Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) lit up the early part of the eighth stage, going on the attack to try and claw back some of the time he conceded in the first week. He began the day in 18th, 3:07 down, but surprised everyone when he joined a counter-attack on the climb of Port d’Envalira, and then worked hard to drive the move clear.
With the presence of Evans, who has finished second overall in the last two Tours, the break was arguably always doomed to failure, but the Australian earned praise from most observers for at least having a go, even if his tactics baffled some others including Johan Bruyneel, the Astana team director.
At the finish, as he spoke to reporters, there was a glimpse of the Evans that began last year’s Tour as the favourite, and appeared less than comfortable with the attendant pressure.
"I took advantage of an opportunity at the start, but to no avail, "said Evans. "It wasn’t planned."
Then he turned his guns on the media; to be precise, "ignorant members of the media who say I never attack."
He continued: "I get so sick of being told, ‘Why don’t you go in an early break? Why don’t you do this? Why don’t you do that?’ Do you think anyone in the Tour de France would let me go in a break?"
He was similarly unimpressed with his breakaway companions. "I get in the breakaway and they carry on like three-year olds with a tantrum, saying, ‘Err, get out of the group… they are going to chase us.’ Honestly, that is typical bike riders’ tactics. They are more than welcome to go back to the peloton if they want."
Regaining his cool, Evans added: "I saw an opportunity, I had nothing to lose… but as it turned out, it was a big waste of energy."
Despite that, Evans promised to "have a go at Verbier," in eight days. "I’ll seek more opportunities," he said.
Bruyneel seemed confused, meanwhile, by Evans’s tactics. "I was surprised to see him attack so early in the stage," said the Astana director. "I don’t know what the purpose was, because we still consider him one of the favourites, [even] though he has lost three minutes.
"I don’t know what his intention was," continued Bruyneel. "It’s a long climb, but if you look at the profile, you can see there are 154km [from the summit] to the finish. I didn’t really understand, but we just kept the team together and controlled the situation. It didn’t do us a lot of damage – it did him more damage, I think."