Tour de France 2014: Frenchman Blel Kadri wins stage eight after impressive breakaway - but Alberto Contador steals the show
Spaniard jumps 10 places to sixth behind Vincenzo Nibali as Sky’s Porte climbs to third
The Tour de France’s first incursion into the mountains saw Spain’s Alberto Contador pile the pressure on the race leader Vincenzo Nibali, soaring 10 places overall to sixth in a single day, while Sky’s leader Richie Porte moved up to third overall.
France celebrated their first victory in the this race on the ultra-steep final slopes of La Mauselaine thanks to solo attacker Biel Kadri. Kadri was initially part of a day-long break of five which also contained English rider Simon Yates – riding strongly in his first Tour but running out of gas on the first of three final climbs, when Kadri made his winning move.
However, while Kadri’s mountain-top stage victory will have little consequence long-term – the Frenchman is too far back to have any impact in the battle for yellow – Contador’s show of strength, even on one of the Tour’s easier mountain stages, left no doubt about his intention of winning a third Tour.
The Madrileno, as Contador is known, lost nearly three minutes on Nibali on Wednesday’s difficult stage across the cobbles of northern France when his gears were blocked by mud. But today the double Tour winner was determined to recoup his losses, when he ordered his Saxo-Tinkoff team to up the pace with a vengeance as the race headed into the Vosges.
As the rain teemed down and the road steepened, huge blocks of riders slid out of the back of the peloton, including Polish challenger Michal Kwiatkowski – previously fourth overall – and Nibali’s team-mate, Jakob Fuglsang, who remains in second overall but who lost nearly two minutes.
Nibali’s Astana squad disintegrated in the Contador-led assault, leaving the race leader isolated as the 40-strong lead group blasted over the mist-shrouded, rain-soaked summit of the second last climb, the Grosse Pierre. Then at the foot of the final, agonisingly steep kilometre-long climb to La Mauselaine, Contador ordered his team-mate Nicolas Roche to speed up again before accelerating away.
His move wrenched the little group surrounding the yellow jersey apart, with only Nibali able to follow him. Contador turned and spoke to the Italian, perhaps expecting some collaboration so they could distance mutual rivals, but Nibali’s marked preference to shadow the Spaniard instead contrasted sharply with Contador’s aggressive climbing style.
At the summit, the Spaniard accelerated a little more, dropping the Italian for three seconds for second place – a minimal gain, but which will give Contador a key psychological advantage in the two remaining stages in the Vosges.
“It couldn’t have gone better. Our aim was to weed out rivals overall who could present problems if they got into breakaways,” said Contador, who is still 2min 34sec behind but who has improved his overall placing by 10 spots, moving up to sixth.
“Dropping Nibali on such a short climb wasn’t going to happen,” he said, “but I still am pleased with the result.”
“He [Alberto] grabbed three seconds today, it’s true,” Nibali countered, “but this kind of steep climb really didn’t suit me. On the same sort of ascent in the Vuelta, I lost a lot more time, so I’m a lot happier.” Porte, meanwhile, rode strongly to claim fourth on the stage, his dark-blue-clad figure distanced by Nibali and Contador at the foot of the final climb. However, the Sky leader remained close to the two riders who look set to be the strongest overall contenders in the race, and despite losing seven seconds to Nibali, he is now third overall.
“I’m happy with how that went. It’s not really my bread and butter that short, sharp [climbing],” Porte said later. “It puts me in quite a good position. I’m a little bit behind those guys on that type of terrain but maybe on the longer climbs I’ll be a bit better.”
Yates, England’s only rider in the peloton, punched bravely above his weight when he got in the five-man break and stayed with the leaders until a third of the way up the first of the final three climbs.
Just 21 years old, the Orica-GreenEdge pro is the youngest rider in this Tour, and though more experienced competitors like Kadri had the measure of him, it was a strong performance for a rookie Tour pro nonetheless. As Kadri pointed out, “We knew he did well in the Tour de L’Avenir last year” – a French stage race which acts as a showcase for young riders – “and I made very sure that when we got to the final climbs that I dropped him straight away.”
Yates finally finished 43rd after he was swept up by the Contador-led peloton at the foot of the Mauselaine, saying later to the website Cyclingnews: “It was a hard day out, but it was a good experience. It might come off another time. It was tough even trying to get into it. I was going flat out just to get into it with 30 other guys. My legs were a bit cold from the rain and they [Sylvain Chavanel and Kadri] just got the gap straight away and that was it.”
However, as Yates put it later: “The Tour is the biggest bike race we do and I think I’m learning a lot.” And Kadri added: “Adam did really well for such a young rider. I’m sure he’s got a great career ahead of him.”
There are six classified climbs in the Vosges on stage nine’s 170km mountainous trek from Gérardmer to Mulhouse which will shatter the peloton early on. And the Grand Ballon, 1,336 metres above sea level, is the highest altitude the Tour peloton has reached since leaving Leeds eight days ago.
It is unlikely, however, that the favourites will attempt to attack, given that there is a long way between the summit of the final ascent and the finish – 43km further on – and the leader’s team will have ample margin to pull back any dangerous moves.
Vincenzo Nibali, the race leader, has predicted that the most likely scenario was a breakaway of riders from a long away down overall who pose no threat to the Tour’s big favourites. The top contenders will probably wish to keep their powder dry for the tough ascent of the Planche des Belles Filles climb on Monday.
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