Four climbs were on the menu of stage 8, the tough course and hot temperatures leading to a shake up of the general classification.
The second act of the Pyrenees got underway Saturday at noon, when stage 8 (Pau – Bagnères-de-Luchon, 184 kilometers) had to wait until the second hour for a break to take shape. The day was dubbed by everyone as being one of the most complicated in the entire race, as four categorized climbs standed between the riders and the finish in the Haute-Garonne department, and maybe for that reason there weren't many men willing to attack. The hard route, blazing start, scorching heat and melting tarmac didn't scare Tony Martin, who surged clear from the pack on the iconic Col du Tourmalet, leaving in pursuit of Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), the two leaders at that moment.
Tony – who went in the escape for the second day in a row – showed that his condition and motivation are high, and even though he was distanced before the top of Tourmalet, it didn't took him too much to gain ground and rejoin the leading duo before Horquette d'Ancizan. The trio wasn't allowed by the bunch to take more than three minutes, but even so managed to remain up the road until Col de Val Louron-Azet, a climb which made its Tour de France debut in 1997.
On the toughest section of that ascent, Team Sky pushed a fierce pace which shredded the peloton, only 20-25 riders making it over the top. Then, on the final hurdle of the day – Col de Peyresourde (7.1 kilometers, 7.8% average gradient) – as the group was coming closer and closer to the summit, Dan Martin and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) tested the others, their action prompting an immediate response. Just as everybody was preparing for the descent leading to Bagnères-de-Luchon, one of the Tour de France's favourite locations, Chris Froome (Team Sky) powered away, quickly building a 20-second advantage, which helped him take the win and the yellow jersey.
From the chasing group, which crossed the line 13 seconds later, Daniel Martin patiently waited for the final 200 meters to kick off his sprint, thanks to which he finished runner-up on the stage, the most testing of the opening week, with a total of 4 350 meters of climbing. The result he got Saturday, on a day which saw many GC riders lose a significant amount of time, helped the 29-year-old Irishman jump five places in the overall rankings, as he now sits in 4th position, trailing the new leader of the race for just 17 seconds.
Etixx – Quick-Step was close on nabbing its second stage victory at the 103rd Tour de France, missing out on it for just a handful of seconds in Bagnères-de-Luchon, but despite not getting the win which he was looking for, Dan kept his optimism and confidence, which are at an even higher level now after the solid and impressive ride he put in the Pyrenees: "There's no easy day at the Tour de France and we saw that again today."
I knew I had good legs at the start, I was feeling good after yesterday and was really comfortable.
"Julian gave everything to help me on the first climb, so chapeau to him. I remained calm at all times and was well-positioned on a day which saw everybody test each other. When Chris attacked and took a handful of seconds, we chased but couldn't bring him back. What it matters is that I am in fine form, a reward of the hard training I've done on the climbs before the Tour. I am happy with the way things are going for me in the GC, and hopefully a win is just around the corner."
"By far, this was the most punishing day since the start of the race, a brutal combo of difficult climbs and hot temperatures. On the Tourmalet, when Pinot and Majka went, I jumped after them and used my time trial skills to make contact. As we were approaching the top, they dropped me, but I made sure of rejoining them in the valley. Tactically, it was perfect for the team to have a man at the front, only downside being that the peloton didn't give us too much room. Once I was caught, I tried to help Dan, but couldn't do it because I was empty and really suffering. Considering everything, I am satisfied and I am keen on trying again in the following stages", said Tony Martin, the German powerhouse who is also eyeing the first individual time trial of the Tour de France, scheduled next week.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele