Plenty to talk about after a thrilling mountain stage at the 2016 Tour de France
Froome takes yellow, but not how we expected
There was nothing surprising about seeing Team Sky and Chris Froome both win the stage and take the yellow jersey on the first major mountains day at the Tour de France. What was surprising was that he made his move on the final descent rather than the final climb.
He moved to the front of the peloton over the summit of the Peyresourde in what appeared to be a move to take maximum points in the King of the Mountains competition (he had earlier gone for the points on the Col de Val Louron-Azet), then surprised everyone by continuing his attack by tearing down the descent.
Though his winning margin of thirteen seconds over a group of favourites led by Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) and featuring Nairo Quintana (Movistar) was no-where near the huge gains he made on Ax 3 Domaines in 2013 and La Pierre Saint-Martin in 2015, it still hands him a significant psychological advantage over all his rivals.
By gaining time on the downhills, that has in the past been highlighted as a potential weakness, his aura of indestructibility becomes even more intimidating.
The unusual position he adopted on the bike suggested that Froome has been experimenting with new ideas to improve his descending. By leaning forward onto the top tube and pedalling from an unusual angle he looked like a cross between Graeme Obree and a child pedalling an adult’s bike, but the style was undoubtedly effective as he soared ahead of the group behind.
Watch: Tour de France stage eight highlights
Team Sky experiment with tactics
Before Froome made his move, teammate Sergio Henao had sparked the race to life with an attack towards the top of the Peyresourde.
A similar tactic had been tested by Sky at the Critérium du Dauphiné, where they tackled the mountains by sending riders out on the attack rather than all sticking in the bunch and setting a steady rhythm.
Henao’s acceleration still came as a surprise though, as up till then Sky had been riding tempo with other domestiques still lining up to take their turn. Although Geraint Thomas was among those dropped, the tactic had the advantage of catching other riders out by surprise, and forcing Movistar to chase with Alejandro Valverde.
It will be intriguing to see what approach they take on tomorrow’s mountain top finish, especially considering they now possess the yellow jersey.
Adam Yates just denied yellow
Chris Froome’s gain was Adam Yates’s loss, as the young Briton lost ownership of the yellow jersey to his compatriot by just sixteen seconds.
When Greg Van Avermaet was dropped early in the day it was clear that the yellow jersey would be up for grabs, and, lying second overall, Yates was the prime candidate to take it.
Despite having both struggled a little and spent considerable time at the back, Yates remained in the front group heading towards the top of the Peyresourde, at which point the jersey looked well within his grasp.
Nonetheless, he remains second overall on the GC, and extends his lead in the white jersey classification – a competition he now looks a serious contender for.
The King of the Mountains competition kicks off
With four mountains passes on the menu, today was always going to be the day that the battle for the polka-dot jersey began in earnest.
On the first ascent, the legendary Col du Tourmalet, two riders outlined their intentions to compete in the competition – Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff).
The former already seems to be using the classification as a way to salvage his Tour, having seen his GC aspirations fade after being dropped yesterday, and took maximum points on the Tourmalet and the subsequent category two Hourquette d’Ancizan.
But it was 2014 winner Majka who ended up in the jersey after Pinot was dropped on the penultimate Col de Val Louron-Azet, allowing Majka to take enough points at the summit to overtake Pinot.
He was denied maximum points however as Sky’s Wout Poels and Chris Froome refused to budge from the front at the summit.
This may have just been a ploy by Sky to trick his rivals into believing Froome was going for the points when he attacked for real on the top of the Peyresourde, or it may be that Froome is at least partially invested in defending the title he won last year – time will tell, but for now he lies third in that classification.
Michael Morkov becomes first rider to abandon
The Pyrenean monster that was stage eight was always likely to cause casualties, and alas Michael Morkov (Katusha) became the first rider to abandon the 2016 Tour de France.
Having spent most of the first week battling with injuries sustained on stage one, Morkov’s withdrawal brings to an end what had been a record breaking streak of seven stages without a single rider abandoning.
There were also fears that Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) might be joining the Dane out of the race as there were reports of him falling out the back of the Autobus.
Withdrawal in such a manner might have made a convenient excuse for the Manxman to go home and concentrate on preparing for the Olympics, but the way the Manxman battled back into the Autobus suggests he’s no desire to leave the Tour just yet.