Rui Costa took the win today as the Tour de France hit the mountains for the first time. The Portuguese rider had been in the break all day and held on by just 12 seconds as Philippe Gilbert jumped out of the peloton in a last gasp attempt to win.
The win for Movistar in the Massif Central puts a shine on what has been a wretched year for them so far. In May, their main Tour contender, Xavier Tondo died in a freak accident at his home when his garage door fell on him. Then at the Tour of Switzerland Mauricio Soler suffered horrific injuries in a crash. The Colombian remains in a serious condition and may never race again.
Without a genuine leader the Spanish team has been putting men in breaks throughout the race’s first week, and finally it paid off. Costa was the only man who could live with American prodigy Tejay Van Garderen on the category two Col de la Croix Saint-Robert and then made his strength apparent on the final climb to Super-Besse Sancy.
Costa only just held on as the favourites left it late to start racing. For a while it looked as if Alexandre Vinokourov was going to steal the show as he attacked on the Saint-Robert and by the two kilometre to go point was alone, just 17 seconds behind Costa. His time over what was left of the peloton was enough to put him in yellow.
It wasn’t to be for the controversial Kazakh as finally was saw the GC men get stuck in. But what we saw wasn’t a show of strength, but a lacklustre attempt at attacking by a group of riders who look nothing like the men they were just last year.
Three times Contador attacked, but each time he was immediately looking over his shoulder, a sign that he wasn’t committing fully to the attack. It certainly looked like he was trying as he leant forward and rocked his shoulders from side to side.
Contador’s efforts lasted no longer than seven or eight pedal revolutions before he was sat back down in his saddle. He may yet come in to form, but if this is as good as he can be it’s hard to see how he will make up the time he needs.
Luckily for him Andy Schleck looks no better. The Luxemberger lacks a killer instinct and simply followed everyone else, his brother looks no better. Here was a chance to grab a few seconds, but no one was willing to take it on.
Once again the strongest GC man seemed to be Cadel Evans as he won the sprint for third, albeit without gaining any time. The biggest mistake he may have made was putting his team on the front all day to chase the nine man group over these famously tight, twisty and heavy roads.
Garmin-Cervelo were happy to let BMC take on the work load Evans’ team obviously thought they would take over the yellow jersey today. What they hadn’t factored in was an amazing ride by Thor Hushovd. The race leader, a former bunch sprinter and now classics rider, stayed with the leaders over the climbs and finished with the leaders.
Philippe Gilbert’s second place on the stage put him back in the lead of the green jersey competition, and we now have the compelling prospect of two completely different riders, Gilbert and Cavendish, going for green. Gilbert went for the intermediate sprint and took more points at the finish to take a 34 point lead over Cavendish.
Rojas is in second and should remain in the hunt, but no other pure sprinters are currently in contention.
Team Sky have wasted no time in reassessing their goals as they put Xabier Zandio in the break, then, towards the end of the stage Juan Antonio Flecha got up the road in the dangerous looking break that contained Vinokourov. Geraint Thomas, who is now the focus of the British team in this years race, finished with the leaders, once again demonstrating what an incredibly versatile rider he is.
Tour de France 2011, stage eight: Aigurande – Super-Besse Sancy, 189km
1. Rui Costa (Por) Movistar 4-36-46hrs
2. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma Lotto at 12 sec
3. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC at 15 sec
4. Samuel Sanchez (Esp) Euskaltel-Euskadi
5. Peter Velits (Svk) HTC-Highroad
6. Dries Devenysn (Bel) Quick Step
7. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre ISD
8. Alberto Contador (Esp) Saxo Bank
9. Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek
10. Frank Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek all at same time
23. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky at 15 sec
26. David Millar (GBr) Garmin-Cervelo at 26 sec
170. Mark Cavendish (GBr) HTC-Highroad at 19-59
180. Ben Swift (GBr) Team Sky at 19-59
General classification after stage eight
1. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Garmin-Cervelo
2. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC at 1 sec
3. Frank Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek at 4 sec
4. Andréas Klöden (Ger) RadioShack at 10 sec
5. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard-Trek at 12 sec
6. Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek at 12 sec
7. Tony Martin (Ger) HTC-Highroad at 13 sec
8. Peter Velits (Svk) HTC-Highroad at 13 sec
9. David Millar (GBr) Garmin-Cervelo at 19 sec
10. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma Lotto at 30 sec
35. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky at 3-18 min
113. Mark Cavendish (GBr) HTC-Highroad at 25-50 min
118. Ben Swift (GBr) Team Sky 26-40 min
BMC lead the chase
Tejay Van Garderen and Xabier Zandio in escape group
Geraint Thomas finished in the overall contenders’ group
Philippe Gilbert attacks in the final kilometres
Alberto Contador (right) attacks, and is followed closely by Andy Schleck (left) and Cadel Evans
Rui Costa takes the win
Thor Hushovd kept hold of the race lead
Tour de France 2011: Related links
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Stage seven photo gallery by Graham Watson
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Stage seven live text coverage
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