- by Christopher Jones
- Published: 12 July 2009
Cerv?lo TestTeam’s Thor Hushovd used his racing savvy and strong legs to move into the lead in the green points jersey competition in Saturday’s climbing stage across the Pyr?n?es at the Tour de France.
Hushovd attacked over the day’s first major hurdle at the first-category Port d’Envalira in the opening hour of racing in the 176.5km eighth stage from Andorra to Saint-Girons and dropped points rival Mark Cavendish.
The big Norwegian then zoomed down the harrowing descent to set himself up for two intermediate sprints, the first at 67km and the second at 84.5km. He won both, earning 12 points, and bounced into the green jersey for the first time this Tour.
"That was the plan and the goal for today. I knew that first climb was really hard. I felt strong yesterday and I attacked just over the top and I was able to get those points," Hushovd said after the podium ceremony. "I knew I had to fight on that climb. I did a good descent and I could get those points. It was important to me."
It was a relatively routine day for team captain Carlos Sastre, who crossed the line 35th at 1:54 back along with all the top favorites. There were no major changes in the overall standings, though he slipped from 15th to 16th when a rider from a breakaway gained time, but remains 2:52 behind race leader Rinaldo Nocentini.
Four riders stayed clear to finish 1:54 of the Sastre group, with Spanish rider Lu?s Le?n S?nchez taking the stage victory.
Hushovd is rare for a sprinter because he can climb fairly well. Never well enough to stay with the lean mountain goats like teammate Carlos Sastre, but well enough to sneak into breakaways and win uphill sprints.
Hushovd used those climbing legs to win Thursday’s stage in Barcelona and put them to good use again Saturday.
Cavendish’s teammate George Hincapie tried in vain to derail his sprint, but Hushovd won both sprints and moves into the lead with 117 points to Cavendish’s 106.
Just as soon as he won the second intermediate sprint, Hushovd sat up and waited for the main pack to catch him. He later lost contact when the GC favorites attacked over the final climb and he crossed the line 100th at 14:14 back.
The race for the green jersey is shaping up to be a two-man race, with third-place Gerard Ciolek well back with only 66 points, with Cavendish the man to beat.
"Cavendish is really fast and he’s already won some sprints, so it will be difficult to win. Eleven points (lead) is nothing, so I will take it day-to-day and try to save some energy, because today I went really deep," he said. "The plan is to keep it as long as possible. We know that Cavendish is fast and it will be difficult. We have another mountain stage and then some flat stages, so we will see how the stages unfold. If I can take points at the intermediate sprints, I will."
Sastre was relaxed and smiling before the start of the stage in Andorra, saying that the Arcalis summit finish in Friday’s stage wasn’t the right place to make an attack.
"Astana controlled the stage and revealed they are very strong. There was a lot of headwind and that made it all but impossible to try anything on the Arcalis climb. We spent a lot, but we’re still alive in the overall classification," Sastre said. "I am content that I didn’t lose any time to most of the important riders. The sensations are good."
The 96th Tour de France will wave goodbye to the Pyr?n?es in Sunday’s 160.5km ninth stage from Saint-Gaudens to Tarbes. The relative lack of distance will be compensated with two of the most difficult climbs during three days of racing across the Pyr?n?es.
The course tackles the first-category Col d’Aspin before approaching the eastern side of the famous beyond-category Col du Tourmalet at 90km. After a long descent, the final 45km are down a long, wide-open valley to the finish in Tarbes.