Defending Tour de France champion Chris Froome put on a brilliant display of descending down the Col du Pyresourde to capture the eighth stage of the Tour de France Saturday in Bagnères-de-Luchon and, in the process, the maillot jaune of race leader.
The Team Sky leader was unable to open a gap on the climb, so he instead opted to attack at the beginning of the descent and stayed clear all the way to the line, winning by a margin of 13 seconds.
Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) led home a select group of general classification contenders for second place on the stage; Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) finished third.
With the time bonus on the line, Froome now sits 16 seconds ahead of Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha).
“It was not really planned, I was just… it was just a bit of fun, really,” Froome said after the stage. “I thought I’d give it a try. I had a few gos on the climb, but nothing was really sticking. I thought I’d see what I could do on the descent, to see if I could catch someone out.
“That was just old-school bike racing, just fun. Maybe I spent a bit too much energy, tomorrow is going to be a hard day. Twenty seconds is not a huge margin, but I’ll take what I can get. The guys rode hard today, I felt I owed it to them to give it my all.”
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) continued to suffer from injuries suffered in crashes on the first two stages and was unable to follow accelerations towards the top of the Pyresourde, finishing in the third group on the stage, 1:41 behind Froome.
Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) had a solid day, finishing in the chase group alongside teammate Richie Porte. Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Fabio Aru (Astana), and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) also finished in the chase group.
Behind Yates and Rodriguez on the GC sit Quintana, Aru, and van Garderen, all 23 seconds behind.
Contador trails Froome by 3:12 in the general classification. Roman Kreuziger is the best place Tinkoff rider in 12th overall, at 34 seconds behind.
“The stage was very hard for me, very demanding,” Contador said after the stage. “I was hoping not to lose too much time today, but that’s the way it is. I did the best I can. We are going to talk with the rest of the team for the future because Roman Kreuziger is better placed than I am. It’s terrible to have crashed like this twice in the first week and to have lost so much time after working so hard to be here. It’s cycling, danger is everywhere. Believe me, I did the best I can.”
HOW IT HAPPENED
The Tour de France officially entered its second week on Saturday with the eighth stage from Pau to Bagnères-de-Luchon. Three tough climbs featured on the 184km (114.3mi) route with the hors categorie Col du Tourmalet and the Category 1 climbs of the Col de Val Louron-Azet and Col de Peyresourde. The parcours was tough with 4,350m (14,271ft) of climbing, but again the stage ended in the valley after a high-speed descent of the Pyresourde.
The Col du Tourmalet (19km at 7.4%), the highest paved mountain pass in the French Pyrenees, began 67km into the stage and the riders seemed to hold little regard for the storied mountains 51km were covered in the first hour of racing.
As the race hit the Tourmalet, the peloton blew to smithereens. The pure sprinters were immediately spit out the back of the bunch and among them was the maillot jaune of Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing).
Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), who struggled on the first day in the Pyrenees and lost considerable time in the overall standings on Stage 7, attacked with Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) and the duo began building an advantage on the climb. Team Sky took up the reins on the front of the peloton.
With 10km left to the summit of the Tourmalet, Pinot and Majka held a 20-second advantage over the chasing duo of Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) and Arnold Jeannesson (Cofidis). Martin would make the junction with the leaders while Jeannesson would not.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) were also dropped from the peloton on the Tourmalet. The latter had held the white jersey for five days before losing it by a single second to Yates on Stage 7.
Pinot crossed the Tourmalet in first position followed by Majka, as Martin had been dropped. The Frenchman collected the Souvenir Jacques Goddet prize for cresting the Tour’s highest climb first, along with 5,000 euros. (Goddet was the director of the Tour from 1936-1987.)
The reduced peloton trailed the leading duo of Pinot and Majka — Martin had been dropped — by 2:22 at the summit. Alaphilippe was four minutes behind the leaders with the maillot jaune, and the Nibali group was almost six minutes back. Michael Morkov (Katusha), who was still suffering from significant injuries from a crash on stage one, was the last rider to crest the Tourmalet at 23 minutes behind.
Riders touched speeds of 110kph on the descent of the Tourmalet as ad Martin used his powerful mass to bridge back up to the two skinny climbers The peloton swelled on the long downhill and was led safely down the mountain by Movistar.
The riders traversed the category 2 Hourquette d’Ancizan (8.2 km at 4.9%) with little action and at the top the leading trio held a slim advantage of 1:10 with 64km to the finish. Pinot again crested the summit in first position, again taking maximum King of the Mountains points. The maillot jaune group had turned off their chase and was now more than seven minutes behind.
Morkov was still in trouble behind the grupetto, along with Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data).
The penultimate climb of the day, the Col de Val Louron-Azet (10.7km at 6.8%), continued to sap energy from the rider’s legs. Pinot, Majka, and Martin’s lead was under a minute at the bottom of the climb and the trio was quickly swept up by the peloton, which was led by Movistar.
Meanwhile at the back of the race, Morkov became the first rider to abandon the 2016 Tour, a new record of seven stages without an abandonment.
With Team Sky driving a hard tempo, no GC contenders attacked on the Col de Val Louron-Azet, setting up a suspenseful finale on the Col du Pyresourde (7.1km at 7.8%) before a nearly 16km descent to the finish.
Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo) crashed on the descent of the Val Louron-Azet when his tubular tire rolled off the rim. He took his teammate George Bennett’s bike and rejoined the group before the final climb.
The Pyresourde, the final climb of the day, began with about 23km remaining in the stage. Inside of 5km to the summit of the Pyresourde, Team Sky continued to set a torrid tempo on the climb and Laurens Ten Dam (Giant-Alpecin) was seen failing behind, unable to hold the pace. Pinot was also unable to hold the pace.
Henao kicked off the attacking and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) quickly jumped onto the Colombian’s wheel. Most of the other GC contenders followed in pursuit, except for Contador. The Spaniard suffered on the climb. Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac) was also unable to follow the acceleration.
Froome was the next to make a move and Quintana appeared to follow with ease. Martin was also there along with the BMC duo of Richie Porte and Tejay van Garderen. Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) had also made the split, but the riders began looking at each other, thus allowing more riders to join the front of the race.
Froome also had an incident with a fan on the Pyresourde who was dressed as a chicken, striking the spectator as he ran alongside Quintana, cheering. On Twitter, Froome said that the fan had a flag that nearly went into his front wheel and across his handlebar.
Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) made an acceleration with 1km to go to the summit, but the attack came to naught as the other climbers followed.
Over the top of the climb, 14 riders formed the front group with the notable absences being that of Contador and Rolland. Froome attacked to begin the descent and opened up a gap on the others. Valverde took up the chasing, along with BMC, the only other team with multiple riders in the group.
“Froome just got the gap and Quintana didn’t want to chase,” Porte said. “Tejay and I were told on the radio to pull together and try and bring Froome back as much as we could. But even by that stage he was out of sight and out of mind. I had a good day. It’s a shame we didn’t finish on the top, that would have been a little more interesting, but it was a good day.”
With 10km to go Froome held an 11-second advantage over the chasing group containing all the GC contenders.
Rolland, who was part of the third group on the road containing Contador, crashed on the descent. He would lose considerable time on the day, as he also struggled with his gears after his crash. The Frenchman would end the day 1:55 down in the general classification.
Froome flew all the way to the line to capture his first stage win of the 2016 Tour and also the maillot jaune of race leader.
“It wasn’t really planned,” Froome said. “There was nothing premeditated. My teammates buried themselves for me from start to finish. We had no time to stop for a natural break. To try and make the most of my teammates’ work, I thought I’d give it a try in the downhill as the few tries on the climb didn’t work out. They were sticking to us. I took a few risks but not too much. It was cool. Adrenaline was rushing. Bike racing is just fun. I never won a race like that, but that’s the kind of challenge we give each other at training. I just reproduced it today at racing. I’m not sure if this downhill technique can be considered a marginal gain, I just raced my bike as fast as I could. I had a 54-tooth gear on rather than 53 as usual. I didn’t know the descent but I had watched a video of it. I can’t be happier to be back in yellow but maybe I spent a little bit too much. Tomorrow is a hard stage.”
Aru attacked the chase group in the final 1.5km of the stage, but Martin ultimately took the sprint for the line to finish second on the stage, 13 seconds behind the two-time winner, left wondering what might have been.
“There’s no easy day at the Tour de France and we saw that again today,” Martin said. “I knew I had good legs at the start, I was feeling good after yesterday and was really comfortable. When Chris attacked and took a handful of seconds, we chased but couldn’t bring him back. What it matters is that I am in fine form, a reward of the hard training I’ve done on the climbs before the Tour. I am happy with the way things are going for me in the GC, and hopefully a win is just around the corner.”
Froome leads the general classification by 16 seconds, but more importantly he issued a phycological blow to his other rivals.
“I attacked into the final slopes of the Peyresourde, just like I was told, and later on lost a bit of distance because I was struggling after such a strong move,” Valverde said. “When I dropped back, Nairo was still there with Froome. I didn’t see his move live, I just saw Froome away seconds later, and when I realized that was the situation, I went to the front of the group as fast as I could, even before the first turn of the descent, and went downhill with all I had left in the tank. The other GC contenders started working when it was too late. Everyone wants to win the Tour, but at the end, we always end up working alone. Froome took a beautiful victory. Hats off to him.”
Quintana acknowledged that he’d simply made a mistake. “We climbed well all stage and the team was superb all day. My teammates worked their hearts out and stuck to the original plan until the very last climb. Entering the descent of the Peyresourde, I took a bottle of water to refresh myself. Froome profited from that move to take a chance into the downhill and open a gap. I hesitated for a couple of seconds and he was gone. I just thought it would be a fast descent. Alejandro went flat out to chase that move, but it wasn’t enough. Those are seconds I hope won’t decide the race; the teammates were perfect, but at the end, it was a mistake from myself.”
Majka garnered enough KOM points to pull on the King of the Mountains jersey.
“Only after I passed the finishing line, I got to know that I had the polka-dot jersey,” Majka said. “I rode away at the foot of the Tourmalet because I didn’t know how the climb was and I preferred to be at the front to be able to help Alberto Contador and Roman Kreuziger later on. I’m getting better and better after I rode the Giro but I’m still quite far from my best shape. It wasn’t easy. I’m very happy that I’ll have the polka-dot jersey for a day at least. I won it in 2014 but it’s not a goal. The goal is to make the final podium with Alberto.”
Yates, who sits second overall, will again be in the white jersey as the Tour’s Best Young Rider for stage 9.
“Yesterday I had some pretty bad luck with the crash under the arch but it didn’t affect me physically,” Yates said. “I’m okay. Today I just tried to hang on. It was a full-gas day from start to finish. I was at the limit on the last climb. I’m just happy to retain the white jersey. It would have been nice to have the yellow but Chris Froome will be on the top step in Paris, so it’s no shame to be behind him on GC. There’s nothing more I could do today. I came to the Tour looking for stages and everything else is a bonus. The GC was never an objective. If I have a bad day in the mountains, no stress. I have no pressure from the team to keep this jersey.”
Unbelievable GoPro vision of 1km to go banner crashing into Adam Yates on the 7th stage of the 2016 Tour de France.
Cavendish survived the climbs – and finished within the time cut — to retain his green points jersey.
The Tour de France goes abroad for stage 9 on Sunday, starting in the Spanish town of Vielha Val d’Aran and finishing atop the hors categorie Arcalis’ climb in Andorra. The 184.5km (114.6mi) route includes five climbs with four being category 1 or higher. The many climbs makes for a tough 4,640m (15,223ft) of climbing on the stage and will leave many riders grateful for the Tour’s first rest day on Monday.
Adam Yates put in a huge performance on stage 8 following the unfortunate accident on stage 7. The 23-year old held on to his lead in the best young rider category and second place on the general classification, in the process showing he can match it with the GC contenders.
“It was full gas from start to finish today,” said Yates at the end of the stage. “The team did a great job of looking after me until the first climb started and from then on there were no easy moments.”
“There weren’t any opportunities to have a rest and recover a little because it was so full on.
“I am pretty tired now but we have another big day in the mountains coming up tomorrow so we will see what we can do.”
Sport director Matt White was content with the how the team handled the first big mountain test of this years Tour de France.
“Today was the first big challenging stage in the Pyrenees,” said White. “It was the first real test today and I liked what I saw from Adam (Yates) who worked hard and showed the kind of condition he is in.”
“All the guys rode well in the beginning on what was a fast start to the stage and then as we hit the climbs Adam really performed very well against the best climbers and grand tour riders in the world.
“We are still chasing stage wins, that has always been our objective for this year’s Tour de France,” said White. “Of course it’s nice to have Adam in the White jersey but we will continue to approach the race day by day.”
“Tomorrow’s stage is a different kind of hard to today, it could very well be a day for the breakaway. The climbing starts right at the beginning, but there are more valleys whereas today was simply relentless.”
This article is a modified version of that originally published on cyclingtips.com
Photography by Cor Vos