Sky’s Chris Froome showed why he is considered the favorite to win the 100th Tour de France cycling race by decimating his competition on the summit finish of Stage Eight, the first real mountain stage.
Froome won the stage by almost a minute; second was his team mate Ritchie Porte, who helped Froome on the final Cat One climb. Third was Movistar’s Alessandro Valverde, just ahead of two Belkin riders, Bauke Mollema and Laurent Ten Dam.
Froome’s strongest competitor, Alberto Contador, lost almost two minutes. Other pre-race favorites, Cadel Evans and Andy Schleck cracked on the final climb and lost over three minutes.
The win moves Froome into the race lead, with Ritchie Porte behind him.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Froome said on the Sky website. “It really has been a nervous week building up until now but the team has done a fantastic job. We’ve come through the first week in a really good position and being able to do that today, and being able to repay my team-mates with a stage win, and Richie coming second—we couldn’t have asked for more.
“This is the first real GC [General Classification] day so to come out and win it with first and second is just a dream come true.”
Winning the stage wasn’t as easy as it looked, Froome told Eurosport.com. “Definitely we were put under pressure there. This only the first week of the Tour—there’s definitely going to be a lot of hard racing to come. We’ve got the yellow jersey and we’re definitely going to have to defend it.
Asked if he was worried that Sky had claimed the race lead too early, Froome replied, “I wouldn’t say I was worried. I was always confident with my team mates around me. They did an absolutely fantastic job—all of them. Pete Kennagh, Ritchie Porte, all of them. We really couldn’t have asked for much more today. That’s such a good way to start the mountains for us.”
First Stage for the GC Contenders
With an Hors Categorie climb followed immediately by a Cat One summit finish, the 195-km Stage Eight was the first chance for the General Classification riders to really show their strengths—or lack of them.
The stage showed what many expected: that Chris Froome had ample horsepower to win in the mountains. Sky set a reasonable pace up the first climb, then turned it up on the second, cracking many of the Tour’s better climbers.
In the final six kilometers, when the rest of the peloton was sufficiently tired, Ritchie Porte attacked with Froome on his wheel. When Porte slowed after 1200 meter, Froome accelerated away and won the stage with seeming ease.
The list of riders whio suffered and cracked is a list of most of the riders one would think wouldn’t. Tejay Van Garderen, Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck; Michael Rogers, Joaquim Rodriguez, Andrew Talansky, Ryder Hesjedal, and Dan Martin.
In the final five K, Alberto Contador was struggling to hold the wheel of team mate Roman Kreuziger, who had to slow to stay with his team leader.
Quintana Announces His Arrival
The stage also introduced a new climbing champion, Movistar’s Nairo Quintana. Riding his first Tour, the 23-year-old Colombian attacked on the halfway up the 15-km Hors Categorie Col de Pailhères, the highest climb of the 2013 Tour, and showed better skills than most of the veterans.
Quintana was not the first to attack. Ag2R’s Christophe Riblon, who won the stage last year with a long solo attack tired to repeat, dropping the three breakaway companions: Jean-Marc Marino (Sojasun,) Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM,) and Rudy Molard (Cofidis) who had been out front with him from the start.
Belkin’s Robert Gesink tried to bridge across after five km of climbing, and Europcar’s Tommy Voeckler attacked soon after.
When Quintana attacked, the race changed. The movistar rider was too high in GC to ignore, so the entire peloton picked up the pace. This hurt race leader Daryl Impey; the Orica-GreenEdge rider couldn’t hold the pace, meaning someone else would wear yellow that evening.
Quintana easily caught Voeckler and Gesink. It took the Colombian three km to catch Riblon, and no time at all to drop him.
Europcar’s Pierre Rolland attacked the peloton at about the same time Quintana passed Riblon. The Europcar rider crossed the peak 40 seconds after Quintana, and caught him at the base of the final climb, 8.8 km from the finish line in Ax Tres Domaines.
Quintana dropped Rolland 500 meters up the final climb, and stayed ahead alone until Ritchie Porte and Chris Froome caught him five km from the finish.
The young Colombian finished ninth. His bold attack might have come one ascent early; probably he hoped to be far enough ahead that the GC contenders wouldn’t be able to catch him. He finished the day eighth in GC, and definitely announced himself a threat not to be ignored.