Heartbreak again for Thibaut Pinot
The cycling world bore witness to an upsetting but familiar sight on the Port de Balès, as Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) was dropped out of contention for the yellow jersey.
There was a horrible sense of deja-vu reminiscent of his collapse in the Alps at last year's Tour de France, with teammate Stefan Küng even putting a consoling arm over his shoulder just as William Bonnet did so memorably.
One difference, though, was that this time Pinot was not in tears, instead seeming more resigned than devastated. These were, after all, different circumstances than last year, when he appeared to be on the form of his life and was potentially just days away from winning the yellow jersey.
What went wrong? From his body language, and the way he clutched his back at one moment, it appeared that the Frenchman is still hurting from the injuries sustained from his opening stage crash, despite having managed to stay with the favourites on all the stages up until now.
Remembering how Pinot even considered retiring following the heart-breaking end to last year’s Tour, you have to wonder what the future holds for Pinot — who has already described today as potentially a “major turning point in my career”.
For now, let’s hope he can overcome the pain to stay in the race, and potentially bounce back to try and win a stage.
Adam Yates gallantly defends yellow on the first GC showdown
Although we’ve had difficult climbs and summit finishes already in this Tour, stage eight felt like the first proper showdown between the favourites.
Many fans had flocked to the top of the Col de Peyresourde, providing the familiar sight of riders crawling up the climb in single file while surrounded by waves of cheering spectators — albeit with the unfamiliar twist that most of them were wearing masks.
Those spectators were treated to some thrilling racing, too, as the favourites attacked each other all the way up the climb.
That put Adam Yates’ (Mithcelton-Scott) slender hold on the yellow jersey under serious threat. With so many riders within just 13 seconds of his lead, the attacks were constant, with the likes of Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) all sniffing a chance at take yellow.
These accelerations saw Yates dropped several times, but he remained calm, riding the mountain at his own pace. By the summit he had re-joined the small group of favourites, and managed to fend off attacks from Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Bardet on the descent to successfully defend his lead.
It was a gutsy, intelligent ride from the Lancastrian, and an indication that he might still be yellow for some time yet.
Nans Peters wins the stage
In a day of mixed fortunes for French riders, one unqualified triumph was Nans Peters (AG2R La Mondiale), who masterfully won the stage from the breakaway.
In a race that had up until now been largely dominated by the famous, established names, Peters becomes one of only two riders (the other being Alexey Lutsenko) to win a stage this year having never done so in the past.
The victory was as much a result of his skills going downhill as it was going uphill. When the Frenchman reached the summit of Port de Balès alongside Ilnur Zakarin (CCC), Zakarin looked the best bet to win the stage, what with his pedigree as a former Grand Tour podium finisher.
But 25 of the remaining 35 kilometres were downhill, which proved to be Zakarin’s downfall as Peters dropped him on the descent of Port de Balès. The lead of around 30 seconds he had gained once reaching the base of the Peyresourde proved to be enough of a buffer, and Peters soloed to victory.
It’s the 26-year-old’s second Grand Tour stage win from a breakaway after he won stage seventeen of the Giro d’Italia last year, and, on this basis, there could be many more to follow.
The yellow jersey favourites emerge
Although the first seven stages had given us some idea as to what form the favourites are in, stage eight was our first glimpse of who really are the strongest riders at this year’s Tour de France.
Unsurprisingly Primož Roglič was one of them, and it was the pace set by his Jumbo-Visma team that blew the race to pieces on the Peyresourde. Once Tom Dumoulin had finished his turn at the front, just nine other riders remained.
Roglič was also one of only two riders who were able to respond to an attack from Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), the other being Nairo Quintana. With a sizeable gap over the other favourites, who either did not or could not try to follow them, it looked for a moment as though we might have been witnessing the eventual make-up of the podium.
But the trio chose not to press on, allowing for a regrouping, leaving questions about whether they are indeed stronger than the other favourites inconclusive.
At the finish, ten riders finished in the yellow jersey group (38 seconds behind Pogačar, who had successfully attack again earlier): Romain Bardet, Miguel Ángel López, Adam Yates, Egan Bernal, Mikel Landa, Guillaume Martin, Primož Roglič, Nairo Quintana, Rigoberto Urán and Richie Porte. It’s highly likely that one of these riders will be wearing the yellow jersey in Paris.
Big names are taken out of contention
The Peyresourde proved to be the Waterloo of many of the top favourites’ dreams of winning this year’s Tour de France.
In a bizarre series of events, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) was ejected out the back of the peloton just moments after attempting to make an attack. It was a strange misjudgement of how strong his legs were, and he ended up finishing over ten minutes behind the group of favourites. There will therefore be no repeat of his dramatic pursuit of overall victory last year, and he will probably target stage wins from now on instead.
Jumbo-Visma adopted a strategy that appeared to sacrifice Tom Dumoulin’s hopes of a GC finish. The Dutchman used up all his energy setting a ferocious pace at the front of the peloton, and ultimately lost over two minutes to the other favourites.
Others dropped included last year’s fourth-place finisher Emanual Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), who may still be struggling from the injury that forced him out of the Dauphine last month, Ineos Grenadiers’ Richard Carapaz and Yates’ teammate Esteban Chaves — although these riders managed to limit their losses to just one minute, so could still be in contention for a high GC finish.
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Stephen Puddicombe is a freelance journalist for Cycling Weekly, who regularly contributes to our World Tour racing coverage with race reports, news stories, interviews and features. Outside of cycling, he also enjoys writing about film and TV - but you won't find much of that content embedded into his CW articles.