By Nigel Wynn
Thibaut Pinot (FDJ-BigMat)
gave France its first win of the 2012 Tour de France, soloing to take stage eight in Porrentruy, Switzerland, on Sunday.
The 22-year-old Frenchman - the youngest rider in the race - put in a perfectly-measured ride from an earlier escape group to keep the chasing group of contenders at bay.
Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) led home the chasing unit of overall contenders at 26 seconds, with Tony Gallopin (RadioShack-Nissan) in third on another harder-than-expected stage.
British race leader Bradley Wiggins (Sky) survived several attacks in the final 20 kilometres to come home in fourth and maintain his 10-second lead over Evans overall. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) stays in third at 16 seconds.
Wiggins' British team-mate Chris Froome (Sky) moves up to sixth place overall, but loses his King of the Mountains jersey to Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana).
Day in the hills
The opening 50 kilometres of the day's stage were marked by a feverish flurry of attacks from riders all hoping to get into a break. With seven categorised climbs along its 157.5km distance, the day suited an escape.
Wiggins' Sky team policed the escape attempts and a move only stuck when Jeremy Roy (FDJ-BigMat) managed to break free mid-way through the stage.
Kessiakoff was the first member of a larger chase group to bridge up to the Frenchman, followed later by Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank) and Kevin De Weert (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).
Kessiakoff attacked his companions to forge ahead solo, as the other leaders were absorbed by a sizeable chasing group. Behind, Sky were keeping all of the escapees' time advantage pegged and they never gained more than three and a half minutes.
Kessiakoff forged on solo, reaching the final climb of the day - the first category Col de la Croix - with around three minutes on the yellow jersey group.
As the pace of the lead group picked up on the last climb whole clumps of riders were dropped leaving a select number in the company of Wiggins.
Local man Thibaut Pinot (FDJ-BigMat) bridged up to Kessiakoff from the chasing group and then passed the Swede, who was paying for the day's efforts. Pinot crested the final climb solo and then took on descent. Kessiakoff tried to catch up, and over-cooked it on one of the corners.
Behind, Nibali was using his superior descending skills to put pressure on his fellow contenders, including Wiggins, Evans, Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol), Frank Schleck, Haimer Zubeldia, Chris Horner (all RadioShack-Nissan), Denis Menchov (Katusha) and Froome. The descent wasn't long enough for the Italian to gap his opponents, and they reached the flatter run-in to the finish as a group.
However, some notable riders were dropped on the final climb. Best young rider Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) and Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) were two of those who lost touch with the Wiggins group.
Pinot kept up the momentum to take a fine solo win egged on by his directeur sportif Marc Madiot comically screaming at him from the FDJ team car.
Evans and Van Den Broeck attacked Wiggins in the contenders group in the final kilometre but the race leader bridged the gap and the group rolled in together, no time lost or gained between the top three.
Last year's Tour King of the Mountains and reigning Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) crashed on an innocuous stretch of road, and suffering a broken finger and severe bruising to his back. His Tour - and hope of defending his Olympic road race title - over.
Monday's individual time trial stage will be another day to shake up the overall classification. The 41.5km test from Arc-et-Senans to Besançon will play into the hands of overall leader Wiggins and defending champion Evans.
Watch out for first-week race leader Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) who looks to be on top form and will be gunning for another stage win after claiming the opening prologue in Belgium. Stage eight preview>>
Tour de France 2012, stage eight: Belfort to Porrentruy, 157.5km
1. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-BigMat in 3-56-10
2. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing at 26 secs
3. Tony Gallopin (Fra) RadioShack-Nissan
4. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky
5. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
6. Jurgen Van den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol
7. Chris Froome (GBr) Sky
8. Denis Menchov (Rus) Katusha
9. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) RadioShack-Nissan all same time
10. Frank Schleck (Lux) RadioShack-Nissan at 30 secs
Overall classification after stage eight
1. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky in 38-17-56
2. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team at 10 secs
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale at 16 secs
4. Denis Menchov (Rus) Katusha at 54 secs
5. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) RadioShack-Nissan at 59 secs
6. Chris Froome (GBr) Sky at 1-32
7. Maxime Monfort (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan at 2-08
8. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol at 2-11
9. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2r La Mondiale at 2-21
10. Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis at 2-27
Christian Knees chases the escape
Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome
Michael Albasini heads the escape
Thibaut Pinot celebrates his biggest win to date
Bradley Wiggins fended off his rivals to stay in yellow
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Tour de France 2012: Teams, riders, start list
Tour 2012: Who will win?
Tour de France 2012 provisional start list
Tour de France 2012 team list
Tour de France 2012: Stage reports
Stage seven: Wiggins takes yellow as Froome wins stage
Stage six: Sagan wins third Tour stage
Stage five: Greipel wins again as Cavendish fades
Stage four: Greipel wins stage after Cavendish crashes
Stage three: Sagan runs away with it in Boulogne
Stage two: Cavendish takes 21st Tour stage victory
Stage one: Sagan wins at first attempt
Prologue: Cancellara wins, Wiggins second
Tour de France 2012: Comment, analysis, blogs
Analysis: How much time could Wiggins gain in Tour's time trials
CW's Tour de France podcasts
Blog: Tour presentation - chasing dreams and autographs
Comment: Cavendish the climber
Tour de France 2012: Photo galleries
Stage seven by Graham Watson
Stage six by Graham Watson
Stage five by Graham Watson
Stage four by Graham Watson
Stage three by Graham Watson
Stage two by Andy Jones
Stage two by Graham Watson
Stage one by Graham Watson
Prologue photo gallery by Andy Jones
Prologue photo gallery by Roo Rowler
Prologue photo gallery by Graham Watson
Tour de France 2012: Team presentation
Sky and Rabobank Tour de France recce
Tour de France 2012: Live text coverage
Stage six live coverage
Stage five live coverage
Stage four live coverage
Stage three live coverage
Cycling Weekly's live text coverage schedule
Tour de France 2012: TV schedule
ITV4 live schedule
British Eurosport live schedule
Tour de France 2012: Related links
Brits in the Tours: From Robinson to Cavendish
Brief history of the Tour de France
Tour de France 2011: Cycling Weekly's coverage index
1989: The Greatest Tour de France ever