CyclingRevealed's First Impressions
Stage 8, July 9th, Saint Meer le Grand to Lorient, 177 km
In the cycle racing world Brittany is to France as Flanders is to Belgium . Foreigners have long gravitated to one or the other as a base to launch a pro career. Tom Simpson settled for a while in St Brieuc (on the north coast of Brittany ) during 1959. Within two months he achieved five impressive wins and was quickly offered a pro contract. Just up the road Bernard Hinault, five-time Tour champion, was born in Yffiniac. In today's stage start town of St. Méen -Le-Grand both Louisan Bobet and his brother Jean were born. Louison became one of the legends of the sport by becoming the first rider to win the Tour over three consecutive years (1953, 54, 55). Today visitors can learn about the great man at the small Bobet Museum in Saint-Méen-le-Grand. Jean was also an accomplished pro with a long series of impressive results. After retiring from racing he turned to journalism and became one of the most famous and respected reporters of cycle racing in France .
Louison Bobet the pride of Brittany
During WW2 Lorient was home to the infamous ‘Wolfpack' German U-boats that prowled the Atlantic . The submarine pens that were constructed in the harbor were designed to withstand immense bombardment. The design succeeded and in spite of intense allied bombing they remained functional. As a result the Allies changed their strategy and decided to sever the communication routes that provided the supplies required to keep the U-boats in service. As a result 90% of Lorient was reduced to rubble by extensive bombing raids.
With many riders chastised by yesterday's time trial they were left today licking their wounds and resetting race strategies for the coming mountain stages. Nevertheless the race moved off very quickly with many attacks in the first hour. Eventually a ‘Wolfpack' of very powerful rouleurs pulled away to build about a seven minute advantage by the halfway point. T-Mobile's Matthias Kessler (Stage 3 winner) was most fancied to take the stage should the breakaway succeed. He was accompanied in his escape by Dave Zabriskie (CSC), Sylvain Calzati (AG2R), Mario Aerts (Davitamon), Kjell Carlström (Liquigas) and Patrice Halgand (Crédit Agricole).
In what may have been a dress rehearsal in anticipation of Floyd Landis becoming race leader, the entire Phonak team spent a long time at the front of the bunch in a display of muscle while they worked at keeping the break in check. They succeeded in controlling the time gap but not in closing it.
As the leaders went through the Plouay area (Note: famous for its annual G.P. and as host to the 2000 World Road Championships) Sylvain Calzati put in a powerful attack with 32km to go. This split the break as Carlström and Halgand tried to chase Calzati down. Kessler, Zabriskie and Aerts were swallowed up by the bunch as Calzati rode victoriously into Lorient two minutes six seconds ahead of Carlström and Halgand. Nine seconds later Robbie McEwen increased his lead in the points competition by winning the bunch sprint.
As the Tour rolled into Lorient under sunny skies and through huge, festive cheering crowds it was hard to imagine the devastation and furious battles that took place here just over 60 years ago. Today the remnants of the Tour ‘Wolfpack' outwitted the peloton to take their just rewards.
Tomorrow : a rest day as the entire Tour peloton is transferred to Bordeaux. After another pan flat stage to Dax, the Tour prepares for its first appointment with the mountains. Check back here for tomorrow's rest day race summary.
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