Tour de France

STAGE 8 : July 6

Castres → Ax 3 Domaines


At the start of the day, the GC looked like this:

And after 5 hours, 195km, and total decimation of the peloton, it’s this:

Only 3 riders carry through and they all move up, and Contador enters the top ten. As the immediate post-race hyperbole fades a bit — not to detract at all from the bulletproof execution of Team Sky — this Tour seems far from decided. Contador is under 2 minutes behind with a teammate also close by.

What satisfaction to see the race really begin to climb and the peloton really begin to battle! Cannondale showed real heart yesterday to chase down the win for Sagan, and today Peter Kennaugh and Richie Porte and Sky calmly took the long view of the stage, didn’t freak out, and led Froome up the massive Col de Pailhères, and into the lead on Ax 3 Domaines. Froome showed more strain than Quintana (more on him in a sec), but then everyone showed more strain than Quintana. No question, Froome was strong and Sky played the stage masterfully.


Enough to claim the Tour? No one would claim it’s over already (and anyway what would be the fun in that?) but I really hope to see even greater heroics from Froome. Today was, Sherwen said, emphatic. Was it a real beatdown? Sure, though I again refer you to the standings for just how big a beating it was, or wasn’t so much.

So then. At 6 miles to go to the top of the tour’ first serious climb (all apologies to Kadri’s polka dots) on Col de Pailhères, Voeckler attacked, shirt open, up on his pedals, seemingly all wiry limbs. Voeckler is considered a climber, bear in mind.

Riblon was further up ahead, having taken the lead solo from Gesink. Can Voeckler do it, we might be forgiven for thinking.

Then suddenly we stopped caring about anything because here comes Nairo Quintana. Sitting back in his saddle, he passes Voeckler. He catches Riblon, who is weaving all over the road, with 5km to the top of Pailhères. They ride together for, what, 15 seconds? Not more than that, I’d guess before Quintana drops him:


Rolland has come out of the peloton (which is already controlled by Sky and specifically Peter Kennaugh) and is chasing. Rolland can climb. He won Alpe d’Huez in 2011.

Five kilometres later, Quintana crossed Col de Pailhères alone, 30 seconds ahead of Riblon, 40 ahead of Rolland, and 1:03 ahead of Froome et al. You could feel how fast he was climbing by the way the scenery was rushing past. It was almost like being on the flats! And this is how Quintana looked, the whole time:


Totally at ease. No big big deal, y’know, just ripping the Tour de France a new one for a little while.

But he began losing time on the descent to Rolland and the peloton. He wasn’t cornering with confidence (see how it’s done below) and you’d have to forgive him — he’s 23 and this is his first Tour. Descending takes a whole different set of huge brass balls than ascending. Paul Sherwen had a different take: ‘Descending is a technique you can either learn . . . or you’ll never pick up.’


And so Rolland caught Quintana at the base of the second climb to Ax 3 Domaines while Sky’s Peter Kennard brought the peloton to within 34 seconds. The peloton was down to 30 or so riders and really strung out. Evans and Schleck were gone, Contador seemed to have been dropped but had Kreuziger with him and battled back.

Then as the final climb began, Quintana just rode away from Rolland as easily as he had from Roblin. He was alone again on the climb, and Liggett, ever the sensationalist in the heat of the moment, mentioned he needed to win the stage by just 17 seconds to get the maillot jaune. Was anyone not cheering wildly for Quintana? How could you not? He was, as Liggett said, ‘destroying men 10, 12 years older than him.’


But experience will out and Sky, now with Richie Porte driving, seemed to know exactly what they were doing. In fact, by the end it felt like they’d ridden the whole race at precisely the pace to put Froome out ahead — they weren’t ever chasing Quintana so much as they happened swallow him and everyone else up on their march to the stage win. Quintana was the last to fall, with 8km to go — my heart sank un poquito at the inevitability of it all — and by 4km to go Froome was alone out in front with Porte holding off the rest. Froome knuckled down and rode hard to gain time and crossed the line with a salute to his teammates.


Here’s Quintana putting on the white jersey. Great to see. He finished 9th today. Hope he just keeps attacking, though we saw today that just as with the sprinters, having only one specialty isn’t enough in the Tour de France.


Voeckler, by the way, finished the day 21 minutes back. It’s 1:30pm in New York and I imagine they’re still waiting for Cavendish in Ax 3 Domaines. Meanwhile Geraint Thomas continued to ride with a cracked pelvis.

Speaking of descents, take a few minutes to enjoy Cancellara (and Mozart) chasing down the peloton after two flats in the Port del Comte on Stage 7 of the 2009 Tour. Highlight moment at 04:05 – 04:25!

Here is your daily champion for Stage 8:
Lucien Van Impe, ‘de kleine van Mere’ (the Little Guy from Mere)
Winner of the Tour in 1976 and King of the Mountains in 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, 1981, and 1983.