
106 km to go - Hushvod takes the sprint gets 6 vital points, his three fellow escapees did not contest the sprint. But the peloton will surely catch them now. Hushvod moves to 128 points, just 5 behind Boonen.
100 km to go - Casar, Hushvod and Cancellara are caught but Sorensen continues with the escape alone and has a gap of 38'' on the peloton. Gianluca Bortolami (Lampre) attacks and tries to bridge to Nicki Sorensen, but his effort seems doomed.
98 km to go - Discovery close down an dig from T Mobile rider as another Lampre rider tries to bridge, it is Evgeni Petrov, but the Discovery team close it all down. They want order in this peloton now. Sorensen has 33 seconds advantage. As Cedric Vasseur (Cofidis) tries his luck at escaping the peloton...
90 km to go - 6 riders are now trying to bridge the gap to Sorensen, in the break are Vasseur (Cofidis), Flecha (Fassa), Salvatore Commesso (LAM) Pieter Weening (RAB) Jalabert (Phonak) and Gerolsteiner riders now lead the field and have about 25 seconds on the peloton. Meanwhile Turpin (AG2R) is trying to bridge to the break.
84 km to go - the gap is up to 2'30'' Ronnie Scholz is the Gerolsteiner rider in the break. Peter Weening is a contender (outside) for the white young rider jersey. So 6 riders will be the first to cross the rhine as the Tour returns to home soil. Ronny Scholz's father in law is his Directeur Sportif, and he is known for his gutsy riding.
78 km to go - 3'28'' the advantage of the break, the Tom Boonen group now over 7 minutes back - it seems that this will be the break that stays away until the final climb. The peloton stops for a natural break so the gap may grow. Discovery now lead the peloton, the pace has relaxed, for now...
So a dangerous group in the lead, stage hunting. Flecha, the arrow of Spain, will be hoping to repeat his success, but back in the peloton a relaxed Lance Armstrong chats to the camera man as Discovery lead the peloton.
1508 CEST - 70 km to go - 5'59'' the gap. Armstrong tells the cameraman he's glad the rain has gone away.
No real contest for the intermediate sprint, from now on the road gradually starts to go upwards, and the 7 fuyards continue to make hay while the sun shines.
Commesso, Flecha and Vasseur were the first three men in the last intermediate spring of the day.
As Liquigas Bianchi pick up the pace with 64 km to go, the gap over 6 minutes, they put three men at the front. Backstedt drives it along.
62 km left, and the Liquigas boys have already made some inroads into the deficit; the gap is now 5'40". Backstedt has recovered well, he was off the back this morning in the hills - now he is driving the peloton along.
In the break, Sorensen and Flecha veer right and go the long way round a tricky roundabout, losing a few metres to their companions.
The sun still shining, the peloton passes a huge Maize maze - the gap drops to 5'15'' as the 7 escapees hit the first of the foothills. At the back of the peloton - which is starting to step up the chase, it seems - are Bernhard Eisel (Francaise des Jeux) and Mathieu Sprick (Bouygues Telecom), hanging on for grim death.
55 km to go - Illes Balears help out a little at the front; they will be working for Valverde who is suited for this stage.
Magnus Backstedt is third wheel, not exactly inconspicuous behind two tiny Spaniards. The gap is now 4'44".
The wooded hills, dotted with ancient castles and probably even older vineyards; huge crowds line the road side to cheer the modern day giants of the road on.
That's what I call paysage - carefully-honed fields of green, as far as the eye can see (from the helicopter, anyway).
49km to go - The break leads by 4'38". So with the time gap dropping it would seem likely that the break will be caught just before the climb. Still Illes Balears and Liquigas Bianchi driving the peloton on; the Celeste team will be working for Garzelli, the Spanish team for Karpets and Valverde. The pack, looking slightly more purposeful, shoots past more vineyards.
I don't know podofdonny, Pellizotti may have a better shot for Liquigas; the same for Mancebo with Illes Balears.
I would say the climb is too short for Pellizotti, but both teams have plenty of options for the last 20 km, for sure - Garzelli, Cioni and Pellizotti, and Karpets, Valverde and Mancebo for the Illes Balears.
Some people have been hoping for an attack from Alexandre Vinokourov - after what happened in the rain in Nancy, he is now assuming the mantle as Armstrong's most potent threat, considering his combative nature.
1543 CEST - 4'22" for the escapees, with 43 km still to race.
So all going very nicely for Discovery; other teams are doing the chasing for them, as we see Bouygues Telecom also send men to the front of the peloton - the 7 escapees heading ever upwards through the vineyards.
Sorensen has been out at the front for a long time now, considering he was very nearly caught he must have done the ride of the day.
1552 CEST - 38km to go - The break's advantage is just dipping below the 4 minute mark now.
The riders will soon go through Munster, then the 17 kilometre climb of the Col de la Schlucht, which marks the mountains start for the Tour 2005.
34 km to go, the gap 3'33'' - the 7 escapees may well attack each other at the base of the climb. The Schlucht shouldn't be too much of a schlepp for any contenders who aspire to the top placings, but it could still uncover some riders' lack of form in what is the Tour's first climb above the Cat 3 level.
By the way, while he looks to be labouring, Nicki Sorensen is best-placed in this breakaway, lying 20th, 2'01" behind the yellow jersey.
1601 CEST - 32 km to go, the gap three minutes. The 7 escapees are through Munster, where huge crowds, as normal, cheered them on.
Of the men in the break, Weening, Flecha and Vasseur are arguably the better climbers.
30km to go, 2'56'' the break, which consists of Vasseur, Commesso, Flecha, Jalabert, Scholz, Weening and Sorensen, of whom, Flecha, Vasseur and Commesso have won stages before on what Jean Marie Leblanc described as his favourite ever stage (he is from the same area as Vasseur, Gard de Nord). Vasseur once took the yellow jersey. Sorenson is starting to look the worse for wear, though he's done a great job for CSC.
Yes, Vasseur - whose father Alain was also a pro cyclist - was involved in a gutsy day-long lone break in 1997 to take the maillot jaune.
29 km to go now, Peter Weening attacks - the young gun makes the first move and surprises his fellow escapees - the Rabobank rider gets a good gap. This is an audacious move by young Weening, who only "graduated" from the Rabobank development squad last year.
The peloton is splitting on the climb with 27 km to go. Boonen dropped, McEwen dropped, Wegmann dropped.
Matthew White dropped. McEwen is sitting up, just riding in with the large group of sprinters at his own pace as Weening powers on. Flecha, Sorensen and Commesso are chasing. The other escapees will be caught now.
Amazing ride by Sorensen to keep with Commesso and Flecha as they chase down Weening.
Weening is going for it, 21" in front of his three chasers. He's opened up quite a gap. It would be a great win for the young Rabobank rider, one of the Netherlands's brightest climbing talents. Meanwhile, back in the peloton, still Illes Balears force the pace, they are causing a lot of damage.
1618 CEST - 23 k to go - Weening still leads, Flecha, Commesso and Sorensen chase by 21 seconds, the peloton about 1'30'' back. Leipheimer had a mechanical... he's just chased back on to the back of the peloton - exactly where he doesn't want to be.
Weening is putting in a huge effort, it's a great effort by the youngster - he has increased the gap to 40 seconds to the three chasers. The pack is still 1'50" down on the Dutchman.
Armstrong has five Discovery men right in front of him. Two Illes Balears riders lead the peloton, with the Disco boys just behind. They now pull in Cedric Vasseur.
Weening takes a lusty swig from his water bottle and continues to churn uphill, mouth agape and eyes wide open to take in as much air as possible. 20 km to go - the orange flags will be waving if Weening can pull off a big surprise - 52 seconds now his gap to the three chasers, and 1'40 to the peloton. Jalabert and Scholz fall back into the clutches of the bunch.
1624 CEST - Weening has 5 km to the top of the climb. Oh la la - Vino attacks! Armstrong responds - Vino has a little dig, but the Discos are right there. Savoldelli pulls him back. Savoldelli is leading Lance out, right on Vino's wheel. Moreau goes, Vino responds. Ullrich on Armstrong's wheel. Four men now behind Moreau with a bit of a gap.
More riders bridge the gap. Valverde attacks, Vino responds, so does Armstrong. There was a bit of hesitation there, though. Kloden attacks!
This is "only" a Cat 2 climb, folks! T-Mobile riders are everywhere, and Armstrong is isolated without teammates. Ullrich attacks. Horner was right on Armstrong's wheel!
Dig it Chris! Go boy! Kloden has a gap. Meanwhile Weening still pushes on at the front.
Andreas Kloden has 15 seconds lead on the other favourites, and is now just 25 seconds down on Weening! I didn't see Basso there, but I did see Julich.
Kloden powers on, the peloton behind regroup slightly, Valverde leading them. Valverde, Ullrich, Armstrong maybe 12 riders back. At the back of this thirty-strong group, Sinkewitz, Flecha and Gomez Marchante are notable. Weening, his legs are too tired, he is fighting on. His tongue is out. He is clinging on to a 13 second lead over Kloden; the yellow jersey group is just 30 seconds behind him now.
Kloden passes him at the top of the climb. He takes the KOM points, but it should still be Rasmussen who has the polka dots at the end of the day. The two start the descent. 15 km or so to the finish now, all downhill.
McGee and Landis now lead the peloton, with Vinokourov third wheel. Julich and Evans now have a go.
It's over for Kloden and Weening, as the peloton is now within touch - they will be caught. The fact that there are no Discovery riders here must be very disconcerting for Lance. Maybe his boys have spent too much defending the Yellow Jersey...
Landis leads the chase for the peloton. Rasmussen was third at the summit, by the way.
Kloden and Weening hold their gap...as the leaders look at each other. When the corners give way to straighter roads, the front of the peloton is visible.
1639 CEST - 11km to go - Former mountain biker Landis is leading the bunch, lighting it up on the charge down to Gerardmer.
The two leaders are just 10" in front now - still a small advantage as they surge down through the woods. The German has a quick word in the ear of his less experienced companion, presumably telling him to do more work. Now CSC lead the chase.
Botero and Landis both in the front group, but the peloton is regrouping on the descent. Armstrong is about twelth man, flanked by Botero and Valverde. Rasmussen will be in Polka Dots tonight. 6 km to go - 2 leaders, about 35 chasers. Valverde, of course, is a very good sprinter. If this comes back together... 6 seconds for the duo in front.
5 km to go. Yes, Illes Balears are on the front trying to bring things together for a sprint. And you would back Valverde to do well if that happened.
8'' the gap for the two leaders. Lots of regrouping in the peloton on this descent, but Lance is still without any Discovery companions. 4.3km to go.
On the front of the pack, the riders look around now, as if to say "You chase, I just did my share." This is promising for the two leaders, to say the least. Kloden and Weening working hard to keep clear - the gap is up to 28 seconds. 2 km to go.
Ah, now a couple of Discovery riders find their way back. They find Lance immediately.
Kloden and Weening power on, 22 seconds the gap. A Phonak man accelerates on the front of the peloton. Flamme Rouge - one km to go.
Kloden or Weening? 28 seconds now! Suddenly the gap has escalated! Weening is clever, he waits on Kloden's wheel.
He looks very calm. Weening...Kloden... cross the line together. Valverde 3rd, Horner looks like he was in there around 6th or 7th. So close! Voigt may have been fourth, with a Fassa Bortolo duelling with "Jensie". Weening takes the stage! Weening won in a photo-finish with Kloden.
Popovych, the white jersey, rolls in about thirty seconds behind. Wow, so many groups coming in... that last climb blew the peloton to the sky. Another group rolls in 2'57" down - Garate, in Spanish national jersey, is in there, as is Chavanel.
20. Armstrong (all at 27 seconds)
My, oh my! Looking at the finish line replay, to the naked eye, it looks like a dead heat. Great result from Horner in his first Tour mountain stage. But Weening is the man of the day. Weening's last race win was a stage and the overall of the 2003 Jadranska Magistrala (2.5) in Croatia!
Rabobank had a great day - Boogerd, with his Colgate blindingly shiny teeth, and Rasmussen both finished in the yellow jersey group, I think.
There will be some serious discussion in the Discovery camp tonight. Defending the Yellow seems to have sapped the legs of Lance's mates... none made it into that select group until the very end of the descent. Popovych was in there, I saw some Liberty guys in Lance's group and also Jaksche. Beloki was apparently just off the back. Gomez Marchante was in the group too when I checked with 15km to go, though he's just as inexperienced (at the tour) if not less than Horner.
Karpets is the new white jersey - though he spent most of last year's Tour in it.
Nobody knew where Andreas Kloden was at before this race, after months of problems. Still, one can assume that he is in good condition, and could well join Vinokourov and Ullrich to form a menacing three-pronged attack for T-Mobile.
Kloden says Armstrong wasn't in trouble on that last climb, but T-Mobile had 3 guys there... after Vino attacked and was brought back, he got his chance. He says that T-Mobile had planned to attack today on that last climb if they had good legs.
Weening does a little jump and pumps his fists on the podium. He's very stoked.
Julich, Botero, Landis, Mayo, Heras, and Mancebo all came in with the Yellow Jersey group. So did Menchov, McGee, Basso, and... can you believe it?... Joseba freakin' Beloki!! We saw Leipheimer off the back, with a mechanical, early on in the climb. What a cruel time to have bike problems...but he came in 17th.
Man. A pretty final selection on a Cat 2 climb... attacks raining down on the reigning champion Armstrong - we're not even in the "real" mountains yet! If every stage is like this one...
Yep, everybody seems to be making the most of this last shot to go after Lance. Awesome!
Meanwhile, Lance pulls on Yellow Jersey #71, and he's got a wry grin on his face.
Lance said he knew Vino was going to attack. He says that when 30 guys are there, you're going to get attacked. He says Discovery as a team had a bad day, and that the team will have some talking to do tonight as he was left alone on that final climb. He says he didn't feel that good today either.
Looking at the results, no Discovery rider ever did make it back up to that front group with Lance... he finished isolated. Sounds like there will be some ear chewing at the dinner table tonight.
And I'd imagine Kloden will be pissed off too, considering he did all the work downhill.
Man, 45km/h for 230 km - this is going to be the fastest Tour on record, I've already decided that.
Yes, there are some big climbs, but nothing that bad, like last year.
Mayo was in the yellow jersey group too. And Boonen did finish today, no problem, despite nursing his sore back. He was in the group with all the sprinters. Basically, of any contenders, only Totschnig lost time. And dude, Beloki! Can you believe that guy was up there? Next thing you know, Alex Zulle will come out of retirement for a shot at Lance. Dig up all his old rivals, what the heck.
Well, this becoming one of the most exciting Tours in recent years is looking very promising. You will definitely want to join us tomorrow. The attacks will just keep on coming... so you will want to be here for all of them. (Maybe we'll start attacking each other, just to get into the spirit.)
Anyway, thanks so much for joining us today, and we will see you tomorrow!
(When we say photo-finish, we mean photo finish...)
Courtesy Le Tour.
Commentary today by podofdonny, Locutus and Andy McDobbin.