Stage 8 Castres to Ax 3 Domaines 195km
Questions were asked and answered on Stage 8. Big and important questions. We’re not sure what they were, but the answer was a resounding SKY. We’ll try to give this stage justice in the report, but Froome was so dominant that we’ll end up in hyperbole without words. It was surreal.
Anyhow, here is a cursory effort to describe the stage for your amusement…
Four went early, as expected: Marino, Riblon, Molard and Hoogerland. Meh, they were useless. Cannondale put all of their efforts into securing the intermediate sprint which they took for Sagan. Cav didn’t appear to be particularly interested in the intermediate sprint, perhaps he had already checked into the Venga bus. Greipel took the points followed by Sagan then Cav.
At the start of the HC Col de Pailhères, Riblon struck off on his own to see if he could make a day of it. He lasted a while, but as the first real day for the GC riders, he was never going to be successful.
When the peloton hit the Col de Pailhères a number of riders decided to have a crack to see if they could take the pace to Sky. Gesink attacks. Voeckler attacks to bridge to Gesink. Doesn’t work.
Carlton Kirby on Voeckler: “You could call him the housewive’s favourite.”
The ins and outs and ups and downs of the pace meant the demise of a number of heavy hitters: Millar, Moinard (maybe a technical?), Cunego, DL Garcia, Higgs Boson, Bring the Rein, Ryder Hesjdahl and Impey in yellow among others. Who was causing this grief? Yes, Kiryienka the animal.
Sean Kelly on Kiryienka: “He can set an infernal pace.”
Quintana throws the first cat amongst the pigeons when he attacks with 8km to go on the first climb. He screams past Voeckler and catches and passes Gesink with almost no difficulty.
Carlton Kirby on Quintana: “This could be a mighty, mighty setting out of his stall for a podium at least.”
Oh there was much love for Quintana. He was praised for riding iron bikes as a kid for transportation in Colombia. He was praised as being a great climber, and excused from being a great descender (question: surely if you’re a great climber because you ride in the hills…you have plenty of time to practice descending?)
Quintana (aka Brick Heck) kept the pace high. He was a long way from home when he attacked, but the commentators were supportive (they later excused him for being young). Eventually he catches Riblon who is similarly unable to stay on the Colombian wheel. So it’s solo out the front, probably not the ideal outcome with 33km remaining and the best riders in the world chasing with intent. Eventually some more riders attack but nothing happens.
Kiryienka continues to lead the chasers until 31km to go when he pulls off to allow Peter Kennaugh a chance to drive the bus for a while. Kiryienka sat on the front for the majority of the HC climb. He never faltered and delivered Kennaugh to the line in as good a position as possible. It was special.
Legolas Rolands goes on the attack to secure second position over the first climb as he’s chasing KOM points. The ploy works. Over the top of the hill, there might be 20 riders, including 3 from Sky, 2 from Movistar, 4 Saxo and Cadel.
After the crest, Quintana descends as if he’s never taken a bike above 60kmph. He’s nervous and generally useless.
Carlton Kirby on Quintana descending: “If you’re worried about his descending skills, then you have every right to be like that.”
The bunch hits the bottom of the final climb with Quintana off in front. Kennaugh starts the bunch up the final climb and the pace is feral. Kwiatkowski is gone. Gadret done, Serpa done. Eventually Kennaugh has finished his 20km on the front and turns it over to Porte.
Porte turns the screws and we see Cadel, Danielson, Rolland and Talansky all fall off the pace. JC Peraud? Gone. Rogers? Done. Anton, Nieve, Mollema, all gone.
And then there were five: Froome, Contador, Kreuziger, Valverde and Porte. Quintana is up the road so it’s 2x2x2. Except…Porte keeps the pressure on and drops everyone except Froome. The Kenyan attacks and he’s basically immediately on his own. Nobody comes close.
Sky has never attacked, just ridden tempo for a few hours in the hills. Remarkable. Froome is solo off the front, absolutely having a cake walk. Porte – who has sat on the front for the last few km – has managed to drop everyone else (again) and is coming in smiling in second place.
Sky dropped Contador, Evans, Valverde and Rodriguez without any difficulty. This wasn’t supposed to be the stage to win the tour, but neither was it the case that everyone was supposed to lose it.