Stage winner Calmejane put through the wringer
The 24-year-old Frenchman of Direct Energy attacked from a talented escape group on the final categorised climb of la Combe de Laisia les Molunes with 18km to go. Robert Gesink – once touted as a Tour de France contender – was the only rider to make headway in chasing him down.
However, even Gesink could not catch Calmejane, who managed to stretch out his gap further after cresting the climb and into the flatter final run-in to the finish.
Disaster nearly struck for Calmejane, as he virtually drew to a standstill just inside the final 5km with leg cramp. He stretched his legs, and changed to a lower gear to spin his way to the finish. His face was contorted, and the pain and effort were showing.
Somehow he managed to carry on and take the stage. Crumpling into a heap on the floor after the finish line in Station des Rousses, it took him a couple of minutes to get his cramping leg attended to and regain the energy to stand and join in the celebration of his win.
The victory adds to his equally impressive Vuelta a España stage win from last season, and he will get to wear the polka-dot jersey of king of the mountains leader the following day. Not bad for his first Tour de France.
Team Sky under control
Chris Froome‘s lead in the Tour went completely unchallenged during the stage, with Sky ensuring that they had strength in numbers for the key final climb.
As he has done throughout the opening week, Michal Kwiatkowski put in a huge effort on the front of the peloton in the service of his team leader. When he eventually swung off with 21km to go, Sky’s presence was boosted by the appearance of Mikel Landa and Sergio Henao, who had been up the road in escape groups.
It meant that Froome has the firepower of Geraint Thomas, Mikel Nieve, Landa and Henao on the last climb. They kept the pace high, managed to extinguish a couple of late attacks to retain Froome’s position at the top of the GC.
Team Sky made the tough, fast-paced stage look easy but it wasn’t all plain sailing…
A sketchy moment for Froome and Thomas
Both Froome and Thomas have endured minor spills in the opening week of the Tour, and this continued on stage eight. Both riders over-cooked a corner with 45km to go to take an excursion onto the grassy verge.
Froome stayed upright and quickly rode back up to the front of the bunch, but Thomas fell and had to do a bit of work to catch up again. It helped that the peloton slowed to allow yellow jersey Froome to regain contact.
Neither were injured, but it was a timely reminder that anything can happen at any time and a moment’s inattention could spell disaster.
Luke Rowe and Arnaud Démare cut it fine
Stage winner Arnaud Démare (FDJ) was one of the first riders to get dropped on the day’s opening climb, alongside Welshman Luke Rowe (Team Sky), during the fast-paced chaos as escape groups tried to form. Démare said after the stage that he was simply suffering from the previous week’s effort, rather than illness.
The two riders were subsequently part of a small final group – almost a grupetto of the grupetto. The stragglers included two of Démare’s FDJ team, assisting the sprinter in trying to keep within the time cut.
Six riders eventually finished 37 minutes and 33 seconds down on stage winner Calmejane, and within the limit set by the race jury. Last rider home was Peter Sagan’s brother and team-mate Juraj Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), who finished on his own a further three minutes slower that the Rowe/Démare group.
They may have survived the day, but it does not bode well for them on a longer and much harder stage on Sunday.
No major GC attacks with ‘proper’ mountains tomorrow
The first day in the Jura mountains simply served as a warm-up for for the next day, and it looked as though the major general classification contenders were happy to make it something of a truce.
Stage nine from Nantua to Chambéry features no less than seven categorised climbs, including three hors categorie – the toughest rating for any climb included in the Tour.
It will be an extraordinarily punishing day. With the top ten of the GC currently separated by only a minute, there could be major changes on the horizon. Saturday’s stage gave little away in terms of what we can expect from the overall hopefuls.
Froome, Thomas, Fabio Aru (Astana), Daniel Martin (Quick-Step Floors), Richie Porte (BMC), Simon Yates (Orica-Scott), Romain Bardet (Ag2r), Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) all finished on the same time.
Martin was the only rider to try and break the status quo, attacking within the final few kilometres – but he was reeled in by Sky. Nonetheless, it shows that Martin is still feeling good after a strong showing in the opening week, and he may try again.
Porte and Yates, too, have shown already in the race that they are willing to attack. Aru attacked to win stage five. As for Contador and Quintana, we have seen little of them yet. That could soon change.