By Jonny Long
Cofidis' 11-year drought at the Giro d'Italia is over thanks to the breakaway efforts of Victor Lafay.
After the escapees had been afforded enough of a gap to contest the stage victory between themselves, the Frenchman caught and passed Victor Campenaerts (Qhubeka-Assos) and Giovanni Carboni (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane) on the climb to the finish line to claim his first victory as a professional.
The 25-year-old finished 36 seconds ahead of Francesco Gavazzi (EOLO-Kometa), DSM's Nikias Arndt just behind in third.
The action among the GC favourites behind was minimal, a crash in the peloton the only real talking point as they climbed up to the finish, led over the line by Deceuninck - Quick-Step's João Almeida, nearly five minutes after Lafay.
Attila Valter (Groupama-FDJ) retained the pink jersey, ahead of what could be a demanding day in the mountains tomorrow.
How it happened
The attacks came in earnest soon after the flag drop, with riders from Intermarché and EOLO-Kometa involved, the peloton splitting as it chased down various attempted moves off the front.
The pink jersey Attila Valter was caught out in one of these splits, Ineos’ Filippo Ganna trying to exacerbate the Hungarian’s situation at the head of affairs, but before long it was all back together.
The cross-headwind had subsided into a sidewind, more moves trying to establish the day’s breakaway, the bunch splitting up once more through a tunnel, where a crash was reported, but unrelated to Caleb Ewan’s subsequent abandon, having been dropped behind in the early action.
More than 50km had been covered now, and finally riders were going clear, including UAE Team Emirates’ Fernando Gaviria, Victor Campenaerts (Qhubeka-Assos) soon also making his way across.
The other escapees were Nikias Arndt (DSM), Kobe Goossens (Lotto-Soudal), Nelson Oliveira (Movistar), Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r Citroën), Victor Lafay (Cofidis), Giovanni Carboni (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane) and Francesco Gavazzi (Eolo-Kometa).
Soon the nine riders had a minute and the peloton relaxed into the stage, the gap going out above two minutes as it ticked under 100km to go.
For the second day in a row, Fernando Gaviria went long, this time at the intermediate sprint rather than the finish line, taking the maximum points available as the maglia ciclamino competition had opened up after Ewan’s departure from the race, the Australian revealed to have been struggling with knee pain.
Groupama-FDJ were fulfilling their duty-bound task of leading the peloton, the gap to the front now over six minutes.
Soon the break was onto the category two climb that punctuated the day’s race, the 18.9km long climb with an average gradient of 4.6 per cent.
Ineos set up shop behind Groupama-FDJ on the climb, BikeExchange’s Simon Yates suffering a mechanical and forced to stop briefly as Jumbo-Visma’s Dylan Groenewegen was jettisoned before Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) also had to stop for mechanical assistance.
Lotto-Soudal’s Kobe Goossens was first to the summit, followed by Arndt and Gavazzi.
After the gap had gone up above seven minutes, it was back down to six minutes after the summit, Oliveira pushing it on the descent and Gaviria following.
Groupama-FDJ still led over the summit, Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Victorious) once again taking it up on the front on the downhill.
Then Gaviria crashed on a sweeping bend, having attacked moments before, soon half a minute behind and bleeding from various bumps and scratches.
Groupama-FDJ just about managed to stay up around the same corner, as the Colombian made his way to the medical car, before surfing through the cars to get back up to his collaborators.
The gap was heading back up towards the seven minute mark with 25km remaining, Arndt attacking 4km later as the balance tipped in favour of the escapees taking the spoils for the day, Carboni closing before Campenaerts countered.
Gougeard dragged the hour record holder back, then trying again in vain. Under 15km to go and the Frenchman launched his own move, then it was Goossens turn to have a go.
Gaviria then briefly lost contact before Campenaerts attacked and took the intermediate sprint, Carboni making it across to him before Gougeard also followed.
Israel Start-Up Nation then took it up on the front of the peloton behind, but up in the breakaway the road was starting to ramp up, Carboni leaving Campenaerts behind inside the final 3km with Gougeard in third on the road but not for long, as Cofidis’ Victor Lafay made his bid for victory.
Soon he’d overhauled Campenaerts and caught and passed Carboni with little over 2km remaining.
EOLO-Kometa’s Gavazzi was also surging from behind, overtaking Carboni and off in search of Lafay as the Cofidis rider went under the flamme rouge.
As Lafay crossed the line, EF Education - Nippo took it up behind, Carthy in second wheel.
A crash then impeded a few riders, Bora and Bahrain involved, and soon Ineos took it up as the road ramped up, Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) and Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana) paying attention near the front. Eventually, João Almeida (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) led them across the line without incident, a crash at the back of the bunch the most eventful action of the last few kilometres for the bunch.
Giro d'Italia 2021, stage eight: Foggia to Guardia Sanframondi (170km)
1. Victor Lafay (Fra) Cofidis, in 4-06-47
2. Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) EOLO-Kometa, at 36 seconds
3. Nikias Arndt (Ger) DSM, at 37s
4. Nelson Oliveira (Por) Movistar, at 41s
5. Giovanni Carboni (Ita) Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè, at 44s
6. Kobe Goossens (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, at 58s
7. Victor Campenaerts (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, at 1-00
8. Alexis Gougeard (Fra) Ag2r Citroën, at 1-54
9. Fernando Gaviria (Col) UAE Team Emirates, at 3.04
10. João Almeida (Por) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, at 4-48
General classification after stage eight
1. Attila Valter (Hun) Groupama-FDJ, in 26-59-18
2. Remco Evenepoel (Bel) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, at 11 seconds
3. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at 16s
4. Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus) Astana-Premier Tech, at 24s
5. Louis Vervaeke (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix, at 25s
6. Hugh Carthy (GBr) EF Education-Nippo, at 38s
7. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain Victorious, at 39s
8. Giulio Ciccone (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, at 41s
9. Dan Martin (Irl) Israel Start-Up Nation, at 47s
10. Simon Yates (GBr) Team BikeExchange, at 49s
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