July 9, 2011

Thor Hushovd rose to the occasion in Saturday’s hilltop finish to defend the yellow jersey yet again on a day when just about everyone expected him to lose it.

Even Hushovd said he wasn’t expecting to defend the Tour de France leader’s jersey in the 189km hilly eighth stage over the Massif Central from Aigurande to the summit finish at Super-Besse.

Portuguese rider Rui Costa won out a breakaway, but Hushovd clawed his way into the front GC group at 15 seconds back to defend his one-second lead to Cadel Evans.

“To be honest, I really didn’t expect to have the yellow jersey after today’s stage,” Hushovd said. “I know that I am in the best shape of my career and I know that I can go very deep within myself on the climbs. I did that once again today. And the yellow jersey gives you extra motivation.”

Garmin-Cervélo avoided troubles in the hilly stage and let other teams move to the front of the pack after defending the yellow jersey for nearly a week.

Garmin-Cervélo kept Hushovd protected and had its two GC riders – Christian Vande Velde and Tom Danielson – finish safely with the front group when the attacks came late on the final rising finish at Super-Besse.

Hushovd made an intense sprint in the close meters of the stage to close down a gap to the front riders and had to wait for several tense moments before hearing the race jury’s decision that awarded him the same time as Evans, thus keeping him in the yellow jersey for one more day.

“I cannot say that I would be unhappy to lose the yellow jersey, but this Tour has already been a success for me,” Hushovd said. “I cannot be disappointed when I eventually lose the yellow jersey because I have given my all each day to defend it.”

Garmin-Cervélo rode near the front of the peloton throughout the stage, with Tour rookie Ramunas Navarduskas once again doing a great job setting a steady pace in the middle part of the stage.

“Ramunas has done a great job for us so far in this Tour,” said Garmin-Cervélo sport director Bingen Fernández. “When we did some strength testing on his last fall before signing him, we knew he was strong. He’s big, he’s young, he’s like a bull. We are very satisfied with how he’s been riding for the team.”

Another Tour rookie, Tom Danielson, arrived in good shape through the first week of the Tour.

“I haven’t had to do too much work during the first week,” Danielson said. “I am trying to stay out of trouble during these first stages. It’s been very nervous. Everyone cannot wait to get to the mountains, so things calm down a little bit. It’s too I lost a little time in the first stage, but otherwise, so far, so good.”

The 98th Tour continues Sunday with a hilly, challenging 208km ninth stage across the Massif Central. The route starts in Issoire and tackles eight small to medium climbs before finishing atop the short but steep hilltop top at Saint-Flour. A breakaway could be in the cards.

“We saw the first break of the Tour stay away today, so tomorrow’s stage is even better suited for an escape,” Fernández said. “It depends on how the stage plays out, but our guys have been working hard all week to defend the jersey. They need a little break from the work and the Pyrénées are just on the horizon. Today we could already see the stage was less nervous. We hope to get through the stage in good shape.”

More photos from the Tour de France:
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