In comparison to the previous two Alpine stages today was a flat ride in scorching temperatures. We saw the broad valley of the River Durance and the aerial pictures of St Paul lez Durance. Montaigne St Victoire, much loved and painted many times by the Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne, was an impressive backdrop. The countryside became broad agricultural land with vineyards once more and in the towns we saw the red roofs of Provence. The Collegiale St Laurent at Rians was impressive as was the Basilica St Marie Madeline at Ste Maximin, where French tradition holds that Mary Magdalene is buried. At the typically Provencale towns of St Zacharie, Aubagne and Roquevaire, with its ruined chateau, the streets were lined with spectators who kept in the shade as long as possible before cheering on the riders who toiled in the heat. Towards the end of the day there were two climbs and the route twisted through rocky terrain. After the Cote de Bastides was the town of Roquefort la Bedoule. The riders probably would not have had the time to notice the occasional glimpse of Mediterranean blue. After the Col de la Gineste they made a long winding descent through the rugged white rock landscape to the city of Marseilles which shimmered in the heat below. We were treated to impressive aerial views of the Provencal coastline, in particular
the sea cliffs near Les Calanques (including an idyllic narrow steep sided inlet (pictured) with just a very few people on its tiny beach). There were also stunning views over Marseilles, in particular a long marina area lined with expensive cabin cruisers and towering over all the golden statue of the Virgin Mary atop Notre Dame de la Garde.
After two hours of hard riding the Tour managed to establish a breakaway group of 11 which worked together to establish a large lead until Patrice Halgand (Credit Agricole) broke away on the Col de Bastides, taking four other riders with him. These five continued until the end and in spite of occasional bursts of speed to test the others, none seemed to want to make the first serious move. This ‘cat and mouse’ game continued to right within the final 250 metres of the long straight run in to the finish, where Cédric Vasseur (Quickstep) came from the back of the pack and managed to cross the line fractionally before Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux) – the win seeming to be by no more than a tyre width or two at most. These riders had built up an impressive 12 minutes lead over the rest of the riders and there was a second sprint finish as many at the front of the peloton jockeyed for green sprint jersey points. The day was overshadowed by the report that (T-Mobile) leader Patrik Sinkewitz, who is hospitalised following a crash after the end of Stage 8, had failed a pre-Tour drug test and we will have to wait for a second test to see the outcome, bringing yet more worries for T Mobile who have now lost 3 Team members.
STAGE WINNER – Cédric Vasseur (Quickstep)
2nd Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux) – 3rd Michael Albasini (Liquigas)
YELLOW (individual) – Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank)
POLKA DOT (climber) – Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank)
GREEN (points) – Tom Boonen (Quickstep Innergetic)
WHITE (under 25) – Alberto Contador (Discovery)
COMBATIVE – Patrice Halgand (Credit Agricole)
LEADING TEAM – Team CSC