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Accelerating just after the top of the final climb, Froome powered down the descent to take a solo victory in stage 8 of the Tour de France; Martin beat Rodriguez in the sprint for second while Froome took the lead

Photo: A.S.O.

CHRIS FROOME

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DANIEL MARTIN

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JOAQUIM RODRIGUEZ OLIVER

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TEAM SKY

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TOUR DE FRANCE

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09.07.2016 @ 17:56 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Chris Froome (Sky) surprised the entire cycling world by claiming the most unusual solo victory of his career in stage 8 of the Tour de France and ride himself into yellow. Just as it looked like another ceasefire between the key contenders, the Brit attack just after the final KOM sprint and then powered down the descent to put 13 seconds into a select group of favourites at the finish in Bagneres-de-Luchon. Daniel Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) beat Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) in the sprint for second while Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) lost 1.41.

 

For several years, it was a general assessment that Chris Froome was a poor descender. The Brit has often proved that to be wrong but it is certainly true that he has never used the descents as a place to attack. Instead, he has made the difference on the climbs and in the time trials and many of his rivals have regarded the downhills as a place to possibly gain time on the fabulous Brit.

 

With today’s second stage in the Pyrenees finishing with a 15.5km descent from the Col de Peyresourde, most believed that Froome would opt for safety and postpone his first big attack to tomorrow’s big mountaintop finish. Apparently, his rivals had the same impression so they were not on their guards when a select group reached the top together.

 

As he had done on the previous climb, Froome moved to the front to pick up the KOM points and no one really expected it to be an attack. However, just after the line, the Brit caught everybody by surprise by launching a fierce attack and as Nairo Quintana (Movistar) who had stayed glued to his wheel, failed to react, he quickly got a big advantage.

 

From there, Froome showed a new side of his versatile talent by doing the descent of his life to constantly increase his advantage over his rivals. Despite losing a bit of ground in the flat final kilometre, he reached the finish with an advantage of 13 seconds to take both the stage victory and the yellow jersey.

 

Sky had been in control all day, chasing down a strong breakaway with Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) and Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) and the group had been whittled down to just Nieve, Henao, Thomas, Poels, Froome, Ion Izagirre, Valverde, Quintana, Aru, Kangert, Fuglsang, Contador, Kreuziger, Majka. Bardet, Pozzovivo. Kelderman, Bennett, Mollema, Schleck, Pantano, Rolland, Caruso, Porte, van Garderen, Barguil, Ten Dam, Reichenbach, Buchmann, Van den Broeck, Rodriguez, Meintjes, Martin and Yates as they hit the Col de Peyresourde with 22km to go. As soon as they started the climb, the elimination started and Laurens Ten Dam (Giant-Alpecin) was the first to surrender. Majka, Poels, Izagirre, Damiano Caruso (BMC) and Tanel Kangert (Astana) also had to let the group go.

 

There were no attacks as Nieve continued to set the pace, sending Bennett, Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Argon 18) and Sebastien Reichenbach (FDJ) out the back door, but just as it looked like it would be a bit of a ceasefire, Sky made their first surprise attack. Sergio Henao took off and that forced Alejandro Valverde to react immediately. Froome, Quintana and Daniel Martin also followed while the group exploded to pieces, with Barguil, Schleck, Fuglsang and Van den Broeck all losing contact.

 

Fabio Aru brought the front quintet back and then Henao started to ride tempo on the front until Valverde accelerated. Pozzovivo, Nieve, Keldermand and Rolland were dropped as the Spaniard powered along.

 

That’s when Froome made his first attack and only Quintana, Martin, van Garderen, Porte and Henao could follow. Mollema bridged the gap before Martin made a failed counterattack.

 

Henao was the next to try while Aru and Meintjes led the chase. And this point, Alberto Contador lost contact.

 

Aru, Meintjes, Bardet, Kreuziger, Rodriguez and Yates rejoined the leaders and then Henao took over the pace-setting. One kilometre from the top, Bardet made his move but Porte, Quintana and Froome were quick to respond. Quintana then made his only attack but Henao shut It down.

 

Henao again took over the pace-setting and led the peloton towards the top while Contador continued to lose ground in a group with Rolland, Thomas, Nieve and Kelderman. The Colombian let Froome pass him just before the top and Quintana stayed glued to his wheel believing that the Brit was only going for the KOM points.

 

However, Froome surprised everybody, attacking just after the KOM sprint and before anybody could react, he had a gap. Valverde went straight to the front but failed to bring the strong Brit back.

 

With 10km to go, Froome led by 10 seconds while Contador had already lost a minute. Taking a few risks, he had increased it to 20 seconds and 1.20 five kilometres later. Meanwhile, disaster struck for Rolland as he crashed on the descent. He made it back to the Contador group where the Spaniard and Barguil were working hard to limit the losses.

 

BMC took over the pace-setting with Tejay van Garderen and Richie Porte but Froome still had a 17-second advantage as he passed the flamme rouge. Aru made an attack but Quintana shut it down and the Colombian led the chase.

 

However, it was all too late as Froome powered to the finish to claim the stage win. Thirteen seconds later, Martin beat Rodriguez and Bardet in the sprint for second. The Contador group reached the finish with a loss of 1.41.

 

With the win, Froome takes the lead with an advantage of 16 seconds over Yates and Rodriguez. Martin is one second further adrift while Quintana is 23 seconds behind in sixth.

 

However, he will get no easy first day in yellow. The third day in the Pyrenees is the hardest of the triptych and it is simply brutal. Right from the start, the riders will go up the Port de la Bonaigua and then a flat section leads to the Port del Canto at the midpoint. The final 70km are almost all uphill and includes a category 2 and a category 1 climb as warm-up for the final climb to Andorra-Arcais. It averages 7.2% over 10.1km and is expected to be the scene of a huge battle between the favourites.

 

A brutal stage

After yesterday’s first battle in the mountains, things got much harder in stage 8 which brought the riders over 184 from Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon in the heart of the Pyrenees. The first 70km were predominantly flat but then all hell broke loose when the riders hit the first HC climb of the race, the legendary Col du Tourmalet. From there, the riders had no room to recover as the Hourquette d’Ancizan, Col de Val Louron-Azet and Col de Peyresourde followed in quick succession. The top of the final challenge came with 15.5km to go and from there it was a descent and two flat kilometres that led to the finish.

 

All 198 riders were still there when the peloton gathered in Pau under a sunny sky. Immediately from the start there was some drama as Jan Bakelants (Ag2r) and Geraint Thomas (Sky) crashed already in the neutral zone. While the former soon was soon back in the field, the Briton had to consult the car before he could rejoin the group.

 

Lots of attacks

Immediately from the start two riders attacked, including Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), and quickly a 20-man group gathered in the front. They were caught after just 2km of racing and then the attacks continued in what was a typically very aggressive first phase. Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ) briefly seemed to have made the difference, but as it was the case for the subsequent two-rider move, it failed.

 

After 20km of racing, things were still together so the attacks continued. After a failed attempt by Arthur Vichot (FDJ), Bernhard Eisel and Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data) launched a double attack, but they did not get away. Two subsequent attacks had no success, and then an 8-rider group gathered after an attack from a Dimension Data and an Astana rider. 10 rider gathered but then it came back together.

 

Matthews wins the sprint

Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and another rider briefly tried and while they were caught, the injured Michael Mørkøv (Katusha) was dropped as the first rider. However, no one waited for him as the riders covered 51km during the first hour.

 

After an attack from Cofidis, a rider from Dimension Data and on from IAM briefly got clear before Mikael Cherel (Ag2r) and Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) built the biggest gap of 20 seconds. Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) joined them and as the attacks continued, 13 gathered in the front. Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana), Stef Clement (IAM), Paul Voss (Bora-Argon 18), Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge), Romain Sicard (Direct Energie), Dylan Van Baarle (Cannondale), llnur Zakarin (Katusha), Jesus Herrada (Movistar), Jasper Stuyven (Trek) and Wout Poels (Sky) was in the group that hit the Tourmalet as the first riders. Before they got to the climb, Matthews beat Cherel and Stuyven in the intermediate sprint

 

Pinot takes off

The group was quickly reduced to four but they were all brought back on the lower slopes of the climb. Instead, Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) attacked, and he was soon joined by Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Arnold Jeannesson (Cofidis). They got a lead of 15 seconds before Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) took off in pursuit. Sky immediately started to chase, and it was costly for Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) who was dropped.

 

Vasil Kiryienka (Sky) set a fast pace and kept the gap at around 30 seconds while he reduced the peloton to just 40 riders. Alaphilippe and Bennett were dropped and brought back, and instead Majka joined Pinot and Jeannesson. The latter was quickly dropped, and Pinot and Majka built up a gap of 40 seconds. Ast the same time, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) was dropped from the peloton and Van Avermaet had already lost 1.30 to the front duo.

 

Martin bridges the gap

Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick Step) took off and passed Jeannesson who was joined by Romain Sicard (Direct Energie). However, the two Frenchmen were constantly losing ground, just like the peloton which constantly lost riders.

 

With 105km to go, Kiryienka finally swung off and left it to Mikel Landa to set the pace for Sky. Meanwhile, Martin joined Pinot and Majka who had increased the advantage to 1.50.

 

Landa takes control

Nibali was not giving up and slowly tried to rejoin the peloton while picking up Alaphilippe who had been distanced. However, they failed to make it back as Landa powered on in the peloton, bringing later Jeannesson back in the process.

 

As the front trio approached the top, the battle for the mountains jersey started and it was Pinot who launched the first attack. While Martin didn’t follow, Majka stayed glued to his wheel and even tried a counterattack. However, the Frenchman easily responded and then won the sprint with apparent ease while Martin reached the top 20 seconds later. Sicard was next, 1.42 behind.

 

Martin rejoins the leaders

Landa’s fast pace did a lot of damage as riders like Navarro, Daniel Moreno (Movistar) and Mathias Frank (IAM) were dropped near the top. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) briefly hit the front a few metres from the summit but Landa sprinted ahead and took fifth in the KOM sprint 2.20 behind the leaders. The Nibali-Alaphilippe group reached the top with a deficit of 5.20 and Van Avermaet was just 50 seconds further behind.

 

While Martin used his great descending skills to rejoin the peloton, Nelson Oliveira (Movistar) took over the pace-setting in the peloton. When they hit the flat roads, Landa went back to work and he rode pretty hard to keep the gap at around 2.30. Even though most of the GC riders took a natural break in the feed zone, the pace didn’t go much down. Meanwhile, Van Avermaet caught the Alaphilippe-Nibali group.

 

Pinot wins the KOM sprint

The front trio hit the Hourquette d’Ancizan climb with an advantage of 2.05 over the peloton and 1.05 over Sicard and Landa clearly upped the pace right from the start. Navarro, Moreno, Winner Anacona (Movistar), Frank, Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) and Jeannesson were dropped right from the bottom, and in just 3km Landa brought Sicard back and reduced the gap to 1.30.

 

There was no fight of the KOM points as Pinot was allowed to lead Majka and Martin across the line. Landa and Froome were first from the peloton 1.25 later. The Van Avermaet group had lost 7.40.

 

Movistar up the pace

Landa safely led the peloton down the descent and then entered the final 50km just 1.05 behind the leaders. He continued his fast pace and when they hit the Col du Val Louron-Azet, the gap was down to just 45 seconds.

 

Movistar kicked into action right from the bottom as Nelson Oliveira hit the front. At the same time, Pinot tried to react and clearly increased the speed in the front group.

 

Pinot gives up

Frank (again), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) and Landa were dropped from the peloton while disaster struck for Sky when Wout Poels suffered an untimely puncture. Landa tried to pace him back but it cost a lot of energy.

 

Pinot and Martin gave up and were swallowed up by the peloton while Majka tried to press on alone, dangling just a few metres ahead of the peloton. Pinot went straight out the back door and Martin was quickly dropped too.

 

Majka is caught

Oliveira brought Majka back with 42km to go and then swung off, leaving it to Geraint Thomas (Sky) to set the pace. He slowed a bit down to allow Poels to rejoin the peloton and he soon returned to the front end of the group.

 

Movistar hit the front again when Ion Izagirre took over the pace-setting. The Basque clearly upped the pace but when he swung off, the pace again dropped as Sky took control with Mikel Nieve. While he led the peloton towards the top, Michael Mørkøv (Katusha) became the first rider to abandon. At this point, the group consisted of Nieve, Henao, Thomas, Poels, Froome, Ion Izagirre, Valverde, Quintana, Aru, Kangert, Fuglsang, Contador, Kreuziger, Majka. Bardet, Pozzovivo. Kelderman, Bennett, Mollema, Schleck, Pantano, Rolland, Caruso, Porte, van Garderen, Barguil, Ten Dam, Reichenbach, Buchmann, Van den Broeck, Rodriguez, Meintjes, Martin and Yates

 

Froome shows polka-dot intentions

Majka tried to go for the KOM points but he was beaten by Poels and Froome as the latter clearly showed his intentions to defend his mountains jersey. The Dutchman and Geraint Thomas led the peloton down the descent and made sure that the Sky riders were safe. That was not the case for Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo) who went down in a turn. George Bennet waited for him and after a quick bike change he started his chase.

 

As they hit flat roads, Nieve went back to work and while Kelderman and Bennett rejoined the group, the Basque led the peloton towards the bottom of the Col de Peyresourde. He set the pace on the lower slopes until the dramatic finale started.

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