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Live coverage of stage 8 of the Tour de France, 161 kilometres from Tomblaine to Gérardmer La Mauselaine.
A week is a long time at the Tour de France. Leeds seems a lifetime away and the story of this race has already followed enough plot twists to make Dan Brown wince, but there ought to be more drama on what promises to be an explosive finale this afternoon. The first of three successive days in the Vosges begins gently enough but the terrain changes dramatically in the final 30 kilometres. The second category climbs of the Col de la Croix des Moinats and Col de Grosse Pierre, and the short, sharp haul to the summit finish at La Mauselaine have the potential to alter the landscape of this Tour once again.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) remains in the yellow jersey, having snatched the lead with a canny attack in Sheffield last Sunday and then buttressed his advantage with considerable élan on the cobbles in midweek. He holds a two-second lead on teammate Jakob Fuglsang, with Peter Sagan (Cannondale) in third place, at 44 seconds.
The general classification is as follows at the beginning of stage 8:
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 29:57:04
2 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team 0:00:02
3 Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale 0:00:44
4 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quick Step 0:00:50
5 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol 0:01:45
6 Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Belisol
7 Richie Porte (Aus) Team Sky 0:01:54
8 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin - Sharp 0:02:05
9 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:02:11
10 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
The peloton is currently ambling through the neutralised zone in Tomblaine, on the outskirts of Nancy. There are no major obstacles in the opening part of the stage, and the day's intermediate sprint is at Dinozé after 100 kilometres. Once at Vagney (132km), however, the route changes in complexion and the peloton attacks the Col de la Croix des Moinats (7.6km at 6%), the Col de Grosse Pierre (3km at 7.5%) and La Mauselaine (1.8km at 10.3%) in quick succession in the finale.
The flag has dropped and the stage is underway, but for once, there is no immediate attacker at kilometre zero.
Today sees the Tour's first summit finish, an occasion that might be expected to mark the beginning of Alberto Contador's fight back in the general classification. Not so, says the Spaniard, who currently lies some 2:37 off the maillot jaune of Vincenzo Nibali. "The last climb is perhaps too short and explosive, and better for riders like [Alejandro] Valverde or even Nibali," Contador insisted, adding that he views the mountains as beginning with Monday's tough stage to La Planche des Belles Filles.
Daniel Oss (BMC) tries to lead a small delegation of riders off the front of the bunch, but they are quickly brought to heel.
Yesterday was a disappointing day for BMC, who lost Darwin Atapuma to a fractured femur, while Tejay van Garderen lost a minute in the same crash and slips to 3:14 behind Nibali in the overall standings. "It is a shit day," said Peter Velits, who at least helped van Garderen limit his losses by handing his bike to his leader after the crash.
There's been a brisk start to proceedings, with Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge) among those trying to get clear, but so far nobody has succeeded in breaking the deadlock at the head of the peloton.
Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling) is the next rider to try his luck, and his fierce acceleration has sparked quite a reaction in the peloton.
The peloton has split into three groups following Chavanel's attack, with Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) among the riders caught behind in the third group on the road.
Chavanel is ten seconds clear of the peloton in the company of his former teammate, Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-QuickStep). Meanwhile, the fractured peloton has regrouped behind, and Talansky is safely back on board, alongside all of the other overall contenders.
Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) was reportedly also among the riders caught out by that brief split, but the world champion is now tucked into the main field once again. Costa has ridden well to date, only losing ground on the cobbles, although he limited his losses well on that stage. He lies in 11th place overall, 2:11 down on Nibali.
Chavanel and Terpstra are battling gamely to gain some traction for their move, but they are still only 15 seconds up on the peloton. Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) is trying to bridge across but the Englishman is caught in no-man's land for the time being.
The pace in the peloton has finally relented and Terpstra and Chavanel have taken advantage to establish their lead. They are now 1:10 clear of the bunch, while Simon Yates has been joined in his pursuit of the leaders by Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Adrien Petit (Cofidis).
The average speed has been a blistering 48.5kph to date, and - not surprisingly - the peloton is glad of the opportunity for some respite. Its pace slows considerably and the break's lead yawns out to 1:45.
Yates, Petit and Kadri join Terpstra and Chavanel at the front of the race. The quintet has 3:25 in hand on the peloton. Christian Prudhomme leans out the window of the red race director's car and takes a picture of the break on his phone. What would Henri Desgrange say?
The Astana team of Vincenzo Nibali is setting the tempo on the front of the peloton, although there is no threat whatsoever to the yellow jersey in this break. Chavanel is the best placed on general classification, but he is some 26 minutes down on Nibali.
Simon Yates has been as good as his word on this opening day in the Vosges. The Englishman - now the youngest rider in the Tour after Danny van Poppel's departure - told Cyclingnews yesterday that he was aiming to infiltrate the breaks on these rolling days. Sadhbh O'Shea has the full story of Yates' thoughts on his debut Tour here.
This break is made up of strongmen who are absolutely no threat on the general classification - exactly the kind of move that could stay clear all the way to the finish on a day like this. Astana, for one, are happy to let the escapees amass a lead. Their gap is up to 5:25.
Bart De Clercq (Lotto-Belisol) becomes the 14th rider to abandon the Tour. The Belgian injured his ankle in crash earlier in the week and he has been forced to call it a day.
Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) was visibly upset with Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) after his crash in the finishing straight yesterday but he spoke with the Australian to clear the air before the start in Tomblaine. "I just wanted to make sure he knew I had no hard feelings. Stuff happens and you keep on moving forward," Talansky said. "Finally we’re getting into some hills. They’re a little shorter and not exactly suited to me but I’ll take any uphill I can get."
Conditions are overcast, still and dry this afternoon, although there have been some showers on the finishing climb at La Mauselaine. The break's lead is 6:20 over the peloton, which is still being led by Astana.
A delegation from Sky are lined up just behind the Astana train, with Movistar, Omega Pharma-QuickStep and Tinkoff-Saxo tucked in behind them in that order. The pace is sedate in the field for now, although the intensity will ratchet up a notch or ten in the final 30 kilometres.
Terpstra and Chavanel have set the tone for this break, which is working smoothly and now holds a lead of 6:33 over the peloton.
The break covered some 51.2 kilometres in the first hour of racing, which - tailwind or no tailwind - is a blistering early pace.
The terrain isn't particularly rugged just yet, but the peloton beating a path through some of the dark green forestry typical of the region.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) endured another near miss at Nancy yesterday but although he is yet to win a stage at this Tour, he is the runaway leader in the points classification, already some 113 points clear of Bryan Coquard (Europcar). Indeed, Sagan has yet to finish outside the top 5 at the Tour. The last man to match that level of consistency though the first seven stages of the Tour was Charles Pélissier all the way back in 1930.
Charles Pélissier, of course, won eight stages and finished second in seven more and, all told, was in the top three on 18 of the 21 stages. The youngest of the Pélissier brothers - and the favourite of Henri Desgrange, who had clashed famously with his elder brothers Henri and Francis - Charles never won the Tour himself, but his haul of eight stages in one editions remains the record, equalled only by Eddy Merckx and Freddy Maertens.
The break's lead has now yawned out to 10:20 over the main peloton. Sylvain Chavanel remains, of course, some 16 minutes off the virtual overall lead, and the break will fancy their chances of staying clear to the line at this rate.
Astana remain at the head of the peloton and no other team had shown any willingness to lead the chase. Were Carlos Betancur in the field, his Ag2r-La Mondiale squad would doubtless have tried to set him up for an attack in the finale, but after failing to return from Colombia to ride the Tour de Suisse, citing illness, the Paris-Nice winner was left out of the Tour team. This morning's L'Equipe reports that the team is likely to part company with Betancur at the end of the season.
Blel Kadri is flying the flag for Ag2r-La Mondiale in the break this afternoon and the Frenchman is poised to take over the king of the mountains jersey this afternoon. He is currently in second overall, a point down on Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis).
That time gap of 10 minutes appeared to be announced somewhat prematurely, but the break is now about to reach that marker. Their lead is 9:50 over the peloton.
Joaquim Rodriguez is at this Tour with the aim of winning stages and building form for the Vuelta a Espana - while the profile of today's stage seems ideal for Rodriguez, the fact that his Katusha team is showing no signs of leading the chase suggests that the Catalan is still some way short of his best.
Alejandro Valverde and his Movistar guard are keeping a watching brief near the front of the bunch. Here's a video interview with the Spaniard, who claims that he's stronger now than he was before his ban for blood doping under the supervision of Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes. Where to begin...
The pace is still relatively relaxed in the peloton, where Richie Porte shares a joke with his fellow countryman Mark Renshaw. The gap is 10:44.
The pace is still relatively relaxed in the peloton, where Richie Porte shares a joke with his fellow countryman Mark Renshaw. The gap is 10:44.
The break has come through the feed zone at Sercouer, and Chavanel reiterates his old school credentials by eschwing an energy gel in favour of a banana.
Adrien Petit (Cofidis) will try to do his bit to save teammate Cyril Lemoine's polka dot jersey but he'll have his work cut out to beat Kadri on the climbs. Still only 23 years of age, Petit is making his Tour debut. Winner of Tro-Bro Leon this year, Petit provided a pitch perfect lead-out at the 2011 under-23 Worlds road race for Arnaud Demare, and helped himself to silver in the process. Next season, he might just find himself serving as poisson pilote for Demare's rival Nacer Bouhanni, who seems destined to join Cofidis in 2015.
The main field is through the feed zone safely and riders are now rifling through their musettes in anticipation of a significant increase in speed in the final 50 kilometres. Dark clouds are looming overhead, mind. It could well be another treacherous run-in to the finish.
Andre Greipel struggled on the wet finales in the early part of the Tour, but victory on stage 6 has lifted considerable pressure from the German's shoulders. Today, he is on bodyguard duties for Lotto-Belisol leader Jurgen Van Den Broeck, and has guided the Belgian towards the head of the bunch.
Astana continue to set the tempo, and the break's lead remains at 10:45. We're still 35 kilometres from the first of the day's three climbs.
The break is approaching the sprint at Dinoze with a lead of some 10:50 over the peloton.
Not surprisingly, the break doesn't contest the sprint, and Terpstra rolls across the line in first place ahead of Petit and Chavanel. Back in the main field, Peter Sagan is moving up and readying himself to sprint for sixth place.
Cannondale begin to wind up the pace in the peloton, which is still some five kilometres away from the intermediate sprint. The break is some 11 minutes clear, and the day's winner should definitely come from our five leaders.
The average speed in the first two hours of racing was a stiff 45.5kph. The more rugged terrain in the finale will see that speed come down again, although the intensity is beginning to rise in the main field.
Bryan Coquard (Europcar) wins the dash for 6th place in the intermediate sprint, while Marcel Kittel - who has shown no interest in the points classification to date - nips in ahead of Sagan to take 7th. The peloton reaches the 61km to go mark some 10:40 down on the five escapees.
Remember Denis Menchov? Remember how he retired in May 2013 citing a knee injury? It turns out that he was actually handed a two-year ban for a biological passport violation. Funny that the UCI didn't announce this ban at the time, and the news has only come to light now (inadvertently?) after the publication of a list of banned riders on the UCI website. Farcical.
Rain is now beginning to fall steadily over the five escapees as they pass through Peuxy, but there are rather heavier showers on the finishing climb.
Just as the Menchov news breaks, Katusha come to the front of the peloton. And just as the news of Menchov's ban is a little late, it seems a little late to try and bring Joaquim Rodriguez back into contention for stage honours.
The rain is cascading down over the peloton just as there is the first serious injection of speed. This could be a chaotic finale...
Mercifully, the rain is not quite as heavy over the five escapees, but the roads are still taking a light showering and will be very greasy by the time the peloton gets here.
The increase in urgency in the bunch has pegged the break's lead back to 10:10, but it's hard to imagine that the five leaders will be reeled in at this rate, even with three climbs still to come.
The break makes its way very gingerly through some traffic furniture and greasy road markings. Meanwhile, Belkin and Movistar are moving their way to the front of the peloton, although Astana are keen to keep a check on the pace for now.
Of the five leaders, Adrien Petit (Cofidis) seems to be the man who is suffering the most, but the Frenchman continues to take his turns on the front. The break is ten kilometres from the base of the first climb of the day.
There is a considerable scramble for positions at the front end of the peloton, with Sep Vanmarcke part of a strong Belkin delegation that is guiding Bauke Mollema forwards.
Niki Terpstra takes a long turn on the front of the break. Our escapees are still chugging along at a decent clip, but the surge in speed in the peloton is beginning to slash their advantage. The gap is now down to 8:20.
Heavy rain continues to fall over the peloton, where Katusha are setting the pace. They still have some eight minutes to make up on the escapees.
Lars Boom, winner in Arenberg on Wednesday, also moves up towards the head of the peloton, as part of the phalanx of Belkin riders protecting Bauke Mollema.
Katusha's pace-making is beginning to whittle down the peloton, with a number of riders being shelled out the back. The break's lead is down to 7:15 and decreasing rapidly.
Thomas Voeckler is among the riders dropped by the peloton. NetApp-Endura are among the teams pushing to the front, working in support of their man Leopold Konig.
The break is approaching the foot of the category 2 Col de la Croix des Moinats, which goes up for 7.6km at an average gradient of 6%.
The five escapees hit the foot of the first climb, where Simon Yates and Sylvain Chavanel instantly come to the front. They begin the climb with 6:13 in hand on the peloton.
Garmin-Sharp have also joined in the pace-setting at the head of the bunch, while a clutch of Tinkoff-Saxo jerseys move up in support of Alberto Contador.
Sylvain Chavanel accelerates and moves clear alone, while Blel Kadri sets off in solo pursuit.
Chavanel has opened a decent gap but Kadri should be able to claw his way across to his rear wheel. Terpstra, Yates and Petit, meanwhile, are unable to match their pace for now.
Chavanel and Kadri have a lead of 11 seconds over the rest of the break, and 5:13 over the main field, which is approaching the foot of the climb.
A strong delegation from Tinkoff-Saxo leads the peloton onto the foot of the climb. The pace-making from the men in luminous yellow has torn the peloton to shreds. A lot of riders have been jettisoned off the back although all of the favourites - including yellow jersey Vincenzo Nibali - are still in there.
Chavanel and Kadri are riding strongly but their lead over the bunch is collapsing. The gap has fallen to 4:32. Simon Yates is now chasing alone, 15 seconds down.
Peter Sagan's sequence of top five finishes will come to a halt today. The green jersey has been dropped from the peloton under the impetus of Tinkoff-Saxo. King of the mountains Cyril Lemoine has also been dropped.
Tinkoff-Saxo's forcing has broken the peloton into a number of small groups, which are now scattered around the hillside.
Blek Kadri accelerates and moves clear of Chavanel. The Frenchman is alone at the head of the race. Chavanel is chasing just behind, while Yates is attempting to get across to him. Terpstra and Petit, meanwhile, are further down the climb.
In spite of Katusha's chasing, Joaquim Rodriguez is discarded out the back of the peloton. Tinkoff-Saxo continue to lay down a strong tempo.
Kadri is 2.5 kilometres from the summit of the climb, and he has put daylight between himself and Chavanel.
Four Tinkoff-Saxo riders continue to lead the peloton, which has been whittled down dramtically. Nibali is locked on to Contador's wheel but the maillot jaune does not have his teammates around him anymore.
Up ahead, Kadri has 39 seconds in hand on Chavanel, 45 on Yates and 4:32 on the peloton. The Frenchman is a kilometre from the summit of the climb.
Chavanel hasn't cracked but he can't match Kadri's pace on the climb and his deficit seems to be still growing. He's 46 seconds down, Yates is at 1:05 and the bunch is at 4:36.
Kadri leads over the summit of the Croix des Moinats with a lead of 50 seconds over Chavanel. Kadri is on course for the stage win, and destined to take control of the mountains jersey this evening too.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) has been blown out the back of the peloton by the pace-making of Tinkoff-Saxo. Rafal Majka is the man on the front for Contador at this point. The front part of the bucnh is down to just 30 riders or so as they pass the 20km to go mark.
Kadri is on the short descent ahead of the Grosse Pierre and is showing no signs of buckling just yet, Chavanel is giving chase with grim determination, 50 seconds back. Yates is at 1:20.
Andrew Talansky and Rui Costa are both well-positioned towards the head of the Tinkoff-led bunch. Mollema, Porte, Nibali and van Garderen are all also present and correct.
Kadri begins the Col de Grosse Pierre (3km at 7.5%), which has a relatively gentle start but the gradient stiffens out dramatically in the final 1.5km. Kadri has 57 seconds on Chavanel and 4:27 on the peloton.
Kadri's face is creased into a grimace as he approaches the stiffest 16% slopes of the Grosse Pierre. Tinkoff-Saxo continue to lead the peloton on the way down the Croix des Moinats.
Tinkoff's pace-setting has strung the peloton out into a single, long line on the plunge down the Croix des Moinats. They remain 4:20 down on Kadri.
Kadri grinds his way over the steepest part of the climb. He is 500 metres from the top of the Grosse Pierre and stage victory is almost within sight.
Majka and Michael Rogers lead the bunch on the lower slopes of the Grosse Pierre. Nibali is locked tightly onto Contador's rear wheel.
Kadri bobs up the final part of the Grosse Pierre with a lead of 1:30 over Chavanel and 4:00 over the peloton. This is a deceptively steep climb and there could well be fireworks when the yellow jersey group hits this upper section.
Ben King and Chris Horner are the latest riders to be jettisoned out the back of the yellow jersey group as Tinkoff-Saxo continue their forcing on the Grosse Pierre.
Majka swings over and now Rogers takes over. Nicolas Roche is behind him, and then Contador, with Nibali locked onto his wheel. The yellow jersey group is down to around 20 riders.
Kadri is on the greasy descent of the Grosse Pierre. He has just one 1.8km climb between him and France's first stage win of the Tour.
Pierre Rolland is at the very rear of the yellow jersey group and seems destined to be shaken loose.
Rogers' luminous yellow jersey emerges from the gloom on the Grosse Pierre as he leads the pack into the steepest section of the climb.
Rogers leads the yellow jersey group over the top of the Grosse Pierre, four minutes down on Kadri. Roche and Contador remained locked on his wheel as they begin the descent. Jakob Fuglsang, meanwhile, has also been dropped by the Tinkoff pressing. This is quite a show of force from Contador's team.
Kadri is sweeping down the descent into Gerardmer. Barring accident, he is going to claim the win. He has been defending himself very well on the climbs and still has 1:35 on Chavanel and 3:50 on the yellow jersey group.
Tinkoff-Saxo's fluorescent jerseys remain at the front of the yellow jersey group on the dark and misty descent of the Grosse Pierre. Contador is still in third wheel, behind Rogers and Roche.
Rogers accidentally opens a small gap over the yellow jersey group but he slows and corrects his pace.
Frank Schleck was distanced on the climb but he has battled his way back to the rear of the bunch on the descent. Fuglsang and Tanek Kangert of Astana have, too, although Kangert almost overshot a bend and skids to a halt to untangle himself from a spectator's deck chair.
Fugslang, in fact, hasn't quite made contact with the bunch, and he surely won't at this point, as Tinkoff-Saxo continue to barrel down the descent.
Kadri starts the final climb to La Mauselaine (1.8km at 10.3%) with a lead of 3:37 over the yellow jersey group. It's going to be a form of purgatory, but the Frenchman is riding towards stage victory.
Kadri hauls himself out of the saddle. He is still climbing well, in spite of his fatigue.
Andrew Talansky crashes on a left-hand bend on the descent, along with Geraint Thomas. Talansky is back on his feet and doesn't seem to be hurt but it's taking an age to put his chain back on. The American looks set to lose time today...
Kadri enters the final kilometre along in front, and his buffer is such that he can already accept the congratulations of his directeur sportif.
The select yellow jersey group hits the final climb. Rogers swings over and now Roche leads Contador. Nibali is on his wheel, and Porte just one place behind. Van Garderen is also close to the front.
Alejandro Valverde shoots to the front of the yellow jersey group with Contador on his wheel. The yellow jersey group has caught and passed the plucky Simon Yates.
Jurgen Van Den Broeck has been dropped by the yellow jersey group on this final climb. Jean-Christophe Peraud hits the front with van Garderen, Nibali and Contador lined up on his wheel.
Contador attacks underneath the red kite. Nibali instantly responds, and this pair have a small gap over the rest...
Blek Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale) wins stage 8 of the Tour de France.
Contador and Nibali have caught and passed Chavanel and will fight out second place between them.
Richie Porte is scrambling back up to their wheel, but behind the group has splintered completely.
Contador is bobbing from side to side as he tries to break Nibali but the maillot jaune is utterly implacable.
Porte is battling very gamely to limit his losses too. This trio have shown themselves to be the strongmen this afternoon.
Contador accelerates in the final 200 metres and takes second place, 2:20 down on Kadri. He put a couple of seconds into Nibali, who comes home in third just ahead of Porte. Thibaut Pinot led the remnants of the group home for fifth.
Contador was second at 2:17. Nibali third at 2:20, Porte fourth at 2:24 and Pinot fifth at 2:28.
Valverde came home 2:36 down, 19 seconds down on Contador, while van Garderen was a further four seconds back. Mollema was 2:55 down.
1 Blel Kadri (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 3:49:28
2 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo 2:17
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 2:20
4 Richie Porte (Aus) Team Sky 2:24
5 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ.fr 2:28
6 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
7 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 2:36
8 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 2:40
9 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 2:48
10 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) IAM Cycling 2:54
The unfortunate Talansky crossed the line in 35th place, 4:37 down on Kadri and 2:20 down on Contador, and his podium hopes have taken a blow this afternoon.
It was, as Robert Millar would say, one of those days when the animals came in one by one. The yellow jersey group split to pieces on the final climb, but Nibali retains his overall lead, now 1:44 up on his teammate Fuglsang, while Richie Porte moves up to third, 1:58 down.
Contador moves up to 6th overall, 2:34 down on Nibali.
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 33:48:52
2 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team 0:01:44
3 Richie Porte (Aus) Team Sky 0:01:58
4 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team 0:02:26
5 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:02:27
6 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo 0:02:34
7 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:02:39
8 Rui Alberto Faria Da Costa (Por) Lampre-Merida 0:02:52
9 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team 0:03:02
10 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol
Contador and Nibali fought out something of a score draw on that final climb. Contador will be hopeful that a similar onslaught can yield real dividends on the longer climbs to come, but Nibali will be pleased with the way he repsonded, at least up to the final 50 metres or so.
A number of riders struggled today, but the man who lost the most was the victim of ill fortune. Andrew Talansky crashed on the descent of the Grosse Pierre and lost over two minutes on his GC rivals.
Thanks for joining our live coverage of today's stage. A full report, results and pictures will follow here, and we'll have all the news and reaction from the Tour's first summit finish. We'll be back with more live coverage on Cyclingnews tomorrow.