There may not have been any great changes in the GC after the difficult stage eight, but it was an unpredictable and exciting day in the saddle, narrowly won by FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot after a long breakaway. There were seven categorised climbs as the race rolled into Switzerland, with all the main GC contenders finishing together.
Speaking of Swiss rolls, Samuel Sanchez took a tumble early on in the stage, rendering the Euskaltel-Euskadi rider unable to continue. In the land of the Red Cross, the Spaniard was carted off in an ambulance with a broken rib, collarbone and wrist.
Sky worked as efficiently as a luxury timepiece in shutting down the opening breakaways, preventing the likes of Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Philippe Gilbert (BMC), David Millar (Garmin-Sharp) and Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan) gaining ground early on. Eventually a break did manage to create a gap, headed by last year’s most combative rider Jeremy Roy. FDJ’s Frenchman attacked alone, slipping away from the other escapees, before Astana’s Fredrik Kessiakoff managed to bridge across to the leader on the Côte de Saignelégier.
But by the time the penultimate climb had come around, Roy had been dropped and Kessiakoff was all on his own. Liquigas had taken up the pace-making in the peloton, with RadioShack’s Tony Gallopin and FDJ’s Pinot dangling between the leader and the bunch.
Kessiakoff’s lead to the maillot jaune had stabilised at around about three minutes, but on the final climb it was Pinot who he had to worry about. The gutsy FDJ rider attacked inside the final 20km, and by the time they reached the top he had caught and ridden straight by the Swede.
All of a sudden the favourites were galvanised into picking up the pace, with first Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) and then Cadel Evans (BMC) both seeing whether they could make up time on the other GC contenders on the descent and flat run to the finish. Kessiakoff was caught, but would Pinot hold on? The gap had been rapidly closed down to under a minute, and he seemed to be running out of steam. Fortunately he could, taking the stage by 26 seconds, with the GC contenders coming across the line together behind him.
VeloVoices rider of the day
This award has to go to stage winner Thibaut Pinot. FDJ’s young revolution continues, with Pinot – the youngest rider in this year’s race – taking his first Grand Tour victory at the age of 22. It was a heroic effort and the French outfit will have pleased their sponsors in fulfilling their stage win hopes already. His palmares – which includes a mountains classification win in the 2010 Tour de Romandie – suggests that he is a rider capable of challenging for mountain victories again in the future, and could maybe even fight for yellow.
Seeing FDJ directeur sportif Marc Madiot – a former Tour stage victor himself and twice winner of Paris-Roubaix – screaming at Pinot from the window of the team car in the closing kilometres was a magnificent sight. A very popular character, it was obvious what this win meant to Madiot and his small French team, who punch above their weight at the Tour de France every year. What’s more, a successful July will always please the sponsors, even securing the team’s future. Let’s hope this win is the first of many.
Kessiakoff has a small consolation for missing out on the stage win – he has taken over the lead of the polka dot jersey by a single point. Sky’s Chris Froome remains in second place, with Cadel Evans two points further back in third. However, Sky won’t be wearing the controversial yellow helmets on tomorrow’s stage, with RadioShack-Nissan ironically taking over the lead in the team classification – this despite their awful season and Tour to date. Their Basque rider Haimar Zubeldia is the highest placed in the GC, 59 seconds behind Wiggins in fifth place. Belgian Maxime Montfort continues to impress in seventh.
Sky looked slightly more fallible today than in their supreme efforts recently. After comparisons to Lance Armstrong’s dominating US Postal Service team, today they looked slightly weaker, with riders being dropped relatively early on in the stage. It is clear that if Bradley Wiggins is going to match the likes of Vincenzo Nibali and Cadel Evans in the mountains, Chris Froome will be vitally important.
Rein Taaramae will continue wear the white jersey of best young rider tomorrow, with Tony Gallopin in second place. BMC’s Tejay Van Garderen has fallen down to fourth behind Pinot after losing time today, perhaps a cause for concern for Evans, given that the American has looked like his key domestique so far this Tour.
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