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Despite having been brought back once, Vuillermoz kicked again under the red kite and distanced the race favourites to win stage 8 of the Tour de France; Froome retained the lead while Nibali lost time

Photo: AG2R LA MONDIALE / Kramon

AG2R CITROEN TEAM

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ALEJANDRO VALVERDE

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ALEXIS VUILLERMOZ

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CHRIS FROOME

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DANIEL MARTIN

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TOUR DE FRANCE

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11.07.2015 @ 18:02 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r) confirmed his lofty potential when he took an amazing solo victory in stage 8 of the Tour de France that finished on the top of the famous Mur-de-Bretagne. Having seen his first attack being nullified by the race favourites, he attacked again under the flamme rouge and held off Daniel Martin (Cannondale) by 5 seconds and the GC contenders by 10 seconds. Chris Froome (Sky) retained the lead while Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) lost a few seconds.

 

Last year Alexis Vuillermoz first aware of himself in the professional cycling world but his performances went largely unnoticed. With a solid domestique performance, he finished 11th overall in the Giro d’Italia and was the key rider that allowed Ag2r to win the teams competition.

 

Despite those lofty promises, he went largely unnoticed as he headed into his first Tour de France where he was again expected to be the key helper for his leaders Jean-Christophe Peraud and Romain Bardet. However, while the two captains have shown signs of weakness, the lieutenant has been unstoppable in the first part of the race.

 

Known as a puncheur, Vuillermoz first showed his great condition when he finished third on the Mur de Huy and this naturally made him an outsider for today’s stage which finished on the top of the Mur-de-Bretagne. The climb was less steep than the one in Huy and that opened the door for tactics to come into play. With a combination of excellent legs and a calm head, Vuillermoz came away with the goods and a breakthrough stage win.

 

The early break had been swallowed up when the peloton hit the bottom of the final 2km ascent where it was a huge battle for position. After Sky had originally taken control, it was Geoffrey Soupe (Cofidis) who won the battle and led the group onto the ascent where it blow to pieces.

 

Sky wanted to make the race hard and it was Leopold König who did the first damage. When he swung off, Geraint Thomas took over but the pace was not very fast as everybody seemed to hold something back.

 

This opened the door for the first attacks and it was Jose Mendes (Bora-Argon 18) and Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE) who tried first. Thomas quickly brought them back and this was the moment for Vuillermoz to make his move.

 

The Frenchman accelerated hard and was followed by Yates and the Giant-Alpecin pair of Georg Preidler and Simon Geschke. As Thomas swung off, the pace went down and they got a small gap..

 

Preidler was dropped while Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) went to the front but he was unable to bring the front trio back. However, things got dramatically faster when Froome hit the front to set a brital pace.

 

That spelled the end for the three leaders who were caught just before the flamme rouge. Froome continued to ride on the front while Vuillermoz slotted into the first positions.

 

The Frenchman refused to give up and as they hit the easier final kilometre, he made another move. While Vincenzo Nibali suddenly got distanced, Froome swung off and Vuillermoz quickly got a big gap.

 

Daniel Martin knew that it was now or never and quickly took off in pursuit. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) tried a similar move but he was unable to get clear and so the pace of the main group went completely down.

 

That allowed Vuillermoz and Martin to put daylight into the favourites and it came down to a pursuit between those two riders. The Irishman came up short and had to settle for second, 5 seconds behind Vuillermoz. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) beat Peter Sagan in the sprint for third. Nibali lost 10 seconds to his main rivals.

 

Froome rolled across the line in 8th to comfortable defend his 11-second over Sagan as they go into the crucial 28km team time trial. The course includes three smaller climbs, including an uphill drag to the line, and will be the scene of the next big battle between the overall contenders.

 

One for the puncheurs

After yesterday’s sprint stage, the GC riders and puncheurs were expected to come to the fore in stage 8 which brought the riders over 181.5km from Rennes to Mur-de-Bretagne. The course was mainly flat with just a few rolling hills and a category 4 climb at the midpoint but it had a nasty sting in its tail as it ended on top of the Mur-de-Bretagne, a category 3 climb of 2km and with an average gradient of 6.9%.

 

It was a nice day in Brittany when the riders gathered for the start of what was expected to be the second climbing battle of the race. Luca Paolini (Katusha) was the only non-starter after he tested positive for cocaine after stage 4 and has been provisionally suspended by his team.

 

A fast start

For the first time in this year’s race, there was a real battle to be part of the early break when the flag was waved to signal the real start. Of course a rider for the local Bretagne team attacked straight from the gun but he was quickly brought back. Instead, a group with Bob Jungels (Trek) got clear but things were back together after 5km of racing.

 

The elastic snapped when Sylvain Chavanel (IAM) and Bartosz Huzarski (Bora-Argon 18) attacked. At the 6km mark, they had a 12-second advantage over Romain Sicard (Europcar) and Pierre-Luc Perichon (Bretagne) and a 50-second advantage over the peloton.

 

Lotto Soudal take control

The two front duos merged to form a quartet that had an advantage of 2.15 after 9km of racing. In the peloton Sky took control but they allowed the gap to go out to 3.55 at the 16km mark.

 

Lotto Soudal had plans to win the stage with Tony Gallopin and maybe win the intermediate sprint with André Greipel so they put a rider on the front to control the situation. The gap reached a maximum of 4 minutes but then the escapees started to lose ground. At the 29km mark, their advantage was down to 3.15 and 2km later it was 2.50.

 

De Gendt sets the pace

Thomas De Gendt had been given the job to set the early pace and he kept the gap stable between 2.30 and 3.00. With a headwind and nice conditions, it was another stress-free start to the race as the riders enjoyed the ride through Brittany after a tough start to the race.

 

The escapees knew that they couldn’t go full gas too early and so they were clearly holding soething back while De Gendt continued to set the pace. With 110km to, he slowed down and allowed the gap to go out to 3.30 but moments later the mood changed as Lotto Soudal gathered their troops behind the Beglgian who had brought the gap down to 2.10 as they entered the final 100km.

 

Greipel wins the sprint

There was still no stress as the riders passed through the feed zone and moments later they hit the first climb of the day. Huzarski set the pace for most of the time but it was Sicard who rolled across the line to pick up the only point on offer. De Gendt led the peloton over the top 2.15 later.

 

The riders were approaching the intermediate sprint and so the sprinters gathered near the front. After Perichon and Huzarski had sprinted for maximum points, with the Frenchman coming out on top, Roy Curvers and Koen De Kort gave John Degenkolb the big lead-out. However, the German was beaten by André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) while Mark Cavendish, Mark Renhaw, Sagan and Bryan Coquard were next.

 

A big group gets clear

As usual the sprinters had created a small group and some riders had been attentive to follow them. The gap was down to 55 seconds and Pierrick Fedrigo saw the chance to escape. The Frenchman attacked and together with Sagan, Degenkolb, Cavendish, Greipel, Coquard, De Kort, Curvers, Angelo Tulik, Pierre Rolland, Michal Kwiatkowski, Michal Golas, Lars Boom, Lars Bak, De Gendt, Jeremy Roy, Frederik Brun, he tried to bridge the gap to the leaders.

 

In the peloton Sky took control with Wout Poels but they quickly stopped their work. Meanwhile, Coquardd, Kwiatkowski and Boom joined the leaders before the rest of the group followed suit.

 

A new front trio

Golas attacked from the front group and was quickly joined by Bak while Huzarski did an effort to bridge across. In the peloton, Cannondale were chasing hard with Dylan van Baarle, Sebastian Langeveld and Ramunas Navardauskas 40 seconds behind the front trio.

 

Sagan, Cavendish, Greipel, Coquard, Degenkolb and Perichon waited for the peloton before Marco Haller (Katusha) also started to chase. Stephen Cummings (MTN-Qhubeka) tried to bridge the gap but just as made the junction with the chasers, that group was brought back.

 

Cannondale slow down

With 60km to go, the gap was still 30 seconds and after Ryder Hesjedal had taken a few turns, Cannondale slowed down. While van Baarle and Nathan Haas set the pace, the peloton calmed down and the gap had gone out to 1.05 with 50km to go.

 

Huzarski took come massive turns on the front to keep the gap stable near 1.10. Meanwhile, the peloton had upped the pace significantly as Langeveld and Navardauskas had now taken over and the fight for position had started.

 

A fight for position

With 25km to go, the gap was still 55 seconds but now the gap was coming down. Hesjedal, Langeveld and Navardauskas all took turns and with 22km to go, the gap was only 20 seconds.

 

The front group managed to reopen their advantage to 35 seconds with 15km to go while Cannondale remained in complete control. However, they were swarmed by Lotto Soudal who hit the front with 11km to go before Tinkoff-Saxo took over with Rafal Majka and Daniele Bennati.

 

Astana in control

Nicolas Edet, Merhawi Kudus and Damien Gaudin all crashed while Bak attacked on a small climb. Huzarski was dropped while Golas and the Dane pressed on.

 

The big teams were lined out on the front of the peloton which was splintering and it was Astana who won the battle with 9km to go as Boom took over. They were passed by Etixx-QuickStep’s Mark Renshaw before BMC played with the muscles.

 

BMC hit the front

With 8km to go, they took complete control and quickly brought the break back. Danilo Wyss, Manuel Quinziato, Rohan Dennis, Daniel Oss and Damiano Carso all took some huge turns before Tinkoff-Saxo took over with 4km to go where Bennati and Michael Rogers took some turns.

 

With 3km to go, Sky won the battle for supremacy and it was König and Richie Porte who kept Froome near the front. Ben Gastauer (Ag2r) took a big turn before Soupe led the group onto the climb to start the exciting finale.

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