Giant Norwegian sprinter Thor Hushovd, riding for Credit Agricole, outpowered the pack to take the win in the second stage of the 2008 Tour de France.
Stage Two of the 2008 Tour de France, Auray to Saint-Brieuc, is a high-speed 164.5 km stage that favors the sprinters, with a single heartbreaking Category Three climb, the Mûr-de-Bretagne, rising straight up almost 300 meters right on the middle of the race. While not flat, the rest of the route presents no really challenging climbs, just gentle undulations.
The second half of the race features some very scary sections, very fast over narrow roads; where riders have to balance speed and safety. This is not a part of the course for passing.
The end is not always a pure sprinters' finish, as narrow, twisting, undulating roads divided by roundabouts make sprints difficult and dangerous.
Veteran Australian rider Robbie McEwewn (Silence-Lotto) described the end of the stage stage to reporters: "It's a bit of a rollercoaster course at the finish … it's pretty technical as you go through the town and then it's a fairly gradual rise to the finish. There is a dip in the final kilometer just before the final run to the line. It's good for a sprint but it's a stage that also suits some guys who are willing to hit out early."
The first attack came almost immediately as Danny Pate of Garmin Chipotle made a break at the 500-meter mark. Six other riders, and then another, joined him, including Jens Voigt, Murilo Fischer, José Ivan Gutierrez, Angel Gomez, Fabian Wegmann, Bernhard Eisel, Sylvain Chavanel, as well as one from Euskaltel and one from Credit Agricole.
The break didn't last, as the peloton reeled them in by the 22 km mark. However Thomas Voeckler for Bouygues Telecom and Sylvain Chavanel for Cofidis took off after the first categorized climb and opened up a lead of several minutes. The peloton seemed content to let them go for the time being.
The chaos at the feeding station casued another crash as Agritubel rider Nicolas Jalabert touched the wheel of Frank Schleck, who missed his musette and had to slow down. Jalobert went down, but was uninjured and immediately resumed the race.
Halfway through the race, the rain, which had been hovering over the course all day, finally broke. Conditions were fairly miserable—cold, rainy, with a strong cross wind.
The Caisse D'Espargne team led the peloton for much of the middle of the race, keeping race leader Alejandro Valverde safely ensconced at the front of the pack. The rain stopped and started, but the wind stayed strong and steady.
As the pack snaked through the granite houses of the Breton small towns, the rain returned, as only a drizzle.
France in Front
Agritubel riders Christophe Moreau and David Lelay attacked, trying to cross the gap between the peloton and the leaders. Voeckler and Chavanel allowed Moreau and Lelay to join them and help pull. This four left French riders, including Lelay who was born in Saint-Brieuc, leading the race.
The peloton stayed a steady two-and-a-half minutes behind, not letting the leaders escape, but not trying to catch them. The lead riders in the peloton were waiting for the right moment to run down the break and begin racing in earnest, but the wet, narrow roads did not favor heroic efforts.
With 45 km left, the pack moved briefly out of the towns and into the countryside; the rain let up and the roads were generally drier. Team Francaise Des Jeux was now leading the peloton, with Caisse D'Espargne right behind.
Because of the rain, it seemed probable that the race would not end in an all-out sprint, as the conditions would be too dangerous. This added to the tension as the end approached—would one team try to make a break and try to escape the peloton?
To make the finish more difficult, the wind was heading straight into the riders' faces for the finish at almost gale force. This would put a lot of strain on the lead-out riders, and make strategy even more important. If the sprinters broke just a bit too soon, they might burn out before the line, but a bit too late, and they might finish strong, but not win.
With about the 40 km to go, Silence-Lotto moved up towards the head of the peloton, possibly preparing for sprinter Robbie McEwen to contest the finish.
With sixteen km to go, much of Caisse Desparge dropped back; apparently the strain of pushing the peloton got to them (the average race speed—around 40 km/hr—was quite high.) Valverde and a few teammates stayed near the head of the peloton, but possibly the team had moved too early and put the yellow jersey at risk. Quickstep and Columbia moved to the front.
With twelve km left, the peloton decided to catch the leaders, who were about a minute ahead.
In the end, it was indeed a sprint finish; the pace was too high for a team to break from the peloton early. Here tactics—waiting for the right moment to attack, or recognizing when to latch on the the wheel of an attacker—would make the difference.
In the final three km left, Quickstep moved out to seriously attack the breakaway, with Columbia right with them. At this point, Chavanel attacked off the front of the leaders, making his final effort to win the race.
With two km left, the pack caught the three remaining breakaway riders; not long after, they caught Chavanel.
With 1.5 km left, several riders back in the peloton crashed, but the leaders were unaffected.
With 1 km left Fabian Cancellara attacked, but it was too soon. With 300 km to go Valverde tried to attack but didn't have the power. At almost the same moment Credit Agricole's Thor Hushovd exploded down the right side, followed by two Columbia riders, Kim Kirchen and Gerald Ciolek.
In the end it was Hushovd, nicknamed "The Thunder God," who thundered to the win, exhibiting tremendous power to leave the other top six riders behind.
Valverde finisherd high enough to keep his yellow jersey.