Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale) claimed victory on stage 8 of the Tour de France while Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) withstood the attacks of Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) on the final climb to La Mauselaine to retain his lead in the general classification.
Kadri's win was the first by a home rider in this year's race and came after he infiltrated a five-man breakaway 35 kilometres into the stage. The Frenchman dropped his breakaway companions on the Col de la Croix des Moinats with 25 kilometres remaining, and held off the yellow jersey group over the final two climbs to take the win.
"I'm really, really happy," Kadri said. "It's an amazing feeling that I have right now. I'd like to thank my team. I told them that I wanted to go for it, straight from the start, just go to the end. I wanted to be in the escape. It's was a day that suited me and I'm delighted for what's happened."
Photo: Tim de Waele
The rain-soaked finale was marked by the fierce pace-setting of Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo team, who whittled the yellow jersey group down to just twenty or so riders ahead of the 1.8km haul to the line. The unfortunate Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) fell victim to a crash on the preceding descent and lost over two minutes to his overall rivals, while the group then fragmented under Contador's forcing in the final kilometre.
Contador made several attempts to attack Nibali, but the Italian tracked each move until the final 50 metres. Contador eventually finished the stage in second place, 2:17 down on Kadri and three seconds up on Nibali. Richie Porte (Sky) battled well to take third at 2:24, just ahead of Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr).
"The final climb was explosive and better suited to Alberto," Nibali said. "I felt good and I controlled the situation by staying on his wheel, but in the final metres I was in too high a gear and I lost a few seconds.
"Alberto is the most dangerous rival but there's Richie Porte, who was just behind us today and Alejandro Valverde, who I saw pedalling well today."
Photo: Tim de Waele
How it unfolded
After a fast and furious opening at a blistering 51kph average, where no attacks managed to gain traction, Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling) and Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma Quick Step) finally managed to break free after 35 kilometres of racing. They were joined shortly afterwards by Simon Yates (Orica-Greenedge), Adrien Petit (Cofidis) and Kadri.
Bart de Clerq had abandoned the race by then, a loss to his Lotto-Belisol leader Jurgen van den Broeck. A crash victim earlier in the week, De Clerq had ridden with pain in his ankle for days and on Saturday the pain finally proved too much. With IAM Cycling's Matthias Frank not starting because of a broken femur, the peloton was down to 184 riders.
On the relatively flat route towards the finale, Chavanel, Terpstra, Kadri, Petit and Yates amassed a lead of over eleven minutes on the peloton where Nibali's Astana team controlled affairs. Going into the final 25 kilometres, where three categorised climbs awaited the leaders, it was Chavanel who was the first to attack the break on the second category Col de la Croix des Moinats. Kadri bridged up to his compatriot and then left him on the 7.6 kilometre climb.
Over the top, Kadri took five points and the virtual lead in the mountain classification but his mind was already on a bigger goal. Chavanel followed at 50 seconds, while the 27-year-old had a lead of 4:30 on the peloton where Tinkoff-Saxo was now doing the majority of the work. Rafa Majka, Michael Rogers and Nicolas Roche paced Alberto Contador but Nibali was glued to the wheel of the Spaniard as rain began to fall steadily over the Vosges.
"Certainly we took the race by the horns, we took advantage of the strong team we have. When you have a great leader like Alberto, it makes it a lot easier. We have a special group, and when we work together, we're really strong," Rogers said.
Kadri's lead on the first of the chasers, Chavanel, kept growing as he tackled the Col de Grosse Pierre, a 3-kilometre climb with sections of 13%. Going into the final 1.8-kilometre climb, Kadri maintained his lead on the dwindling peloton, which had by now lost Talansky to a crash on the descent of the Col de Grosse Pierre. The American lost over two minutes on Nibali and drops to 16th place in the overall.
Kadri's biggest victory to date was Roma Maxima in 2013. The 27-year-old, who has been with Ag2r-la Mondiale since joining the team as a stagiaire in 2008, also won a stage in the Route du Sud in 2010.
As the Frenchman crossed the line victoriously in the gloom of La Mauselaine, the climb above Gérardmer, Chavanel, Terpstra and Yates were each caught by the yellow jersey group. Contador forced the pace and Nibali followed, but Porte, too, managed to hang tough and moves up to third overall, 1:58 down on Nibali.
"It was a good day for us. It would have been nice to hang with Nibali and Contador, but it's not really my sort of climb. It puts us in a good position. The next days will be hard, but I'm happy with how today went," Porte said.
Nibali's overall lead is now 1:44 over his teammate Jakob Fuglsang, while Alberto Contador moves up from 16th to 6th overall, and trails the Italian by 2:34.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) limited his losses on the top three of the overall despite having to let the first group go on the second category climb Col de Grosse Pierre. The Polish Omega Pharma Quick Step rider takes over the white jersey from Peter Sagan (Cannondale), who finished outside the top five for the first time in this Tour. The Slovak retains with green jersey with a lead of some 111 points over Bryan Coquard (Europcar).
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Blel Kadri (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||3:49:28|
|2||Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo||0:02:17|
|3||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team||0:02:20|
|4||Richie Porte (Aus) Team Sky||0:02:24|
|5||Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ.fr||0:02:28|
|6||Jean-Christophe Péraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 5 - Cell 2|
|7||Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team||0:02:36|
|8||Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team||0:02:40|
|9||Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:02:48|
|10||Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) IAM Cycling||0:02:54|
|11||Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling||0:02:55|
|12||Rui Alberto Costa (Por) Lampre - Merida||0:03:01|