Nans Peters (AG2R La Mondiale) scored an outstanding solo stage victory from a 13-rider breakaway, however the real drama unfolded in the GC group behind with none of the yellow jersey contenders able to overcome the minimal time gaps at the top of the overall standings.
British race leader Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) was dropped multiple times on the Col de Peyresourde as his rivals fired attack after attack, but Yates would not be shaken.
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) was able to break free on the climb and claw back around 38 seconds after he lost time in the crosswinds the previous day, but Yates leads the race for another day.
But disaster did strike for French fans early in the stage as Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) sat up on the second climb of the day, losing 20 minutes and ending his GC ambitions for the year.
How it happened
Stage eight of the Tour de France 2020 marked the first excursion into the Pyrenees for the peloton and another mountain opportunity for the GC favourites to fight it out.
The punchy 141km stage from Cazeres to Loudenvielle started with a gradual rise to the foot of the Col de Mentè, a first category climb that runs to 6.9km-long with an 8.1 per cent average gradient.
After cresting that climb 59km into the stage, riders then descended to the valley floor before hitting the first beyond categorisation climb of the 2020 Tour, the Port de Balès (12.2km at 7.6 per cent), which topped out 104km into the day.
After another long descent, it was onto the famous Col de Peyresourde (9.7km at 7.5 per cent).
From the summit of the Peyresourde it was 11km to the line, with a 7km descent followed by a very brief ramp up into a downhill final kilometre.
After a hectic day of racing on stage seven, there was still plenty of appetite for aggressive racing when the flag dropped with breakaway attacks coming immediately.
Less than 10km into the stage the day’s breakaway had formed with 13 riders making it up the road quickly, including Nans Peters, mountains classification leader Benoît Cosneyfroy (Ag2r La Mondial), Tom Skujinš (Trek-Segafredo), Ilnur Zakarin (CCC Team) and Jerôme Cousin (Total Direct Energie).
That group quickly pulled out an insurmountable time advantage over the peloton and 50km into the stage the gap was up to almost 15 minutes, making it clear the stage winner would come from this group.
The breakaway secured most of the points on offer at the intermediate sprint point just at the foot of the Mentè, but back in the bunch Sam Bennett (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) was still able to secure the final two points and narrow the gap to Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) in the green jersey competition.
On the first climb of the day the break stuck together, with Cosneyfroy being allowed to go clear at the top to gain the KoM points.
Cousin then grew frustrated with the lack of cohesion in the front group and took off solo but then caught on the slopes of the Port de Bales.
Then it was Nans Peters’s turn to launched an attack and he was followed by Zakarin, with the pair hitting the top of the Balès together.
Meanwhile back in the peloton Jumbo-Visma were the dominant team at the head of the peloton and their pace caused some major upsets, with Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) losing contact with the group of favourites and losing chunks of time rapidly and effectively calling time on his GC ambitions in this year’s race.
Wout van Aert, stage winner in a bunch sprint the previous day, was unbelievable in the peloton for Jumbo-Visma, outlasting team-mates Sep Kuss and Robert Gesink on domestique duties and leading the bunch over the summit of the Balès and down the other side.
At the front of the race, Peters was more comfortable on the frightening turns descending the Balès and he easily distanced Zakarin, who was looking shaky as the road turned downwards.
Peters pulled out a 40-second advantage over Zakarin as he hit the foot of the final ascent, the Peyresourde, with another four-rider chasing group from the breakaway one minute behind the Frenchman.
But as both Peters and Zakarin hit the lower slopes of the Peyresourde, Zakarin began to close down his rival and the gap tumbled to 12 seconds.
At the top of the climb, Peters was still alone with a minute advantage as Zakarin was joined by breakaway riders Toms Skujinś (Trek-Segafredo) and Carlos Verona (Movistar).
Peters was still alone as he hit the bottom of the descent from the Peyresoude and inside the final kilometre he had the victory wrapped up, crossing the line to take his second Grand Tour stage victory after the 2019 Giro d’Italia and the biggest victory of his career.
Zakarin cracked in the final and it was Skujinš who took second with Verona closing out the podium.
In the GC group, 10 minutes further down the mountain, Jumbo-Visma continued to control until Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) launched an attack to kick off the action, but the Frenchman was caught and then dropped out the back almost immediately.
Tadej Pogačar then fired his move and while Primož Roglič easily followed and the rest of the favourites joined them.
But yellow jersey Adam Yates struggled under the pressure and was dropped.
Further up the climb Pogačar launched a second attack and this time he was allowed to go free, in the hopes of making up the time he lost in the crosswinds the previous day.
Only Mikel Landa (Bahrain-McLaren) and Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) set off in pursuit of the Slovenian as they also needed to make back the time they lost on stage seven.
As the favourites let Pogačar ride away, Adam Yates was able to rejoin the group of 11 overall contenders – only Ineos Grenadiers had more than one rider present as Egan Bernal had Richard Carapaz for support.
It was Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) who made the next big move from the group of favourites but he was pursued by Roglič while Yates lost contact again but fought back once more, with Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) making his first attack of the Tour as he approached the summit.
Roglič followed Quintana and the pair caught Landa and Porte, but the attacks then fell apart on the descent and all the GC favourites came back together, apart from Pogačar who was still 30 seconds closer to the finish by the descent of the Peyresourde.
Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) launched a strong attack at the bottom of the descent and picked up a few seconds at the line but the GC group all rode in together.
Yates still leads the race by three seconds over Roglič, with Guillaume Martin in third.
Pogačar earned back 38 seconds with his courageous attack and moves back into the top-10 overall.
The race continues with a challenging day of climbing on stage eight, with a 153km route from Pau to Laruns with a first category climb in the final 20km and a slightly uphill finish.
Tour de France 2020, stage eight: Cazères to Loudenvielle (141km)
1. Nans Peters (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale, in 4-02-12
2. Toms Skujinš (Lat) Trek-Segafredo, at 47s
3. Carlos Verona (Esp) Movistar, at same time
4. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) CCC Team, at 1-09
5. Neilson Powless (USA) EF Pro Cycling, at 1-41
6. Ben Hermans (Bel) Israel Start-Up Nation, at 3-42
7. Quentin Pacher (Fra) B&B Hotels-Vital Concept p/b KTM, at same time
8. Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Sunweb, at 4-04
9. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at 6-00
10. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2r La Mondiale, at 6-38
General classification after stage eight
1. Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 34-44-52
2. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at 3s
3. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis, at 9s
4. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale, at 11s
5. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at 13s
6. Nairo Quintana (Col) Arkéa-Samsic
7. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana
8. Rigoberto Urán (Col) EF Pro Cycling, all at same time
9. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at 48s
10. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar, at 1-00