Luis Leon Sanchez of Caisse Epargne won the eighth stage of the Tour, inching out other breakaway riders in the final descent to Saint Girons. It was the second stage victory in the Tour for the Spaniard in two years.
Nocentini retained the Yellow Jersey, and Contador and Armstrong retained their overall standings in second and third place.
The second stage to be held in the Pyrenee mountains, this 176.5 km/ 109. 5 mile course was suited for a strong climber and a fearless descender, but breakaway tactics that started early on added the element of unpredicatability.
It also was another day when the wily ways of individuals who want to win a stage can make their mark by shedding the power of the big teams and big names through the wild cards of mountain climbs.
Still a very complex day of several breakaways that formed and reformed with new riders each time, at least two chase groups that also mutated several times, all followed by a peleton that itself was never complete either.
Those multiple formations on the climbs made it difficult for some riders to get water as their team cars were riding behind the peleton, and in the case of one chase group containing Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador, one rider had to drop back and come back up with liquids to keep them going on this tough climbing day.
It was a day that Sanchez's fellow team leader Oscar Pereiro abandoned the race at the 90 km mark allowing Sanchez to put himself in an escape group that held off the peloton all the way to St-Giron.
The Tour's eighth stage started with a steep category one climb from Andorre la Vielle 23 km to the summit of Port d'Envalira. That climb was followed by a category-two ascent at col de Port, and the final category-one climb at col d’Agnes, a pivotal section because it led to a big downhill to the finish at Saint Girons.
An early breakaway was established before the top of Port d'Envalira, with rider Egoi Martinez who was joined by Sergio Paulinho (AST) and Rigoberto Uran (Caisse D'Epargne) at 7km, then Charles Wegelius (SIL) at the 11km mark. Sandy Casar (FDJ) caught the leader at the 15km mark and raced into the lead.
Behind him another group of five formed: Cadel Evans (SIL), Egoi Martinez (EUS), Dave Zabriskie (GRM), Valdimir Efimkin (ALM) and Christophe Kern (COF).
Fabian Cancellara of Saxobank, Thor Hushovd (Cervelo), George Hincapie (Columbia HTC) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) caught the Evans group of five at 38km.
At 41km, the Evans group of nine was 45 seconds behind Casar. Behind the second group by one minute 35 seconds was the peleton being led by Astana.
Casar was caught by the nine chasers at the 50km mark. At that point the peloton was 48 seconds behind.
Cadel Evans, Christophe Kern, Dave Zabriskie and Egoi Martinez were later dropped at 63 km, and a new four person breakaway formed, including Mikel Astarloza (EUS), Vladimir Efimkin (ALM), Luis Sanchez (GCE) , and Sandy Casar (FDJ).
At the first intermediate sprint, Hushovd took first place and raced into the lead of the points classification. His group of six led by 30 seconds.
At the Col d'Agnes, the toughest climb of the day, a chase group following the break included the top riders of the tour, including Carlos Sastre of Cervelo, Cadel Evans and Jurgen Van den Broeck of Silence Lotto, Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloden of Astana, Andy and Frank Schleck of Saxo Bank, Christian Vande Velde and Brad Wiggins of Garmin Slipstream, Kim Kirchen and Tony Martin of Columbia HTC, Vincenzo Nibali and Roman Kreuziger of Liquigas, and Vladimir Karpets of Katusha were 1 minute and 20 seconds behind the leaders.
In the lead group with 4.5 km to go, Astarloza was the first to attack but was reeled in by the other three; then Efimkin who had done only about 6 percent of the work during the break, surged ahead with 4 km to go. Efimkin is a teammate of the Yellow Jersey holder, Nocentini: but Efimkin was caught in the final 1,200 meters. Sanchez followed Casar to the 100 meter to go mark when he pounced into the lead.
The peleton was more than 2 minutes and 40 seconds behind the lead group, and Haimar Zubeldia (AST) led the peloton over the top with Astana behind him.
Nocentini finished 28th in the stage, in the peloton that was 1’54” behind Sanchez. He retains the yellow jersey.
The controversy of the Contador-Armstrong rivalry made symbolized by Contador's ride away in Stage 7 has been spun by the press into a bigger story than it is, and continues to spin around the future of this Tour: who is the leader of Team Astana? Who is slated to win? As if one team could decide between two riders. If it were that simple, no one would bother coming to the Tour, neither the riders nor the fans.
Today was proof of that. Sanchez moved up into 11th position overall, though the top three positions remained the same.
1. NOCENTINI Rinaldo 87 AG2R-LA MONDIALE 30h 18' 16"
2. CONTADOR Alberto 21 ASTANA 30h 18' 22" + 00' 06"
3. ARMSTRONG Lance 22 ASTANA 30h 18' 24" + 00' 08"
4. LEIPHEIMER Levi 24 ASTANA 30h 18' 55" + 00' 39"
5. WIGGINS Bradley 58 GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM 30h 19' 02" + 00' 46"
6. KLÖDEN Andréas 23 ASTANA 30h 19' 10" + 00' 54"
7. MARTIN Tony 76 TEAM COLUMBIA - HTC 30h 19' 16" + 01' 00"
8. VANDE VELDE Christian 51 GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM 30h 19' 40" + 01' 24"
9. SCHLECK Andy 31 TEAM SAXO BANK 30h 20' 05" + 01' 49"
10. NIBALI Vincenzo 95 LIQUIGAS 30h 20' 10" + 01' 54"
11. SANCHEZ Luis-Leon 118 CAISSE D’EPARGNE 30h 20' 32" + 02' 16"
Today's final stage standings
1. Luis Leon Sanchez (ESP) GCE - 176.5km in 4h31’50" (38.957km/h)
2. Sandy Casar (FRA) FDJ - at same time
3. Mikel Astarloza (ESP) EUS at same time
4. Vladimir Efimkin (RUS) ALM at 3"
5. Jose Rojas (ESP) GCE at 1’54"
6. Christophe Riblon (FRA) ALM at 1’54"
7. Peter Velits (SVK) MRM at 1’54"
8. Sebastien Minard (FRA) COF at 1’54"
9. Jeremy Roy (FRA) FDJ at 1’54"
10. Thomas Voeckler (FRA) BBO at 1’54"