CHATEAUROUX, France – Finally, the mountains.
After seven days of narrow, sinewy roads and sometimes fierce rain, Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck await a change of scenery. They made it through the crash-marred first week of the Tour de France relatively unscathed. Although the hills in today’s eighth stage are far less daunting than later climbs in the Pyrenees and Alps, they will be a welcome sight.
“It will be a relief after several nervous and dangerous stages,” Schleck said.
British sprinter Mark Cavendish won Friday’s seventh stage. He did so in the same town – Chateauroux – where he won the first of his 17 Tour de France stages in 2008. Norway’s Thor Hushovd kept the yellow jersey.
Another British rider, Bradley Wiggins, was knocked out of the race after breaking his left collarbone in a crash that took down several riders.
Cadel Evans remains in second place, 1 second behind Hushovd. Schleck is 12 seconds behind in seventh and Contador is 1:42 off the lead in 24th place.
Bigger gaps may start to appear by this evening after the first of two straight medium mountain stages – although Contador and Schleck might not attack each other just yet.
“Whether any of the favorites will be dropped depends on whether the race is hard from the gun,” Contador said. “Hopefully, tomorrow when I wake up I’ll be in perfect condition.”
Today’s ride up to the Super-Besse ski resort gives Contador, Schleck and Evans a chance to distance themselves from lesser climbers.
“The time gaps will be small but large enough to shift the overall classification,” Schleck said.
The stage ends with a short but sharp climb up to Super-Besse.