Stage 8: Castres to Ax 3 Domaines, 195km
We’re only a week and one mountainous stage into the 2013 Tour and the race already seems Sky’s to lose. A dominant Chris Froome stormed into the yellow jersey with a solo victory at the first summit finish of Ax 3 Domaines, with teammate Richie Porte completing an impressive one-two.
Ax 3 Domaines is best known as a ski resort when the Tour isn’t in town, but today’s stage brought weather so hot a peckish directeur sportif could have fried an egg on their team car’s bonnet. In fact, so comfortable were Sky in executing their dominant game plan, Dave Brailsford probably had time to enjoy a spot of lunch before congratulating Froome and company on their extraordinary efforts.
A four-man breakaway escaped early on, though by the time the racing truly got under way on the slopes of the hors catégorie Col de Pailheres, only Ag2r La Mondiale’s Christophe Riblon – who won at the top of Ax 3 Domaine in 2010 – remained alone out front.
Things didn’t bode well for Riblon – and pretty much everyone else, for that matter – as Sky hit the front of the peloton at the foot of the climb, with race leader Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEDGE) soon dropped. Robert Gesink (Belkin) and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) both attacked and opened up small advantages over the bunch, though their respective efforts were quickly dwarfed by a brilliant move from Movistar’s pocket rocket Nairo Quintana.
By the time he had floated over the top of the Col de Pailheres, Quintana had sailed past the fading Voeckler, Gesink and Riblon, and opened up over a minute’s advantage over the Sky-led peloton. However, that gap was soon halved after the Colombian illustrated his enviable knack of making the descending actually look harder than the climbing.
As the final kick up towards the finish started, Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Froome all had one domestique in support, as other GC contenders dropped off the back. It looked like we were heading for a terrific three-way scrap for the stage win. It wasn’t to be.
Porte lifted the pace, and immediately Valverde and Contador cracked. Froome smelt blood and attacked, blasting past Quintana and into the lead. Only Porte was able to stay anywhere in the vicinity of his dominant teammate, with the duo taking first and second on the stage, and both now occupying those respective positions overall.
VeloVoices rider of the day
There really ought to be a reward for every rider on the Sky team, such was they way they systematically blew the race to pieces. But while Froome and Porte are both equally worthy winners, I’m awarding Sky’s Peter Kennaugh the rider of the day prize today. Gold medalist on the track at last year’s Olympics, he’s adapted to life on the road amazingly well, and today showed brilliant strength as one of Sky’s mountain domestiques. At only 24, maybe he too could be riding for the maillot jaune in the future.
Opinion & analysis
While Sky were today’s obvious winners, there were a fair share of serious losers too. The most prominent is probably Alberto Contador, who was obviously in serious bother. Be it resulting from a crash, a different ailment or simply a lack of form, he again struggled, despite having loyal teammate Roman Kreuziger on hand throughout. Contador eventually came in behind the likes of Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin) and Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Mikel Nieve, and clearly isn’t at his best.
Elsewhere BMC are definitely big losers, with Cadel Evans losing over four minutes, and his young teammate Tejay Van Garderen over 12 minutes. While that will clear up any dispute over who’s the true leader in the Swiss team, it pretty much means they have no chance of reclaiming the yellow jersey Evans won in 2011. Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez finished over 2½ minutes down, with his hopes for yellow looking slim now too.
Contrastingly, Belkin had a good day. Bauke Mollema is up to fourth on GC, one place above Laurens Ten Dam, with the duo working brilliantly to achieve such high placings. Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde and Rui Costa rode well for Movistar too, with Quintana’s heroic attack putting him in the white jersey, and Valverde likely to be satisfied to be the best non-Sky rider. That title looks to be the only one he can fight for now.
Stage 8 result
1. Chris Froome (Sky) 5:04:18
2. Richie Porte (Sky) +0:51
3. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +1:08
4. Bauke Mollema (Belkin) +1:10
5. Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin) +1:16
1. Chris Froome (Sky) 32:15:55
2. Richie Porte (Sky) +0:51
3. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +1:25
4. Bauke Mollema (Belkin) +1:44
5. Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin) +1:50
6. Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) +1:51
7. Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) +1:51
8. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +2:02
9. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +2:31
10. Michael Rogers (Saxo-Tinkoff) +2:40
Green jersey: Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
Polka dot jersey: Chris Froome (Sky).
White jersey: Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
Team classification: Movistar.
Link: Official website