With 3 kilometres still to race, Hushovd and Moncoutié were closing in on lone leader Jeremy Roy (FDJ), and a three-man sprint was anticipated. The world champion had other ideas, however, powering away from Moncoutié and then blasting immediately past Roy to seal stage victory. Moncoutié himself also passed Roy in the finale to come home 10 seconds down on Hushovd.
Leaning against the barriers after the finish, Moncoutié explained that while Hushovd's attack was a surprise, waiting for the sprint would only have delayed the inevitable.
"In a finale like that I knew that weren't too many ways for me to win," Moncoutié told Cyclingnews. "Tactically it was difficult with a man like Hushovd, and when he attacked in the end I couldn't follow him, he was too strong."
Hushovd's show of strength had begun on the Col d'Aubisque, when the hefty Norwegian was surprisingly the first attacker from the breakaway group on the lower slopes of the climb. While first Roy and then Moncoutié passed him, his performance on the Aubisque was enough to ensure that he was still in contention on the long descent to Lourdes.
"He did well to take a bit of an advantage on the Aubisque, he was pedalling well," Moncoutié said. "I caught and passed him, but he's a very good descender and he came back to me."
As the pair combined to chip away at Roy's lead, Moncoutié realised that their alliance of circumstance would have to come to an abrupt end once the road began to flatten out in the finale.
"I did some turns on the front, but not all the time," Moncoutié said. "I rode down to the bottom of the descent, but I told him that I was only riding until the last 10km."
A secondary goal for Moncoutié during his sortie off the front was to accumulate points in the mountains classification. Although disappointed not to end the day in the polka dot jersey, he was generous in his praise of his fellow countryman Roy, who led over the Aubisque.
"I had everybody watching me on the Aubisque, but it's normal," Moncoutié said. "They knew that I was perhaps the best climber in the group, but Jérémy was strong, and certainly the strongest today."
While Thomas Voeckler's spell in the yellow jersey continues to delight the home fans, French riders have yet to deliver a stage win in this Tour de France, but Moncoutié pointed out that it was not for the want of trying.
"Like on Thursday, there was a lot of attacking from the French riders today, and Roy especially did another great ride," he pointed out.
For his part, the calmly-spoken Moncoutié is in the final Tour of his career, and still hoping to round out his total of stage wins to three, following his triumphs at Figeac and Digne-Les-Bains in 2004 and 2005 respectively.
"I'll certainly be trying to get into breaks in the next few days," he smiled, as he pedalled off towards the team bus.
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