Stage 8 saw the Tour de France return to the mountains, where BMC Racing Team was on the attack throughout the 187.5km stage with half of the team present in the multiple breakaways.
After two flat stages, it was a battle to get into the breakaway with multiple attempts, including one from Greg Van Avermaet, gaining no more than 30 seconds in the first hour of racing.
Eventually, after 70km, the peloton split and a large group of 40 riders went clear with BMC Racing Team represented by Van Avermaet, Damiano Caruso, Nicolas Roche and Michael Schär.
The peloton finally sat up and let the group go three minutes up the road, before a 13-rider group, featuring Van Avermaet and Schär, forged on ahead to gain one minute on their previous breakaway companions inside the final 100km.
A regrouping of the two leading groups saw the four BMC Racing Team rider reunited, chasing the leading duo of Warren Barguil (Team Sunweb) and Serge Pauwels (Team Dimension Data).
Van Avermaet managed to bridge to the leading duo in a small group to create a strong 4-rider breakaway, before being joined by Roche and a few others which saw eight riders in the lead, two minutes ahead of the peloton with Richie Porte.
With 24km to go, on the early slopes of the La Combe de Laisa Les Molunes Climb, the Roche and Van Avermaet group had 1’20” on the peloton before Van Avermaet, after a day of attacking, dropped back.
Roche forged on ahead and put in an impressive ride to attack on multiple occasions and keep the pace high as the peloton worked hard to bring them back.
Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) launched the winning move inside the final 18km, with Roche on his wheel, and was able to go solo over the summit and start the 12km approach to the finish where he eventually claimed the stage win.
Behind, Porte looked comfortable in the reduced General Classification group and finished with his rivals as they caught Roche, who crossed the line in fourth place, on the finish line.
Quotes from the Finish Line
Nicolas Roche:
“The plan was to try and get Greg Van Avermaet in the breakaway hoping that it would be less of a climbers’ group and he could play his card in the finish. The race went bananas and there was a group of 45 riders so we had to have numbers there as we didn’t want to get caught like we did in the Dauphine. We learned there that it is easier to have riders drop back than try and bridge across. So we tried to ride aggressively and keep the race going. I rode as aggressively as I could. I had to say, I had to stop thinking that I was in the Tour and there are still two weeks to go. I was saying ‘alright, whatever happens today, happens and think about tomorrow, tonight’. I went really deep. Once I was up in that group there was two possibilities; one, I really wanted to make it to the top in case Richie was isolated from the chasing group and two; in the case that we arrive, I would give it a go. I really gave it everything.”
Richie Porte:
“It was a hard day and I think in the final it kind of evened out. I think tomorrow, we’ll feel that one in the legs for sure. It was always the plan to have Greg Van Avermaet and Nicolas Roche up front so it was good to see it happen. They chased pretty hard behind and it didn’t quite work out. We’re going to have to go all in tomorrow. It’s such a hard day and everyone had a pretty solid day today so I think there will be some tired legs out there. It was a pretty wild stage. I think we averaged 46km for the first hour so it was pretty solid racing with the climbs we had today.”
Greg Van Avermaet:
“I think the final climb was pretty hard for me. I gave it everything to be in the breakaway and make the race hard. It was hard for me to go on a finish like this and it broke my morale a little bit when the main group was only at 1’20”. It was really hard to stay in front so from this moment I took it easy to try and save the legs a little bit, because I went all in today.”
Fabio Baldato, Sports Director:
“We tried for the stage with the move from Greg Van Avermaet. You saw from the beginning, on the flat, it became a really hard race even between the GC riders. It will be a really hard stage tomorrow, especially after a day like today where everyone gave everything, even the guys behind to get to the finish. I think there will be a lot of guys who will pay for today, tomorrow. It will be interesting for sure.”