Blel Kadri (Ag2r La Mondiale) soloed to victory in a rain-soaked finale to stage 8 of the Tour de France on Saturday.
Kadri rode away from Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling) in the hilly conclusion to the 161km stage from Tomblaine to Gérardmer, taking both the stage win and the polka-dot climber’s jersey.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) retained the overall lead.
“It’s an amazing feeling that I have right now,” said Kadri. “I’m delighted for myself and for the team as well. The main aim for the team was to win a stage — we’ve done that now — and to get the polka-dot jersey too, that’s important as well.”
Nibali said it was a “very hard” final, “more than one thousand meters, very explosive.” It was made more so by a series of attacks from Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo).
“I marked the attack of Alberto. It was a good confirmation of my form. It certainly wasn’t easy to stay on the wheel of Alberto. I know him well, he’s very explosive on a final like this. I could follow his pace, so it was an important sign. The most important was to defend the jersey today.”
As for Contador, he said he wanted to see how Nibali was doing and was surprised he kept so close.
“I wasn’t sure whether there was anyone ahead of me, that’s why I moved,” he added. “I saw there was someone ahead of me and then I decided to take a little bit of time off Nibali. I’m happy.”
Five men enter, one man leaves
The break du jour included Chavanel, best placed overall at 26:24; Kadri; Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step); and Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge).
With no threat to the overall present, and the climbing stacked tightly in the final 26km, the peloton was content to let the break go, and the escapees accumulated 12 minutes at one point before the bunch finally decided to take a firmer grip on the leash with 80 km to race.
The tail end of the stage was loaded with up: the category-2 Col de la Croix des Moinats; the cat.-2 Col de Grosse Pierre; and the finale, the cat.-3 Côte de la Mauselaine, a 1.8km ascent averaging 10.3 percent with a maximum grade of 12 percent.
The rain returned for the final 50km as the gap hovered around 11 minutes.
Chavanel had a dig on the Col de la Croix des Moinats, and Kadri followed. Behind, Tinkoff-Saxo was setting a brisk pace and quickly taking back time.
Then Kadri left Chavanel behind and went it alone with 22km to go.
“Kadri was a lot better than me once it got steep, that is obvious,” said Chavanel. “I am a little disappointed, because we knew that it would be a stage to win out of a breakaway. I got into the breakaway, and it was easy, but that’s it. That’s sport. I hope to have another chance in the days to come.”
With 20km remaining the bunch had closed to within four and a half minutes of the two leaders. Tinkoff had five on the front with yellow jersey Nibali riding in their slipstream.
Kadri crested the summit alone, taking the maximum KOM points. Behind, polka-dot jersey Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis) had lost contact with the peloton. So had Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), leaving the young-rider jersey up for grabs; Kwiatkowski prevailed in that competition, leaving Sagan in charge of the green points jersey.
“I suffered in the first hill when the Tinkoff-Saxo riders started to accelerate. But I remained motivated and I was lucky to be helped by Tony Martin and Jan Bakelants who stayed with me,” said Kwiatkowski. “I continued to fight to lose the minimum of time. At the end of the day, it’s not too bad because I’m the best young rider now.”
Kadri likewise led over the Grosse Pierre, with Chavanel chasing a minute behind and the GC group just under four minutes down.
Talansky struggles, Contador attacks
With 5km remaining there was no doubt who would win the race. But would a contender for the overall attack?
It wouldn’t be Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp), who found himself afoot in the finale, getting an assist from a spectator.
Then, just as Kadri prepared to celebrate his victory, Contador jumped the shrunken GC group, with Nibali quickly marking him. The two pulled in Chavanel en route to the line and continued testing each other lightly as they rode to the line.
The Spaniard opened a slight gap at the end, but only a slight one. Finishing second, Contador trimmed his deficit by three seconds and moved into sixth overall at 2:34 behind Nibali.
Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) sits runner-up at 1:44, with Richie Porte (Sky) third at 1:58.
“The team was extraordinary and the legs responded well,” said Contador. “We’ll have to see day by day. Nibali is a great rider like all the great riders ahead of me. I must keep hoping and try to take time with each stage.”
But the man of the day was Kadri, who scored the first French victory in this year’s Tour.
“I am very, very happy,” he said. “There was a lot of work to get into the breakaway, and we worked well together to make sure we made it to the final to contest the stage. It’s a big moment to win my first Tour stage, and I thank my team for the support.”
Talansky, van Garderen lose time
Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing Team) finished eighth on the stage, but dropped 20 seconds in the final steeps and now sits 13th at 3:34. Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) crashed for a second consecutive day, crossing 35th and losing more than two minutes; he now sits 16th at 4:22.