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July 9, 2016 – Reigning champion Chris Froome gave a demonstration of his versatility in riding away on a fast descent to take the yellow jersey at the Tour de France on Saturday.
Renowned for his blistering attacks on steep climbs, the Briton stunned his Tour rivals by going clear on a speedy descent to the finish of the 184km eighth stage from Pau to Bagneres de Luchon in the Pyrenees. He caught everyone by surprise, commentators and fans included, with a curious technique where he slipped off his saddle and onto the bike’s central bar to gain aerodynamic benefits, yet still managing to pedal furiously.
No-one in a select group of 13 challengers reacted quickly enough and Froome opened up a 13 second gap by the finish. Ireland’s Dan Martin won the sprint for second from Joaquim Rodriguez of Spain. Froome now leads by 16sec overall from young Briton Adam Yates and Rodriguez, while previous yellow jersey holder Greg Van Avermaet finished a long way back.
“It wasn’t really planned. I thought I’d give it a try in the downhill as the few tries on the climb didn’t work out,” said Sky leader Froome. “They (his rivals) were sticking to us so I decided to give it a go in the descent. It was cool. Bike racing is just fun, but maybe I spent a little bit too much energy — tomorrow is a hard stage but I take every second I can.”
Froome’s main rival Nairo Quintana finished the stage in 13th place on the same time as Martin and is now sixth overall at 23-seconds.
Team manager Dave Brailsford praised Froome’s ingenuity and said this proved Sky aren’t the boring team they’re often made out to be. “Sometimes we’re too predictable so today we decided to change things a bit,” he said. “We mixed the tactics and did something unexpected. Well done Chris! “It’s true that on the descent, as an Englishman, I had my heart in my mouth, but it worked.
“Great credit to Chris, he’s a fighter, he takes chances, he’s a real racer.” It was a bad day for Spanish two-time former winner Alberto Contador, who’s still struggling with injuries he suffered in a crash on the opening stage. He finished 1:41 behind Froome and is now more than 3min behind in the overall standings.
With an incredible 51km covered in the first hour of racing it was impossible for a breakaway to form. But once the climb of the monstrous Tourmalet began — the first of four categorized climbs — Frenchman Thibaut Pinot and Rafal Majka of Poland finally got away before German time-triallist Tony Martin breached up to the two climbers.
Froome’s Sky were setting the pace at the front of the peloton and Van Avermaet quickly found himself in a group of stragglers going rapidly backwards and seeing the yellow jersey slipping off his shoulders. The Tourmalet took its toll with 2014 champion Vincenzo Nibali also dropped and Dane Michael Morkov, who’d been struggling ever since crashing on the opening stage, being forced to abandon, the first rider to quit the Tour this year at an unprecedented late stage.
The leading trio were brought back 43km from the end, on the penultimate climb as Quintana’s Movistar and Sky took turns setting a fierce tempo at the front of the peloton. When the Sky-led peloton reached the final climb, there were only 30 riders left in the lead group. Finally, with 17km left, less than 2km from the climb’s summit, Froome put in a dig, followed by Martin as the peloton broke up with few riders able to hang on.
Frenchman Romain Bardet and Quintana both accelerated but neither showed any great commitment to attack. A group of just 14 riders went over the top together with 16km to ride and Froome immediately darted clear on the descent. The chasers seemed to look to each other for direction and the Briton was away to win a fifth stage in eight for his nation. Stephen Cummings won Friday’s stage while Mark Cavendish has a hat-trick of sprint stage victories.
Results Stage 8
1. Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky 4:57:33
2. Daniel Martin (Irl) Etixx – Quick-Step 0:00:13
3. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha
4. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
5. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Tinkoff Team
6. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team
7. Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-BikeExchange
8. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team
9. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo
10. Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing Team
1. Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky 39:13:04
2. Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-BikeExchange 0:00:16
3. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha
4. Daniel Martin (Irl) Etixx – Quick-Step 0:00:17
5. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:19
6. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team 0:00:23
7. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team
8. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team
9. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
10. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo