Movistar's Rui Costa, who had slipped into an early break, just held on to win Stage 8 of the Tour de France in Super Besse this afternoon as Omega Pharma-Lotto's Philippe Gilbert and BMC's Cadel Evans led the chasing peloton, respectively finishing second and third. Garmin-Cervelo's Thor Hushovd keeps the race leader's yellow jersey after somehow hanging on to finish in the same group as Evans, who began the day one second behind him in the GC.
It's the biggest career win to date for the 24-year-old Portuguese rider, who has previously given signs of his promise through results including a second place overall in the Tour de l'Avenir in 2008 and a stage win in the Tour de Suisse last year.
The rider joned Movistar, previously Caisse d'Epargne, in January this year after serving a five month ban, reduced on appeal from a year, after testing positive for the banned substance methylhexanamine last year.
Until today, his biggest impact on the Tour de France came in last year's race when he was involved in a handbags - or, more accurately, front wheels - at ten paces dust-up with Carlos Barredo.
This afternoon, as Costa entered the final 2 kilometres, it was touch and go whether he would hold off the challenge of the rapidly gaining Alexander Vinokourov of Astana.
The Kazakh, thrown out of the Tour de France in 2007 and subsequently banned for two years for blood doping, had attacked on the day's penultimate climb and the yellow jersey, if not the stage win, seemed within his grasp, but he faded badly inside the closing kilometre.
Vinokourov's team mate Paolo Tiralongo had been the first rider to attack on that climb, the Col de la Croix Saint-Robert, the first Category 2 ascent of this year’s race. The Sicilian had got his first win in 12 years as a pro during May’s Giro d’Italia, but as would become apparent, he wasn’t riding for personal glory today but as part of a team plan aimed at getting Vinokourov, riding his final Tour de France, into the maillot jaune for the first ever time.
The Kazakh’s ambitions became transparent 2 kilometres from the summit of the climb when he launched himself off the front of the peloton, catching his rivals unaware. Lying just 32 seconds off the top of the GC this morning, his intention was clear.
The 37-year-old quickly bridged across to a group including not only Tiralongo and some of the riders involved in an earlier nine-man breakaway, but also mountains classification leader Jonny Hoogerland and Team Sky’s Juan Antonio Flecha. That pair had themselves attacked from the peloton in between the two Astana riders making their moves.
Ahead, HTC-Highroad’s Tejay Van Garderen led Costa over the climb, and the pair were joined on the descent by AG2R’s Christophe Riblon and Cyril Gauthier of Europcar.
On the final climb up to Super Besses Sancy, it only seemed to be a matter of time before Vinokourov bridged across, the Astana man now accompanied only by Flecha as Tiralongo fell back, his work done.
Costa was digging in deep at the head of the race, with Van Garderen pushing hard to keep him in sight, but approaching the 3km to go banner, with Flecha now dropped, Vinokourov caught and passed the young American from HTC-Highroad and seemed to be on his way to getting the maillot jaune.
He wouldn't be able to catch the Movistar rider, however, and inside the final kilometre was swallowed back up into the main group as their pace quickened ahead of the finale, which unfolded at the same ski resort in the Massif Central where Riccardo Ricco had claimed one of his two stage wins in 2008 before testing positive for EPO.
Defending champion Alberto Contador of Saxo Bank-SunGard repeatedly attacked to try and gain some of the time he has lost on his GC rivals, but Evans and Andy Schleck marked his every move and the Spaniard is increasingly looking well below par and nothing like the man who dominated the Giro in May.
Instead, it was Philippe Gilbert of Omega Pharma Lotto who came out of the bunch to secure second place behind Costa. The Belgian had led the bunch across the day's intermediate sprint, a clear statement of his intent to contest the points classification, and this evening he has the green jersey back from Movistar's Juan Joaquin Rojas.
Prior to Tiralongo and Vinokourov making their two-pronged attack, it had been BMC Racing, working on behalf of Evans, that had towed the peloton along as they sought to put him in the yellow jersey.
Yesterday evening, Hushovd had indicated that Garmin-Cervelo weren't going to seek to defend it today, but as things played out, he stays top of the GC and retains the coveted garment he's worn since Sunday's team time trial, a fantastic achievement given a tough opening week.
The nine man breakaway that got away early in the stage included Team Sky's Xabier Zandio. With Bradley Wiggins forced out of the race yesterday after breaking his collarbone, Team Principal Dave Brailsford promised that the team would now target breaks and stage wins, and today was the first time a rider from the British outfit has got into a breakaway in this year's race.
Another rider caught up in that crash yesterday, Astana's Roman Kreuziger, was among those who struggled today. The Czech was dropped off the back of the main group and was subsequently joined by Rabobank’s Robert Gesink who took the best young rider’s white jersey from Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas yesterday but is himself likely to still be suffering from the after-effects of a crash on Wednesday.
RadioShack’s Chris Horner, winner of the Tour of California in May, did not start today’s stage after also getting caught up in the crash that ended Wiggins’ race, hitting his head hard and somehow managing to finish the stage despite suffering severe concussion.
Horner is the second RadioShack rider to have been forced out of this year’s race through injury, after Janez Brajkovic crashed out on Wednesday. Levi Leipheimer has also been in the wars, getting caught up in a number of crashes during the Tour’s opening week.
Tour de France Stage 8 Result 1 COSTA Rui MOVISTAR 4h 36' 46" 2 GILBERT Philippe OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO + 00' 12" 3 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING + 00' 15" 4 SANCHEZ Samuel EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI All at same time 5 VELITS Peter HTC - HIGHROAD 6 DEVENYNS Dries QUICK STEP 7 CUNEGO Damiano LAMPRE - ISD 8 CONTADOR Alberto SAXO BANK SUNGARD 9 SCHLECK Andy LEOPARD-TREK 10 SCHLECK Frank LEOPARD-TREK 11 URAN Rigoberto SKY PROCYCLING 12 VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO 13 KLÖDEN Andréas RADIOSHACK 14 BASSO Ivan LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE 15 VANDE VELDE Christian GARMIN - CERVELO 16 HUSHOVD Thor GARMIN - CERVELO 17 DANIELSON Tom GARMIN - CERVELO 18 FUGLSANG Jakob LEOPARD-TREK 19 ROCHE Nicolas AG2R LA MONDIALE 20 MARTIN Tony HTC - HIGHROAD Tour de France Overall Standings after Stage 8 1 HUSHOVD Thor GARMIN - CERVELO 33h 06' 28" 2 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING + 00' 01" 3 SCHLECK Frank LEOPARD-TREK + 00' 04" 4 KLÖDEN Andréas RADIOSHACK + 00' 10" 5 FUGLSANG Jakob LEOPARD-TREK + 00' 12" 6 SCHLECK Andy LEOPARD-TREK + 00' 12" 7 MARTIN Tony HTC - HIGHROAD + 00' 13" 8 VELITS Peter HTC - HIGHROAD + 00' 13" 9 MILLAR David GARMIN - CERVELO + 00' 19" 10 GILBERT Philippe OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO + 00' 30"
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.