Hushovd surprised to still be in yellow, Gilbert to be back in green

Movistar rider Rui Costa has dedicated his win in today’s Stage 8 to two riders who should have been taking part in the race in the Spanish team’s colours but suffered tragic accidents in recent weeks.

In May, Xavier Tondo was killed when he was crushed between his car and garage door while preparing to go on a training ride. Then, last month, the Colombian rider Mauricio Soler was left with severe head injuries following a bad crash during the Tour de Suisse, and as we reported yesterday, the prognosis is not good.

“We have gone through very difficult times in the team this year, so I’m happy to bring a little happiness with the win,” said the 24-year-old afterwards. “I dedicate it to everyone who supported me, but especially to Xavier Tondo who died, and Mauricio Soler, who is currently in hospital," he added.

"Winning a stage of the Tour de France is a dream for me,” continued the Portuguese rider, who was previously with Movistar’s predecessor team Caisse d’Epargne.

However, the rider was banned last year for five months, reduced on appeal from a year, after testing positive for the banned substance methylhexanamineand only returning to racing in January.

“I cannot believe it,’ he said of today’s stage victory. “Since the start of the race I’ve felt very fit. I am confident, but you never know what can be done exactly. A stage win is amazing. 

Costa had slipped into an early nine-man beakaway on today’s stage to the ski resort of Super Besse in the Massif Central and on the approach to Category 2 climb Col de la Croix Saint-Robert followed HTC-Highroad’s Tejay Van Garderen when he went on the attack.

“Throughout the day the break worked well and when I found myself with Van Garderen, the agreement was good too and I thought we would go together,” he reflected.

“But when the two French riders [Cyril Gauthier and Christophe Riblon] joined us, the collaboration didn’t work so well, then it became a bit risky. And, in the end, when I attacked 4.5km from the finish, I felt that was the right time, and I was the strongest.”

Costa, in the news during last year’s Tour de France when he was involved in a post-stage dust-up with Carlos Barredo, then with Quick Step, wasn’t quite home and dried yet, however.

Behind the breakaway riders, Astana’s Alexandre Vinokourov had launched himself off the front of the peloton and seemed to be on his way to a storming stage win as well as taking the yellow jersey for the first time in his career in what will be his final Tour de France. The threat wasn’t lost on Costa.

“Vinokourov was right behind me, and I thought he would catch me,” he admitted. “But I gave everything, and I managed to keep my lead,” he added, after finishing ahead of Philippe Gilbert who clinched second and Cadel Evans in third.

“It’s great,” he concluded.

Inside the closing kilometres, Vinokourov had for a while been the virtual maillot jaune on the road, but it’s the time at the end of the stage that counts, and despite a tough parcours today, Hushovd somehow came through in the same group as Evans, who had started the day just 1 second down, to stay in yellow for another day. No-one was more surprised than the Garmin-Cervelo rider himself.

“I really didn’t believe that I could keep this yellow jersey,” the Norwegian said afterwards. “I knew that the final was very hard but I’ve got incredible form right now and also the motivation to keep the lead, so I’m very happy with the result today. 

“I’m jealous about Philippe Gilbert having the green jersey,” he confessed. “I wish I was him! But I think he’s probably also jealous about me holding the yellow jersey. 

“We train together a lot around the hills near Monaco and it’s good,” added Hushovd.

“He’s a guy who likes to push the limits very hard and then I’ll follow him and that’s good training.

“Today was a really big surprise,” admitted the Garmin-Cervelo man of holding onto the maillot jaune for another day. “I’m tired after this week. It takes a lot of energy out of you to always be up there and defending the jersey so I really did not believe I could manage this today.”

Gilbert, as Hushovd said, is back in the lead of the points classification after Movistar’s Jose Joaquin Rojas had taken it off him 24 hours earlier, although like teh Norwegian, the Belgian's presence on the podium this evening was something of an accident.

“At the start we decided not to work today because we did a lot this week already and the Tour is still long,” claimed the Omega Pharma-Lotto rider.

“Maybe we have to defend the yellow jersey one day with Jurgen van den Broeck or something like this so we need to keep something in reserve and so today we tried. We gambled and it worked out well for us; sometimes you have to play poker and that’s how it was for us today.

“I tried on the last climb,” added Gilbert, who turned 29 earlier this week. “My first acceleration was with the 39 – the small gear – but when I wanted to put the chain in the big gear, I had a problem. I had to sit down on the saddle to go a little easier and then I eventually got the 53 and I could go harder but it was too late but I’m happy to get this nice jersey.”

Meanwhile the polka dot jersey, worn today by Jonny Hoogerland of Vacansoleil-DCM, has now passed to HTC-Highroad’s Tejay Van Garderen, one of nine riders involved in today’s breakaway.

The 22-year-old, winner of the best young rider’s jersey at the Tour of California in May, also won the combativity prize today, and afterwards spoke of how he had attempted to go it alone as the ascent of the Col de la Croix Saint-Robert loomed.

“The break wasn’t quite working so well together in the kilometers leading up to the category-two climb so I figured that we were not going to be able to just riding around for the rest of the way and that I would have to go,” explained the American rider, making his debut in the Tour de France.

“So I went at the bottom and going up the climb and going down the descent we were able to hold the time gain and keep it pretty steady. Then the attacks started coming – one-two, one-two – and I just didn’t quite have the legs to go with the last one. 

“This is a super nervous race,” he continued. “I was glad to be in the breakaway today. It’s hard to be out there in the wind all day but at least it’s safer than locker-boxing everyone in the bunch. It was fun to actually have a relaxed day and not have to worry about the crashes.

“It would have been nice to get the stage win but the group just wasn’t working so well together,” Van Garderen added. “So we split it up but then everyone saw that I was one of the stronger ones and that meant that every time there was an attack, I was the one others were looking at to close it down.”

One cyclist who didn’t have a good day today, reflecting his up-and-down opening week, was Rabobank’s Robert Gesink’s who had taken the best young rider’s jersey from Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas yesterday after the latter stayed back to help stricken team leader Bradley Wiggins.

The 25-year-old Gesink, who himself is still carrying the scars from a bad crash on Wednesday that ruled RadioShack’s Janez Brajkovic out of the race , said of today’s stage: “It was difficult after a few hard days already.

“As I’ve said before, I hope that I could stay in the front group today but it was really difficult. After the crash, it’s become a difficult Tour. Since then my body has been hurting a lot.

“I don’t know what to expect from the coming days,” he continued. “Right now I can’t really consider what’s going to happen. I can’t even comment on who is going well because I didn’t see who was in the front today – I was having my own problems.

“I’ve got to keep on trying,” he asserted. “I’ve been in pain for a few days and it’s difficult for me to recover. The legs won’t do what I’d like them to do. The Tour is a very hard race and naturally I’m hoping that I’ll overcome my problems in the coming days and then we’ll have a look at where we’re at.”

Tomorrow’s Stage 9 covers 208 kilometres from Issoire to Saint-Flour and includes no fewer than seven categorised climbs on what promises to be a difficult day in the saddle.

Many of those watching on TV will feel much more empathy with the riders than others – those who have secured an entry to the second of this year’s Etapes du Tour, which will be held on the same route in a fortnight’s time.

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.