The 101st Tour de France continues through July 27. Click through to read our report of Stages 8-10.
Location: Tomblaine to Gérardmer La Mauselaine
Duration: 161km/ 100.04mi
Terrain: Easier mountain stage (two category 2 climbs, one category 3)
Weather: 20C/ 68F – 15km/hr Winds
Why you should care: Our first real mountain stage of this year’s Tour. While certainly not the most difficult of climbs, the mountain stages favor the GC contenders, and with the minutes lost in the previous days, Alberto Contador and Tejay Van Garderen (biggest threats for the overall) will be wanting to make up for lost time. Can Vincenzo Nibali (yellow jersey) stave them off, or has he expended his energy in the first week of the Tour de France?
The treacherous first week seemed to catch up with many of the riders in the peloton, especially for the sprinters who struggled to keep contact with the back of the pack. There were yet more crashes throughout the stage as the unrelenting rain dogged the already exhausted, and largely injured riders. Even overall contender Van Garderen was caught hanging off the back of the pack. It looked as though the greatest competition of the stage would be between Nibali and Contador.
Riders and fans were finally vindicated with a breakaway win on stage 8! There is always a breakaway group in each stage, trying to get ahead early on in order to take the stage win for themselves, by themselves. However, especially in the sprinter stages, the breakaway riders are nearly always caught – as they have been throughout this first week – and sometimes it can seem like there is no point to staging a breakaway in the first place. Not so, because there are days like today. Blel Kadri (AG2R-La Mondiale) broke away with 132km/82.02mi still to go in the stage, and he kept his lead all day long. He attacked his final remaining breakaway brother, Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling) with about 22km to go until the finish, and pushed himself up the towards the ski resort of La Mauselaine.
Following Kadri was the main pack with Contador, Nibali, and Van Garderen at the front. Contador, looking like he hadn’t even broken a sweat, attacked Nibali as they neared the summit. He didn’t get very far, but Nibali looked like he was barely hanging on to Contador’s slipstream as they rode together to the summit, with Tejay blurrily visible behind them, unable to respond to the attack.
Location: Gérardmer to Mulhouse
Duration: 170km/ 105.63mi
Terrain: Mountainous stage (three category 3 climbs, two category 2 climbs, and one category 1 climb)
Weather: 21C/ 69.8F – 20km/hr Winds
Why you should care: Our second stage in the mountains and the riders are looking ready for that first rest day on Tuesday. The pressure mounts for Nibali: Will he fight for yellow, or relinquish the jersey to give his teammates and himself a break? And if he does give it up, does Contador have the legs to take it?
The group was quite split up over the course of the stage, with a breakaway, a group of chasers, the peloton, and a large number of riders off the back. The chasing group included rider Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol), who started the day in 11th place overall with 3’27” behind Nibali. In the second half of the stage it became clear that the chasing group – let alone the breakaway of Tony Martin (Omega-Pharma-Quickstep) and Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) – would not be caught by the peloton. They were far enough away that they could easily cross the finish line with several minutes between themselves and the main group, which housed all three of the main GC Contenders.
Nibali would not be able to hold on to yellow today. The Frenchman Tony Gallopin took it from him, as well as an extra 1’34” of time on the eve of the Bastille Day.
Tony two times: The stage win went to one of the original breakaway riders, Tony Martin, who attacked his only remaining competitor from the breakaway, Alessandro De Marchi, with still another 59km in the race, riding to the finish line in beautiful form, completely uncontested.
Location: Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles
Duration: 161.5km/ 100.35mi
Terrain: Extremely mountainous stage (one category 3 climb, two category 2 climbs, and four category 1 climbs)
Weather: 13C/ 55.4F – 15km/hr Winds
Why you should care: With a rest day looming on the horizon, and this being one of the toughest stages in the mountains for Tour 2014, the stage was designated as the stage that Contador, one of the only remaining favorites for an overall win, would make his long-awaited move on Nibali. “I expect a very competitive start today. This is the day for Contador to put Nibali into trouble,” said Marc Madiot, team manager of Team FDJ.fr [http://www.letour.fr/le-tour/2014/us/live/aso/]
In the first third of the stage, for all intents and purposes, the stage outcome seemed to be pretty cut and dry. Contador was looking good in the main pack with Nibali and Tejay, and a predictable group of breakaway riders managed an escape early on – notably, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Tony Martin (OPQ), Michal Kwiatkowski (OPQ). Of the large group of breakaway riders, Joaquim “Purito” Rodriguez, who earned his nickname “Purito” (“tiny cigar” in Spanish) when he once pretended to smoke a cigar as he passed his teammates in the mountains at a training camp, was the natural favorite for the stage win today. [http://inrng.com/2011/04/joaquin-purito-rodriguez/]
And then it happened. Again. Another GC favorite bit the dust on the mountains.
Alberto Contador crashed on the rainy descent of the Col Petit Ballon. It took a while, but eventually he got on his bike and rode on with the help of teammates working to get him back into the peloton, which by now was roughly four minutes ahead of him.
By the next col, Contador and his group were 7 minutes and 55 seconds behind the peloton and the yellow jersey (this, on top of the 4 minutes and 8 second deficit he started the day with). Contador was seen summoning his team car to speak with staff. Moments later he was getting into the team car, having abandoned the Tour.
With such a seasoned climber knocked out on the cols of today’s stage, you’d think that other riders would heed this warning, but there were more surprises to be had. As the stage progressed and the Tour approached the final cols of the day, the breakaway began to thin. With Purito leading the way to the top of the final col, La Planche des Belles Filles, it looked as though one stage prediction might actually pan out.
Hopefully no one had any money on the outcome, because in a last-minute move, Nibali, apparently unfazed by the bad luck of his GC rivals, attacked Purito himself within the last 3km to the finish line, surpassed him, and held his lead to the end of the stage. Somebody get this man a cigar.
Tomorrow is our first rest day in the Tour, and it's about time. Hopefully the riders can get adequate rest tomorrow and rebuild strength that was lost through crashes and rough terrain this past week. The Tour will resume Wednesday, easing riders in with a relatively easy, low category climb mountain stage.
Who do you think will win the next stage? Sound off in the comments board below.
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