Rui Da Costa (Movistar) won the eighth stage of the 2011 Tour de France by a whisker, just ahead of classics star Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and BMC captain Cadel Evans.
The 24-year-old Portuguese was the sole survivor of a daylong break that included American Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) and the first Category 2 climb of this year’s Tour, the 6.2km Col de la Croix Saint-Robert.
As the escape came apart on the final ascent to Super-Besse Sancy Astana’s Alexander Vinokourov shot out of the bunch, hoping to steal both stage win and the maillot jaune, but it was not to be — he was swallowed up in the final meters, and Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervélo) held onto his yellow jersey by one second over Evans.
“I’ve been happy with my Tour de France so far … so if I’d lost the jersey it wouldn’t have been a big problem,” said Hushovd. ”Of course, when I heard my name I was happy.”
And Evans? He didn’t seem disappointed to still be sitting second.
“I didn’t get the jersey but for us it’s not a problem right now. As I keep saying, there’s a long way to go to Paris,” Evans said.
A tough day in the saddle
The 189km race from Aigurande to Super-Besse Sancy took the 2011 Tour de France into the Massif Central, a hilly region in central and southern France with a distinct geology that includes the largest concentration of extinct volcanoes in the world.
The day brought more bad news for RadioShack — Chris Horner did not start after crashing heavily and losing a dozen minutes. The Tour of California champ managed to finish stage 7 despite suffering a concussion, a broken nose and heavy bruising to one calf.
Stage 8 began with relatively flat terrain for the first 60 or so kilometers. Then the road gradually turned upward, starting with the Category 4 Côte d’Évaux-les-Bains, a 1.7km climb that averaged 6.2 percent and summited at 65.5km.
Next up was the Cat. 4 Côte du Rocher des Trois Tourtes, a 1.3km climb that averaged just 4.6 percent and peaked at 119.5km.
Third on the day was the main event, the Col de la Croix Saint-Robert, averaging 6.2 percent and topping out at 164km.
The final 25km covered rolling terrain before tackling the finale, a 1.5km, 7.6 percent climb to the finish at Super-Besse Sancy.
The break du jour
Nine riders moved off the front just 8km into the stage:
43. Da Costa, at 4:02
44. Cyril Gautier, Team Europcar, at 4:04
52. Alexandr Kolobnev, Katusha, at 4:51
68. Julien El Fares, Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne, at 6:40
78. Van Garderen, at 8:06
143. Christophe Riblon, Ag2r La Mondiale, at 16:42
147. Romain Zingle, Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne, at 17:06
176. Xabier Zandio, Sky, at 28:48
187. Addy Engels, Quick Step, at 35:05
The escapees had a minute at 23km and two at 30km, with Evans’ BMC squad doing the work at the front of the bunch, race leader Hushovd having announced that Garmin-Cervélo was through defending the yellow jersey. At 43km the gap was over three minutes and growing.
El Fares took the KOM point atop the Cat. 4. Côte d’Évaux-les-Bains and the break had a five-minute advantage, putting Da Costa into the virtual yellow jersey. Riblon took top points at the intermediate sprint, and as the weather began to deteriorate the gap remained just over five minutes.
The chase begins
With 70km remaining the BMC-led bunch was gradually upping the tempo — the break’s advantage was down a minute as Kolobnev took top honors atop the Côte du Rochert des Trois Tourtes.
Astana lent a couple of riders to the pursuit, clearly thinking of Vinokourov (11th overall at 0:32), and with 50km to race the break was clinging to four minutes’ advantage with the Col de la Croix Saint-Robert just up the road.
It was all BMC and Astana at the front with 45km remaining and the gap down to 3:45. The peloton was in one long line on the twisting, turning roads leading to the big climb of the day.
Garmin-Cervélo moved forward, too, perhaps thinking about shifting the jersey from Hushovd to David Millar (fourth at 0:08), and the break’s advantage fell further, to 2:30 with 37km remaining.
Omega Pharma-Lotto took the front as the road tilted downward, though the finale seemed too difficult even for strongman Gilbert (12th at 0:33).
On the Col de la Croix Saint-Robert
The escapees held less than two minutes’ advantage as they began the ascent of the day’s big obstacle, the summit 6.2km up the road.
Van Garderen had a go and the break started coming apart — Zingle was the first man ejected, but not the last; Engles, El Fares and Riblon were shelled, too.
Behind, Astana’s Paolo Tiralongo attacked out of the bunch. No threat for the overall, sitting 177th at 28:48, he was setting himself up to provide assistance to team leader Vinokourov when he made his move. Mountains leader Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) had a dig as well, marked by Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky). But all the GC men were holding their fire.
Ahead, Van Garderen was setting a brisk tempo with Da Costa and Gautier slotted in behind him. Then Gautier popped, leaving just two men up front.
Da Costa took the front with 1km to the summit. And then Vino’ laid down a powerful attack as the grade leveled out a bit, racing away from the other GC men.
Van Garderen took top honors at the summit, sprinting away from Da Costa, as Vino’ roared up to a quintet including Pierre Rolland (Europcar), Hoogerland, Flecha and his teammate Tiralongo.
Down the other side
Riblon and Gautier fought back to Da Costa and Van Garderen on the descent with just under 20km to race, as Tiralongo set the pace for Vino’, with Flecha in tow. Zandio linked up and it was two Astanas and two Skys in the hunt.
BMC was leading the yellow-jersey group at 90 seconds behind the lead foursome, which had a minute on the Vino’ group.
Riblon tried to go it alone with 15km to go, but Van Garderen brought him back. The HTC rider countered, and then Riblon went once more. Gautier had a dig, then Da Costa, and Van Garderen again.
Then the rain started with 8km to race. The leading quartet was back together — for the moment, anyway — and the Vino’ group was stuck in no-man’s land between break and bunch.
Gautier attacked at the base of the finishing climb, and Riblon instantly went backward. Van Garderen and Da Costa closed the gap. Then the Portuguese jumped and Van Garderen chased, with Riblon finally spent.
Vino’ was 25 seconds back and closing with Flecha on his wheel.
Da Costa goes it alone
With 5km to go Da Costa was clinging to a small lead over Van Garderen, who was looking a bit baked. A greatly reduced break was a minute behind.
Vino’ shed Flecha and closed in on —and passed — the fading Van Garderen as Da Costa ground upward through the rain. With 3km to go he was just 19 seconds behind the lone leader.
Da Costa was looking over his shoulder as Vinokourov soldiered grimly on. In the final kilometer bunch, chase and leader could see each other.
Gilbert, defending champion Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) and Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek) moved forward — and then Gilbert attacked. Contador had a tentative dig, and then Damiano Cunego (Lampre) shot away.
Then Evans made a move of his own and the other GC men had to follow. The bunch swarmed Vinokourov, who would finish 22nd on the day, but Da Costa hung on for the stage win.
“It was a very hard stage, but I’m really happy to have taken this win,” said Da Costa, who had feared being caught by Vinokourov as the Kazakh continued his bid for the win and the yellow jersey.
“When I saw the gap to Vinokourov in the final kilometer I thought it would be difficult for me but I paced myself well.”
Gilbert crossed second at 12 seconds back, collecting the green jersey for his troubles, with Evans leading the GC favorites across in third, three seconds later.
And while Van Garderen may have fallen short of a stage win — after all his hard work he finished 66th on the day, 2:12 behind Da Costa — he was able to console himself by taking the combativity prize and slipping into the polka-dot jersey of the Tour’s top climber.
“I think I paid for my aggression a little early on,” he said. “I just lacked a little bit there at the end.”
Contador, who finished eighth on the day and remains 1:41 behind Evans, said he felt strong on the climb and didn’t expect any fireworks in the GC battle until the first of three consecutive stages in the Pyrenees next week.
“I felt really good going up the climb, I managed to follow Gilbert,” said the three-time champion and recent Giro d’Italia winner.
“But what counts most for me is to know I’ve got good legs. If there is any battle to come, I don’t think it will start till the Pyrenees.”
Patrick O’Grady and Agence France Presse contributed to this report.
- 1. Faria Da Costa Rui Alberto, Movistar
- 2. Philippe Gilbert, Omega Pharma-Lotto, at 0:12
- 3. Cadel Evans, BMC Racing Team, at 0:15
- 4. Samuel Sanchez, Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 0:15
- 5. Peter Velits, HTC- Highroad, at 0:15
- 1. Thor Hushovd, Garmin-Cervélo
- 2. Cadel Evans, BMC Racing Team, at 0:01
- 3. Frank Schleck, Leopard-Trek, at 0:04
- 4. Andréas Klöden, RadioShack, at 0:10
- 5. Jakob Fuglsang, Leopard-Trek, at 0:12