Alberto Contador arrived with the peloton containing all the GC favorites, and there were no changes to the top of the leaderboard after a grueling stage eight in the Tour de France Saturday.
“It was a super, super demanding day,” Contador said. “There has been a lot of surveillance, and we have had a lot of wear. We finished ahead of schedule because we have gone fast all day and this is going to be paid tomorrow.”
A lot of riders had today’s stage red-circled for a breakaway, and it was not until 70 aggressive kilometers had been raced before one established. When a large group finally splintered from the main pack, Koen de Kort and Fabio Felline were in the mix.
“Today the tactic was for me to get into the breakaway because you never know what can happen in this stage,” explained Felline. “I made it into the breakaway with Koen, but it was not easy to get there. It was a strange breakaway because it was so large and sometimes when you have so many riders it becomes like another race with a lot of attacks. It was very hard. At the bottom of the last climb, I had 43km/h average [speed]!”
The breakaway animated at the head of the race with constant attacks chased back that kept reforming the move into different groups until finally a young French rider, Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie), emerged as the hero of the day. Calmejane’s acceleration proved to be the one that went unanswered, and he soloed for the final 18kms to take his first Tour victory.
Felline was leading a strong chase group behind nine leaders until the last few kilometers ahead of the category-one climb. When it became apparent their time out front was doomed, they fell back into the peloton being led by Team Sky at a rapid pace.
“In the end, although it didn’t work out to anything for the team, for my morale it was good because it was the first really hard day and I am able to stay in the front,” continued Felline. “Especially if I look at how I was feeling the last stages. I am happy with today because I was able to respect the team’s tactic, but not satisfied with my performance; I have still to find my best days.”
There were no attacks amongst the GC favorites on the final 11km climb with still over 11kms of undulating road after the top perhaps thwarting any aggression, but maybe due more to the looming tough mountain stage tomorrow.
For insurance, Jarlinson Pantano paced Contador at the front of the bunch for the final kilometers of the climb, but it appeared most had thoughts on the grueling stage nine Sunday, which many riders were calling the toughest of this year’s Tour.
“The things that went through my mind about all the things that could have happened today, that could make you crazy,” continued Contador, “but maybe yes, people were thinking more on tomorrow, because there were 12kms after the climb to the line and it was more difficult to make a difference.
“I did not feel bad today, but tomorrow we will really see really how I am; tomorrow will be another day. It’s maybe the queen stage of the Tour. Pantano helped me a lot today, and we were able to pass the day with no problem, and now the goal is recovery for tomorrow.”