Alexis Vuillermoz (AG2R-La Mondiale) took the first win for France on the eighth stage of the Tour de France, charging up the final metres of the Mûr-de-Bretagne in a solo effort. Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin) was second, with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) leading the small group to the finish for third.
Team Sky’s Chris Froome was very active in the finale, and successfully defended his overall lead by finishing in the first main group, 10 seconds down. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC) were also in the group, completing the top three overall. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) was also in the group and continues in seventh place, 36 seconds down. The loser amongst the favourites was Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), who fell out of the group on the final climb.
Vuillermoz took off twice, and on his second attempt was able to leave the others behind. Only Martin gave chase, but the Irishman was boxed in and came up five seconds short.
Sagan finished fourth on the stage, picking up enough points to move him ahead of Andre Greipel and into the green jersey.
It was not Vuillermoz’ first good experience on a Mur. “I was third on the Mur de Huy, that was obviously amazing,” he said after the stage. “So today I wanted to try and do something special. I tried two or three times to go, and finally on the third time it worked. I knew someone was behind me, but I just put my head down and pedaled for all I was worth. I’m just realizing now that I’ve won the stage.”
“I’m not sure that in the mountains I’ll be able to take on Chris Froome, but on a finish like this, I’m a puncheur, I can take my chances. It’s the sort of climb that suits me, so I feel very good about today. Not in the mountains. Everyone has their specialty, this one is mine. In the mountains I’ll be there to help my team leaders.”
How it unfolded
Beautiful summer weather greeted the peloton in Bretagne, with sunshine and warm temperatures.
As expected, Bretagne-Seche Environnement was in the break of the day. Pierre-Luc Perichon represented the whole team, and together with Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling), Bartosz Huzarski (Bora-Argon 18) and Romain Sicard (Europcar) formed the break and built up a lead of four minutes. The field reacted to that and brought it back down to just under the three-minute mark after 40km of racing.
Lotto-Soudal took charge of the chase, and Thomas De Gendt spent much of the day at the front, dragging the peloton behind him.
The Col du Mont Bel-Air is hardly Alpe d’Huez, but you would never of known that from the crowds. Thousands lined the way up the fourth category climb, with the one available point going to Sicard. The field crossed the summit at 2:12.
Thousands more lined the gentle climb up to the intermediate sprint. Huzarski jumped to grab the points, but Perichon went with him and took the top honours.
Behind them, there was a furious sprint for the remaining points. Etixx-QuickStep moved to the head of the field, but the gradient seemed to be too much for Cavendish. John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) sprinted for the line, but Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) simply powered right by him to pick up more points.
That action opened a small gap, with the sprinters and their teammates up front. World Champion Michal Kwiatkowski took charge and brought them up to the four leaders as Sky calmly stayed at the head of the peloton, some 20 to 25 seconds back.
The new lead group splintered, as many riders could not decide whether to work or not. A new trio of Lars Bak (Lotto Soudal), Michel Golas (Etixx-QuickStep) and Huzarski formed, and slowly pulled away. The field soon started catching the stragglers, but by then the three leaders had a 40 second gap.
The gap eventually became a minute, with 40 km to go, and then headed over the minute mark. But there were many teams with their eye on this stage, and they weren’t about to hand it over to a break group. Cannondale-Garmin did a lot of lead work, wanting to deliver Dan Martin to the finish line, while BMC rode hard for both Tejay van Garderen and Greg Van Avermaet.
The closer the finishing climb came, the more the gap dropped. It had never been more than about 1:07, and with 22km to go it had come down to 30 seconds. It stayed there for a long time, with Cannondale-Garmin, later joined by Lotto-Soudal, riding for Tony Gallopin, holding them on a long line.
With 11 km left, Tinkoff-Saxo took matters into their own hands. Huzarski, who had been up front virtually the entire day, lost contact with his two companions on a short steep climb up to the 10km marker. And only two kilometres later, Bak and Golas were absorbed back into the field.
The red and black of BMC now dominated the front of the peloton, as large groups of riders started falling off the back, in light of the short, steep climbs and the increased pace. Then control turned over to Tinkoff-Saxo, Orica-GreenEdge, Sky – everyone waiting for the first attack.
With 2,5km to go, there was still a fairly large bunch, with no apparent organization. The group started up the Mur, with Froome near the front. Still there was no attack, and all kept eying one another.
Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin),Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) and Vuillermoz tried an attack, but were caught shortly after the 1km marker, with Froome leading the way. Vuillermoz attacked again, this time successfully. Martin gave chase but had left his chance too late.
Nibali was dropped in the final kilometre, the Italian losing time on all his main GC rivals.
Rider Name (Country) Team
Alexis Vuillermoz (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale
Daniel Martin (Irl) Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team