/ Cycling

Sanchez sprints clear in St Girons

Updated: Sunday, 12 Jul 2009 22:36

Stage eight winner Luis-Leon Sanchez
Stage eight winner Luis-Leon Sanchez

Luis-Leon Sanchez produced a masterful late charge in a four-man sprint finish to claim stage eight of the Tour de France today.

The Spaniard, who rides for Caisse d'Epargne, fell back on the shoulder of Sandy Casar about 100 metres out before breezing past the Frenchman to take glory in some style at the end of the 176.5km hike from Andorra La Vella to St Girons.

Sanchez, Casar and two others - Mikel Astarloza and Vladimir Efimkin - had made a decisive break on the final climb, up Col d'Agnes, allowing the quartet to battle it out at the death.

The green and polka dot jerseys changed hands today but Rinaldo Nocentini kept hold the maillot jaune for another 24 hours after finishing in the peloton, just less than two minutes behind the leading four.

The rest of the yellow-jersey hopefuls, such as Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong, were also in tow in the main group at the end of the second stage in the Pyrenees.

Britain's Mark Cavendish, who finished way down the field after a tough day in the mountains, saw rival Thor Hushovd win two intermediary sprints midway through the day, meaning the Norwegian takes the green jersey.

Christophe Kern also took enough climbing points to nab the polka-dot King of the Mountains jersey off Brice Feillu, the winner of yesterday's stage.

Nocentini was delighted to still be in yellow after being dropped for six kilometres part way through the climb up Col d'Agnes. His AG2R La Mondiale team, led by the gritty Stephane Goubert, helped pull the Italian back into contention before the descent.

‘It was tiring up that big climb and I have to thank all the team - they worked so hard today,’ Nocentini told France 2.

‘We managed to catch up the group in the final kilometres (of the climb). After that, it was better and I've been able to conserve the maillot jaune.’

Casar, awarded the combativity award after a busy day of climbing at the head of the field, was left to regret his inability to beat off the fast-finishing Sanchez.

‘I felt good at the end but the two Spaniards (Astarloza and Sanchez) worked together," said the Francaise des Jeux rider.

‘I went 100m out but perhaps it was a bit too far out.’

There was no mountain-top finish like yesterday, with the stage's three climbs coming mid-race.

Australia's Cadel Evans, the Tour runner-up for the last two years who has been struggling in this edition, was one of the riders who attempted to make a break on the first climb - up Port d'Envalira - but the field came together on the descent.

It was more subdued up Col de Port, the day's second climb, but there was plenty of action up the category-one Col d'Agnes.

At that stage there was a nine-man leading group but recent yellow jersey holder Fabian Cancellara, Sebastien Rosseler, Mikhail Ignatiev and Juan Antonio Flecha were dropped.

Behind, Andy Schleck tried to shake up the peloton, twice breaking clear with the majority of the big guns but without Nocentini, but it was together again before the top of the climb.

By then, the lead group was down to four, George Hincapie having been dumped, and on the descent Astarloza, Sanchez, Efimkin and the plucky Casar were two and a half minutes ahead of the peloton with 44km left.

The quartet kept that cushion as they made their way into St Girons.

Efimkin made a bolt for glory four kilometres out but he was reeled in less then 1000m from the line.

Sanchez then took the wheel of Casar and breezed past his rival, with some ease, with metres to spare to take the stage.

The Spaniard's efforts lift him 13 places in the general classification, to 11th position.

The 2006 winner Oscar Pereiro and fellow Spaniard Eduardo Gonzalo pulled out of Tour today, cutting the field down to 174.

Ireland's Nicolas Roche finished in 105th place, 14 minutes and 14 seconds behind the winner and is 58th in the overall standings.