Tour de France Stage 8 Review

We were expecting him tomorrow, he attacked today. We expecting him to attack uphill, he went on the descent
– Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme

Prudhomme summed up the events at the finish of today’s stage after Chris Froome’s late attack brought him the stage and the yellow jersey. It marked a moment of excitement in an otherwise steady stage and if Froome won this more symbolic than substantial with only seconds in it.

No break: The stage began with an hour of fierce racing on the roads south of Pau where the countryside echoed to the sound of chains clunking into the 11 sprocket. Finally a break went with Thibaut Pinot, Rafał Majka and Tony Martin. The German was an odd presence but a valuable one, not just an extra rider to share the load in the valleys but worth two riders. Pinot collected the points on the Tourmalet but would crack later with Majka, the Bison of Zegartowice, able to stay with the lead group when caught and collecting enough points to win the jersey.

Parade: The breakaway was kept on a tight leash and once caught the race fell into a state of torpor, a parade led by Team Sky and Movistar that was only a missing a giant satellite dish or a smarpthone-on-wheels to make it a full-on publicity caravan. It wasn’t easy, riders were being dropped and those that were remaining were having their energy sapped and being dessicated by the hairdryer climate. But it was hard to watch too, little was happening for a long time.

It took until the upper slopes of the Col de Peyresourde for the race to come alive with an attack from Sergio Henao. Instead of the usual Sky train they’d decided to stir things up and Movistar replied too with an acceleration from Valverde. Froome had a go, Dan Martin too but it felt like a series of test efforts rather than committed attacks, a headwind across the top helped smother things too.

Spur of the moment or planned? Earlier on the Col d’Azet Chris Froome upped the cadence and jostled with Rafał Majka for the mountain points. Was Froome going for the mountain points as well? He had words with Majka and it looked as if the Pole was annoyed that Froome was trying to eat his lunch. With hindsight this could have been a tactical ploy, to go for the KoM points and make it seem as if Froome wanted them so that when they went over the Peyresourde nobody was surprised to see him spin up the gears over the top of the pass. He got a gap, he got the mountain points and just when everyone expected to settle into the descent Froome kept going. Such planning doesn’t seem so likely, Froome later said he just wanted to try something over the top of the climb.

The Peyresourde descent is long and non-technical for the most part, a long drop that’s a test of aerodynamics more than skill. It suits a chasing group but there wasn’t one, for a long time only Alejandro Valverde was working and it wasn’t until later that others rolled through like Tejay van Garderen. Meanwhile Froome was taking time thanks to his aero tuck, sat on the top tube and resembling a child who’d stolen an adult bike. The position has been attributed to Matej Mohoric who won the 2013 U23 World Championships with help from this but it’s been used before, eg Michał Kwiatkowski in the 2012 Dauphiné and more.

Aru is back: Dan Martin won the sprint for second, he’s climbing well and has that zip in his legs, a stage win at some point seems likely and Romain Bardet was next. We also got the first showing of Fabio Aru who put in a late attack in Luchon, it came to nothing but the significance is that he’s now front group material when he wasn’t in the Dauphiné.

Rolland’s breach: Among the losers of the day Alberto Contador was dropped, Warren Barguil too, ditto Pierre Rolland who compounded things by a scrape on the descent. Wilco Kelderman punctured on the penultimate descent, got back with the help from his team car only to get dropped again. Michael Mørkøv finally succumbed to his injuries and became the first rider to quit the race, all the other riders made it to the finish.

Chris Froome maillot jaune

Froome is in the yellow jersey after the first mountain stage but this is a different script to last year. For starters he’s only got 16 seconds on Adam Yates and 23 on Quintana. Is it worth it? Team Sky will be delighted with today but the yellow jersey places a burden on Team Sky and Froome too and you wonder if this isn’t the perfect result for Quintana too. Tomorrow is the big test in the Pyrenees.

48 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 8 Review”

  1. Wow! He absolutely nailed that descent.
    You have to admire someone who has taken a perceived weakness and turned it into a strength.
    And fair play Inrng, you hinted that Froome might take a downhill option. Not many people saw that coming.

    • It was more that Froome could maintain his lead rather than increase it on the descent, still it had some mocking the idea. If he looks ungainly he’s not a bad descender and behind the chase was a stalemate for a while.

    • Per Inrng’s comment, not much “nailing” to do on that descent. It looks like Froome is setting up for a blowout on tomorrow’s ramp test.

  2. Quintana can’t afford to lose 23 seconds to Froome – he’ll already lose more than that in the first time trial. Plus presumably, Froome’s aim would be to take time on Quintana tomorrow, so why not just take some today?
    Entirely Quintana’s fault: he should have immediately followed Froome, THEN got others (primarily Valverde) to chase.
    BMC, predictably, did nothing. Just like the others, but they had two.
    Hugely impressive for Froome to go from a poor descender (circa 2012) to this. He and Sky have clearly done the work on that. Plus, they now have more than one race tactic – and Froome seems to have no weakness (other than his health at times).
    Yes, Sky have the strongest team (which annoys many, including me, and leads to dull racing – everything before Froome’s attack), but the others aren’t helping themselves by allowing Sky to dictate what happens in the race.
    Sky weren’t even riding that hard – it was a big group on that final climb (can’t be that hard if Schleck is still up there).
    Interview with Brailsford suggests more planning was involved in Froome’s attack.
    Contador should pull out and focus on the Vuelta/Olympics now – the gap’s too big.

    • As Inrng says it’s a non-technical descent so doesn’t really mean that he’s now a great descender. (If you’ve never done it, it’s a really fun one to do. After the initial hairpins there’s on really two more bends in the whole thing).

      Fair play to him though. He pushed his luck and he made it stick. Quintana usually plays a late hand in the Tour, so it will be interesting to see if Froome can get the time gap he needs for the final week.

      Incidentally it would have been interesting to be the fly on the shoulder of Froome after the 1km banner incident. He was very animated in his conversation with Quintana. Difficult to tell whether he was having an angry dispute about the protest roll in, or commenting on rider safety.

      • But the pedaling whilst sitting on the tube can’t be very easy – not many do it – and he used to be a pretty rotten descender. Doesn’t make him Sagan, all of a sudden, but he did well on the bends too.

      • It was Valverde he was having a long chat with not Quintana and you may have been down down the descent (as have many) but pedaling while sitting on the top tube?

    • but the others aren’t helping themselves by allowing Sky to dictate what happens in the race.

      This is a common misconception. A GC contender is playing a longer game of trying to stay within striking distance of the leader while trying to increase the gap behind them.

      More broadly, in theory, the work/power available over three weeks is finite. Some of what’s going on in this “long game” is letting the lead rider expend more energy so as to wear themselves out in the third week.

      Whomever ends up being dominant, the others cannot go for broke with two whole weeks of racing left. The other teams (not Sky) are left to do the best they can with what is left. There are valuable results that will figure into their contracts going forward. With all the changes going on inside the sport, the results matter even more.

      I’m looking forward to a Valverde podium myself. Maybe Kreuziger can leave on a high note?

      • Perhaps fair enough for the rest (depending on how highly you rate a podium or top 5), but Quintana has to attack at some point or he won’t win. And having had two 2nd places I imagine a third one would mean little to him.

    • Froome made sure I ate my words ( I basically wrote that his descending skills were joke), but I guess Mr Ring has inside info and foretold of an attack on the descend. I still maintain that Froome pedals like a wounded giraffe, as Mr Ring wrote, but he made a successful attack and at the end of the day that is what counts.

  3. One thing Brailsford said afterwards regarding the KOM points and Majka was and i’m paraphrasing, that if other teams want something they should work for it, not just be allowed because sky are nice.

    Also I don’t particularly think it matters that Froome has the yellow, sky have been riding as if they have had it anyway, may as well actually wear it. I’m a bit disappointed for Yates not getting yellow though, but he seemed to only just be hanging on.

    • Everybody else has been riding like Sky were already in yellow. When Majka asks for permission to go for KOM you know Sky have already won the psychological battle.

      And clearly planned, Sir Dave said as much in 2 different interviews. Quintana caught napping taking a bottle and relaxing then waiting for Valverde to come to his aide

  4. Dear INRNG
    To me that attack in the final descent looked premeditated and rehearsed, not least because it was so outside of normal SKY modus operandi.
    If you have time, do you have any further insight or opinion into whether this was spontaneous or a pre-planned and practiced move?
    Thanks anyway for fantastic site.

    • as Graeme mentions – Brailsford gave the game away, pretty much said it was def premeditated, even in just his gleeful smile!!! Who knows whether it was premeditated to the extent of taking the KOM points – but I wouldn’t put it past Sky! Great idea at least from INRNG!

      Stunned Quintana didn’t chase – put a lot of pressure on him this result, Froome can play second fiddle and let Q play his cards tomorrow now, just wonder how much energy F used in the attack? But if he had the confidence to go for it, you suspect he’s feeling on spectacular form.

      Really looking forward to the INRNG preview tomorrow because I remember on Pierre St Martin last year Froome stated he attacked specifically on the steepest part before it levelled out and he could push his advantage (with TT prowess coming into play) – tomorrow it looks as if the final climb is very regular and the steepest gradient comes on the penultimate climb, actually at the start of it as well, cannot believe Froome will attack there but with his advantage now at least he has all the plays in his corner if he has the legs tomorrow.

      All I can say, with Q moaning last year about losing it in the wind (which I think is pushing it a bit…) how he let Froome go just makes him look as if he’s missing the cutting edge/racers instinct. Contador/Nibali would never have let that happen.

      But I may be eating my words if Q launches a monster attack tomorrow.


      • one thing quintana never seemed to be is impatient, maybe he sits it out again until the hard third week and tries to limit the damage until then.

      • 54T Oval chainset, so not quite the same as a a standard 54T. Or at least that is how I understand the difference between oval and standard chainsets in terms of teeth

        • I don’t know your source for that but I agree. Just by watching a fleeting sidelong glimpse of his finish shows that telltale chain flapping around.

    • He said in an interview that he had put a 54T chainring on in anticipation that descents might play a part in the stage.

      If he had an 11 sprocket as well, 54*11 is about 138 – 140 rpm at 85km/h – fast, but not beyond the bounds of probability, assuming he was still actually pedalling at that speed. 115 – 120rpm would be speeds in the 70 – 75km/h range, which I suspect was what he was doing for long sections of the descent.


  5. Froome, what a winner! Always criticised for not knowing how to descend. Today I think he lost his mind, but love to see how he risked everything there. Remember, this isn’t the Giro; all the classy riders are here.

    • He descending didn’t look pretty – but it was efficient and it made time on everyone who was descending behind.

      It almost seems to me that Froome wants to change the narrative that he/sky is boring and he wants to win this and be known as a racer, like nibali, contador etc.

      In my mind, he’s always been a racer, it was wiggins who would never attack.

    • It’s worth posting again, that wasn’t a very technical descent. It was fast, but not technical. Two entirely different things.

      Good on Froome for giving it a try.

  6. Caught a couple of seconds of Sir Brailsford afterwards saying how no-one had expected that break after the summit. He had a definite twinkle in his eye, despite the sunglasses….

  7. German Eurosport commentators were claiming Udo Bölts pioneered that descending position, though I can’t say I remember or was able to find any youtube evidence.

    • The arms tucked up under the body is very reminiscent of the first Graeme Obree position – look up the 1993 Hamar hour record or 1993 World Pursuit Championship.


  8. Impressive performance by Froome today. Often seen as a poor descender because he is adverse to taking risks on the descent, he flipped the script. Highly impressive by the Sky team having five riders driving the final selection when no other team had more than three. That is disheartening for those of us interested in an attacking race. The question will be how much energy did the team and specifically Froome expend today to put on this display. Sticking with Sky, any talk of Thomas being a protected rider is officially out the window as he bled time today and couldn’t stay with the main group.

    Quintana is probably kicking himself for letting Froome get away. He has been glued to his wheel this entire tour and was distracted for a moment. Neither rider has asserted their dominance on the climbs yet though so Froome won the battle, but hardly the war. Valverde proved that he was riding for Quintana today and did a great job being a lieutenant on the road. For those who were doubting if he would sacrifice his own chances for Quintana this stage has to put that to bed.

    Contador is officially done for this year. Too bad because he has a unique way of animating races. Tinkoff seems to be in complete anarchy around him. Majka is now going for the polka dot jersey and Sagan is still in for the green jersey, but all other hopes are scattered to the wind. Kreuzinger might get a top 10 overall in the tour, but his failure to be a good domestique might cost him. At this stage in his career he is an elite domestique, but not a team leader.

    BMC were the most disappointing team of the day. I was hoping Porte would make exactly the move Froome did to peg back a little time. Neither Porte or TJVG seemed willing to work to put Sky in trouble or chase down Froome. It is as if they are already racing for third place. How Porte is going to take back time on Froome or Quintana with this style is beyond me.

    Astana has been eerily quiet for Aru. They have a strong team and have managed to keep their powder dry. Other than a cheeky attack in the final kilometer Aru has been quietly with the leaders. They could cause some damage later in the race if they can hang close like this.

    On to Sunday which should have some fireworks!

  9. Fair play to Froome, took it by the scruff of the neck, however that top tube pedalling style, oh I can see it going pear shaped. Don’t like it at all.

    • i do it all the time (Bad climber, need to catch up when going downhill). It feels really steady, and i thought that because your centre of gravity is so low, it would be even more steady then the normal riding position. Quick braking is a problem though.

      • Before you hit the brakes you ought to be throwing your weight back and getting some aerobraking going. There’s no need to be hitting the brakes in that position. For all-out, downhill, terminal velocity only. There’s a kind of choreography to it.

  10. In all sorts of elite sport great champions stand out from the rest (who are often as skilled and as strong) by sheer mental toughness and an uncanny ability to seize the moment. At his peak Alberto Contador had exactly these gifts. Increasingly it seems that Chris Froome has them and really is heading towards confirming his place amongst the very top TdF champions (though is must be said his record outside of the TdF is not great). He has ruthlessly identified his weaknesses and worked to eliminate them.

    His time gain today might not win him the race but the way he went about achieving it will have piled up pressure on his opponents. They know that if they are to have any chance of victory they either hope for Froome to have an accident or illness or they have to plan a big attack, which if it does not succeed will just hand him the race. Perhaps the effort he put in today will prove so draining that he will crack on what is going to be another very long, hot and arduous day tomorrow – is that likely? They know that Froome is likely to come out top in the time trials.

    I think the post race responses today from Movistar suggest that they dont know how to respond, simply waiting for the third week in the hope that Sky repeat last year does not seem a great idea (perhaps Dave Brailsford and co might have spent the last 11 months thinking about that too……). Is it realistic to expect Valverde to be able to play super domestique given his age and the effort he put in at the Giro? Where is the rest of the team?

    How far can Dan Martin go? (I hope a long way) especially as he has little or no team support

    Romain Bardet does seem a reasonable bet for top 5 possibly podium and AG2R seem to be pretty organised

    Personally I think BMC might be the ones to watch, not sure either Richie Porte or TJvG have quite what it takes to be a champion but if they can continue to work together then they form a pretty formidable duo, not enough to beat Froome but maybe enough to push one of them onto the podium.

    Not convinced about Fabio Aru but he did come back to win the Vuelta last year so maybe he has enough inner strength to keep hanging on.

    Adam Yates has been impressive, again how far can he keep going, similarly Louis Meintjes

    Any thoughts that various teams might work together to take on Sky is a fantasy, not only was it very unlikely in the first place but with a number of teams in disarray who actually could realistically do this? Surely BMC, AG2R etc have more interest in getting one of their riders as high as possible rather than helping another team.

    The rest are now looking for stage wins to salvage something.

    Possibly tempting fate but barring misfortune it is difficult to see anyone but Chris Froome wearing yellow going into the rest day. Not quite what ASO hoped for when they designed the course this year.

  11. Taking nothing away from Froome but sadly I feel that although there maybe a few exciting chapters to come, I know the ending! For me, as an armchair viewer thats where the 3 week race loses me a little.

  12. That tubular rolling off, it looked completely clean on the area where the glue is supposed to be and it was still inflated, i know these can move due to the heat on the descent but the whole thing had come off …somebody for a slapped wrist ?

    • This used to happen back-in-the-day with aluminum rims too. Usually just an awful lump as the valve stem wouldn’t allow the tire to rotate very far on the rim as the glue softened. A Michelin (Wolber) PR guy once told me they quietly switched BigMig to clinchers for these big mountain stages to avoid this issue. Kind of makes me wonder about this old-time technology’s usefullness in modern cycling. Or perhaps it’s the best reason for the adoption of the dreaded disc brakes, as of course they’d never go “backward” to aluminum alloy clincher rims though I believe every major race has been won on them at least once — back when Michelin was paying teams to use their clincher tires.

      • Cycling is a very traditional sport – which I have learned you actually like a lot, Larry 😉 -, so we’ll unfortunately see that happen again from time to time until some well-known guy finally dies because of a failure like this. There are a number of corners in each Grand Tour route which you don’t want to miss as a consequence of a rolling tubular. Because the terrain drops significantly next to the road. I’m sure you know some of those corners, Larry.
        Alternative technology already exists for a long time in the shape of tubeless clinchers or the “dreaded” disc brakes. It will probably follow the example of the helmet debate. Only after Kiwiljow died the UCI finally made helmets mandatory ending the dreaded discussion. In all honesty I would rather ban tires glued to rims which become very hot during descents than make helmets mandatory.

  13. Great move by Froome especially with his descent which the cycling podcast described best as been like a frog on a skateboard lol!

    Are sky trying to do things differently due to the boring sky bot tag they have? Saw 1-2 attacks, Froome going for KOM points as Brailsford seemed to say they were unwilling to take control then teams just snipe the points and saying it was up to other teams to race.

    It maybe a forgone conclusion but surely it is not sky’s fault if other teams don’t come up with tactics to negate their advantage. Take BMC who have a similar budget but they seem content with watching from the sidelines and accepting a step on the podium.

    Will Froome fade in the third week which is why he is keen to get all the advantage he can?

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