The riders and staff at Team Sky celebrated their total dominance of the first mountain finish at the Tour de France at Ax 3 Domaines in their usual modest way, exchanging smiles, handshakes a few hugs but their huge satisfaction was palpable as they warmed down on the rollers or quickly ate some recovery food inside the team's camper van just past the finish area.
Richie Porte arrived a little after several of his teammates because he had been selected for anti-doping control and he gave Pete Kennaugh a special huge and beamed a huge smile. The pocket-sized Tasmanian set up Chris Froome on the climb to the finish and then had the strength to also accelerate away and finish second on the stage himself and secure place overall, 51 seconds behind Froome.
"The day worked absolutely to plan. We expected [Nairo] Quintana to attack and maybe he attacked too far out and so we used our team perfectly. I think Chris showed that he's the strongest guy, he's here to win, so it's an incredible day," Porte told the media that had gathered at the black camper van.
"I think I've shown this year that I'm thereabouts. I was second in most of the races I've done. This is the big one, we can't get too carried away, it's a long way to Paris but I enjoyed today. It's such an advantage riding on the front, taking everything and putting the guys behind to the sword."
"When I saw Quintana and [Alejandro] Valverde were pretty tired, it made sense to set off at my own pace. It was one of those days that went to plan. I just hope the next two weeks are like that too."
Porte did not seem worried about defending the yellow jersey all the way to Paris.
The British team finished the day with the stage win and the yellow jersey courtesy of Chris Froome and Richie Porte finishing first and second, as the remaining Tour team leaders fought to keep their slim hopes of winning alive.
Alberto Contador lost 1:45, Joaquim Rodriguez 2:06, Andy Schleck 3:34, Cadel Evans 4:13 and Tejay van Garderen a shocking 12:15. Only Alejandro Valverde, who finished third at 1:08 managed to salvage something on a day when Sky took control and then some.
"It's an unbelievable stage. Froome, he's just so strong and the problem is maybe it's taken a lot of interest out of the Tour now because Froome has proved that he's so strong," said former professional Sean Kelly.
"If you have one of the big favourites, maybe two who lose more time than expected but when you see van Garderen, Evans losing huge time, Contador losing massive time, it's really looking like the race could be over already."
The race is far from over, however, and several difficult days lie between a Froome win and Paris. Stage 9 offers the opposition a chance to fight back and the lack of a summit finish may in fact help them break Sky's pattern of systematic, metronomic suffocation whenever a stage finishes on a climb.
"You can always crack but if you look at the strength in depth of Team Sky and the way they rode the race, and how Richie Porte rode, how Froome took it up…when you have that depth in the team unless Froome has a disastrous day but that is looking highly...
Froome and teammate Richie Porte dominated the final climb to the Ax-3-Domaines ski station on stage 8. Froome is now almost a minute clear of the field. Porte – instrumental in shredding the lead group on the lower slopes – is 51 seconds down, while Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is third at 1min 25sec.
Such was the thrashing the black and blue team handed to other general classification rivals including Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Leopard) it raised a question about whether people could be confident that the result had been obtained cleanly. 100 percent, Froome said.
“It’s normal that people ask questions in cycling given the history of the sport,” he said in the winner’s conference.
“I know the sport has changed,” said the 28-year-old. “There’s absolutely no way I’d be able to get these results if the sport hadn’t changed. If you look it logically, we know that the sport’s in a better place that it has been for the last 20 or 30 years, so I think the results now are definitely a lot more credible.
“For me it is a bit of a personal mission to show that the sport has changed and I certainly know that the results I’m getting are not going to be stripped 10, 20 years down the line – rest assured it’s not going to happen.”
Froome said months of hard work – including training camps at altitude – and support from Team Sky staff and his fiancée had helped him arrive at...
Will fight for best young rider's jersey until Paris
Thirteen months after Nairo Quintana (Movistar) proved to be the one rider Sky could not control in the 2012 Criterium du Dauphine - when he attacked on the Col de Joux Plane in the Alps and won at Morzine - the 23-year-old Colombian was back giving Sky extra work to do on the mountain stages of the Tour de France.
Seemingly unaffected by his three crashes in the first week, Quintana attacked on the Col de Pailhères some seven kilometres from the summit, an attack that helped split the field and which saw overnight yellow jersey wearer Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge) out the back.
In a move which looked deeply reminiscent of the devastating attacks by legendary Colombian mountain climbers like Fabio Parra, Lucho Herrera and Oliverio Rincón in the 1980s and 1990s, Quintana soared past stage leader Christophe Riblon five kilometres from the summit, and had a gap of a minute by the top of the Pailhères.
A superb fightback by Sky's Pete Kennaugh, as the British rider led the pack over the top of the Pailhères and then on the long drop down to Ax-les-Thermes, saw Quintana's lead whittled away to just 25 seconds. Quintana is not a poor rider technically - as witnessed last year by the way he came off the Joux Plane, which has one of the most twisting, difficult descents of the entire Alps - but the rolling, ‘pedallable‘ descent to Ax-les-Thermes made it difficult for the flyweight climber to maintain his advantage at the head of the race..
Briefly joined by Pierre Rolland (Europcar) at the foot of Ax 3 Domaines, the Colombian then set off up the climb alone after Rolland was unable to collaborate, but as he...
Too early to think about change in strategy, says Riis
Alberto Contador suffered at the hands of Chris Froome and Team Sky on the first mountain stage of this year's Tour de France. The Spaniard was simply unable to follow when Sky blew the race apart on stage eight's final climb of Ax 3 Domaines and lost 1:45 to Froome. He now sits seventh overall in the race, 1:51 off Froome's lead and with his chances of a third Tour de France title severely dented.
He barely spoke after crossing the line, only telling reports that, "we went up very hard, and I'm not in a good way at all."
Contador was paced by his teammate Roman Kreuziger after he lost contact with the leaders on the final ascent.
"I have to thank Kreuziger, but I need to eat well and recover for tomorrow," he said before vanishing into a Saxo-Tinkoff team vehicle.
Several hours later and back at the team hotel, Cyclingnews managed to reach the rider's press officer, who echoed Contador's words from earlier.
It was left to team boss Bjarne Riis to give a more elaborate explanation.
"We didn't expect it to happen, it's a real surprise. Perhaps Alberto had some breathing problems but I'm not sure about that."
However, Contador has been beaten several times by Froome already this year with the British rider taking wins at the Tour of Oman and the Dauphine at Contador's expense. Since that last win the Spaniard had been at pains to stress that he was not in top form but Saturday's performance was consistent – although the large deficit in time was still a surprise.
"The Tour's not over, the hardest part of the race are still to come.
"It's still too early to think about a change in strategy...
Evans finished 4:13 behind Chris Froome, going deep and fighting to limit his losses for much of the climb up to the finish.
Van Garderen seemed to throw in the towel much sooner, suffering from the heat. He quickly gave up tying to limit his losses and finished 12:15 down.
Evans tired to recover in a BMC van but was pursued and filmed by a pack of television cameras. After cleaning himself up he accepted it had been one of the worst days of his career.
"It was my worst day at the Tour while I'm healthy. I was nowhere in the mix and with a few little problems. I knew I wasn't at my best but I didn’t expect to be this far off the best. I was too far away to even know what was going on up front," Evans said.
Evans tried to fight back, true to his never-die temperament, but revealed he had already gone deep on the Col de Pailhères after Team Sky set an infernal pace.
"Sky rode a tempo that was really consistent from when they started on the Pailhères until they hit the bottom of the climb Ax 3 Domaines. Not many people could match it," he said.
"I was already having a hard time on the Col de Pailhères and that's always cause for concern but Ax 3 Domaines isn't quite that high and when you're in the running for GC, a...
Team and former rider in discussions well ahead of public dumping
The news that Fränk Schleck had been officially dumped by his former RadioShack Leopard squad should not have come as a "surprise" to the Luxembourger, according a statement released by Leopard SA - the team’s management company. Schleck was informed he would not be offered a position back on the team when his suspension ends on 14 July and told RTL Luxembourg that he had not approached other teams assuming he would find a home alongside his younger brother Andy.
"I'm surprised by the decision. I have always done my work and have not been looking around in the meantime for other teams," said Fränk.
Andy also announced his surprise at the news and voiced his intention to ride in the same team as his brother next season - as they have done their entire careers. Considering the close relationship between the two siblings one could assume, going off official team communications, that Andy should have been aware Fränk was unlikely to be offered his old position back.
A number of RadioShack Leopard riders including Maxime Monfort voiced their support of Fränk but the team’s PR line has been prompt to dispel any notion that his the former rider was left out of the loop during his ban following a positive control for Xipamide from the 2012 Tour.
"Leopard would like to clarify that Fränk Schleck nor his counsellors can be surprised over the decision taken by Leopard, as several meetings with Fränk Schleck have taken place between the date when the options to appeal the verdict expired and the present date," read a team...
Cannondale rider talks "Hulk" SuperSix Evo and more
In this exclusive Cyclingnews video Peter Sagan talks about the nicknames his bike supplier and team's headline sponsor Cannondale has created for him during his two Tours de France. Sagan's elaborate and arguably 'cocky' victory salutes thrown in his first Tour in 2012 led the Slovak to develop a reputation for being creative when he crosses the line in first place.
The "Hulk" nickname and specifically painted Cannondale SuperSix Evo for this year's edition stems from his win in the 2012 Tour when he took out the bunch sprint into Metz on Stage 6, relegating Andre Greipel and Matt Goss to second and third respectively.
"Last year it was my last celebration at the Tour de France, the Hulk. Cannondale wanted to show I'm strong and hungry for the victory. They did a new bike for me, it's an Evo but the design is the Hulk. The green and with the eyes, It's a very angry bike," he told Cyclingnews.
Sagan currently leads the points classification with a tally of 234 and has a commanding advantage over the next best placed Greipel (141 points) with Mark Cavendish further behind in third spot (128). With a week of the Tour already completed and Sagan already accumulating points on medium mountain days, it looks highly likely the young rider will carve his name into the points classification table for the second year in a row when the race wraps up in Paris.