Blel Kadri counter-attacked from the day’s break and, to the delight of the home crowd, held on over the last two climbs to solo across the finish line, turning the French flag bleu, blanc, brun – his team’s colours. An entire nation breathed a grateful sigh of relief at a first ‘home’ win two days before Bastille Day.
The race entered the Vosges for the first of three tough mountain stages and, despite the damp weather, we were expecting sparklers on the Tour’s first summit finish. The pace was fast and furious at the start with many teams thinking a break might just succeed in going all the way. Sylvain Chavanel (IAM) initiated the successful escape, swiftly followed by Blel Kadri (Ag2r La Mondiale) and three others. It easily established a commanding lead of almost 11 minutes, largely because Astana had signalled their intent to mark and not control proceedings. Consequently the peloton idled along for much of the stage. Were the much-anticipated pyrotechnics going to end with a damp squib?
Finally, a number of teams felt obliged to pick up the Astana gauntlet and the gap plummeted. Chavanel attacked, Kadri countered and quickly disappeared into the distance, successfully holding on for victory.
Meanwhile, Alberto Contador‘s Tinkoff-Saxo troops forced the pace on the penultimate climb, shelling riders out of the back and isolating race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). Under the flamme rouge, the two finally went mano a mano with Contador managing to squeeze out a three-second advantage. Unbridled joy for the French and a warning shot across the bows of the good ship Astana.
All shook up
Finally, the GC is beginning to take on a real and familiar shape. Tinkoff-Saxo’s pace setting may not have shaken off the race leader but it distanced some of the other contenders allowing Contador to leap-frog a number of riders. Interviewed before the start of today’s stage, his directeur sportif confirmed Contador would take the race to Nibali and attack whenever an opportunity presented itself. By the same token, Astana’s general manager said the team would match anything thrown at them. If they keep this up we’re in for plenty of excitement particularly over the next two days. Can anyone dislodge the Shark from the race leader’s jersey?
By the same token, points jersey wearer Peter Sagan (Cannondale) finally relinquished the best young rider jersey which now sits on the shoulders of fourth-placed Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). He’ll have to keep a close eye on the Kadri’s young teammate Romain Bardet, only 13 seconds behind and rapidly being talked up as The Next Big Thing in French cycling.
There was much more to delight the French today, with fine performances from a number of other riders, such as Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Bardet and his older teammate Jean-Christophe Peraud, all of whom are in the top 15 on GC.
VeloVoices rider of the day
BRAVO BABY !!! #Kadri pic.twitter.com/dHvOcveFUE
— AG2R LA MONDIALE (@AG2RLAMONDIALEc) 12 Juillet 2014
The saviour of the home nation, it just has to be supreme escape artist Blel Kadri, who has a habit of disappearing up the road. Remember last year’s Roma Maxima? He won today’s stage – the biggest win of his career – took over the lead of the mountains classification, was adjudged most combative rider and his team were the best on today’s stage. Their cup runneth over.
Kadri has achieved his team’s goal of a stage win. The monkey’s off their back and who knows, he might just have a run at the polka dot jersey.
Interviewed after the stage, he said:
I’m really, really happy. It’s an amazing feeling that I have right now. I’d like to thank my team. I told them that I wanted to go for it, straight from the start, just go to the end. I wanted to be in the escape. It’s was a day that suited me and I’m delighted about what’s happened.
You’re not the only one. Blel!
Stage 8 result
1. Blel Kadri (Ag2r La Mondiale) 3:49:28
2. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) +2:17
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) +2:20
4. Richie Porte (Sky) +2:24
5. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) +2:28
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 33:48:52
2. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) +1:44
3. Richie Porte (Sky) +1:58
4. Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +2:26
5. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +2:27
6. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) +2:34
7. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) +2:39
8. Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) +2:52
9. Bauke Mollema (Belkin) +3:02
10. Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) same time
Points leader: Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
King of the Mountains leader: Blel Kadri (Ag2r La Mondiale).
Best young rider: Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
Team classification: Astana.
Links: Official website, cyclingnews.com