In a solo breakaway, Blel Kadri gave France its first stage winner at the Tour de France in the entree to the Vosges Mountains on Saturday, while Italy’s Vincent Nibali extended his lead over all of his biggest rivals except one: Two-time champion Alberto Contador, who sped ahead thinking he might win the stage and trying to test the response of the Italian in the yellow jersey.
Spain’s Contador dueled with ProTeam Astana’s Nibali to capture second place at the uphill finish of a rainy 161km eighth stage from Tomblaine to Gerardmer La Mauselaine ski resort in France. Riding for the Discovery Channel team, Contador reduced his 2.5 minute deficit by only a few seconds, but the threat was loud and clear.
“I wanted to see a bit how he was doing. It was a surprise for me to see that he stayed hooked onto me until the end,” the Spaniard said, adding that he felt good about the stage.
Contador finished second on Saturday, more than 2 minutes behind AG2R-La Mondiale rider Kadri.
“I wasn’t really sure if someone was ahead of me or not for the stage victory and that’s why I burst ahead, I accelerated a little,” Contador said, adding that he then “saw there was someone in front of me, and I thought: ‘Well, I’ll get a few seconds’” on Nibali.
Sensing a looming victory in the last kilometer, Kadri clasped hands in joy with a staffer of his team, who was alongside him in a team car. He blew kisses at the crowd and smiled broadly at the line.
“Today was my day, and I’m really, really, really happy,” the Frenchman said after his maiden Tour stage win. “We work all year for good performances in this race... Today it paid off.”
Kadri emerged from a five-man breakaway that chiseled out a lead as big as 11 minutes. None of the breakaway riders threatened Nibali: The highest-placed among them began the stage nearly 26.5 minutes back.
Contador attacked as he and Nibali passed under the red flag marking 1km to go, but the Italian could not be shaken, hewing right on the Spaniard’s back wheel except for Contador’s final surge at the line.
“I’m not explosive, but I held my own,” Nibali said. “I tried to respond as best I could to his attack ... he moved a lot, I really wanted to stick close to him ... in the last 100m he accelerated a lot.”
The ride featured three mid-grade climbs in the first of three days in the mid-sized Vosges range near the German border.
The US’ Andrew Talansky had trouble and lost time in the title chase. In the final ascent, he skidded off the wet road and fumbled — with help from a fan — to repair what seemed to be a problem with his bike. A race medical report said he had multiple contusions.
Garmin-Sharp team leader Talansky finished more than 2 minutes behind Nibali and Contador, trailing the leader by 4 minutes, 22 seconds to place 16th overall. He started the ride in eighth, 2:05 down.
Overall, Nibali led Astana teammate Jakob Fuglsang of Denmark in second by 1 minute, 44 seconds. Australia’s Richie Porte of Team Sky, who came fourth on Saturday, was 1:58 back in third. Spain’s Alejandro Valverde was fifth, 2:27 adrift, and Contador sixth, 2:34 behind.
The breakaway five chiseled out their maximum lead with about 50km left and the pack began to accelerate. With about 25km left, the lead dwindled to 4.5 minutes. France’s Sylvain Chavanel pressed the pace among the five in front, but Kadri overtook him, pedaling alone up the final climb.
There were fewer crashes than in recent days. Before the stage, Mathias Frank, the Swiss leader of the IAM Cycling team, withdrew because of a broken left femur in a crash on Friday. Frank, who was runner-up in last month’s Tour of Switzerland, underwent surgery in Geneva on Saturday.
The toughest ride in the Vosges will come today when cyclists face seven ascents, including an uphill finish to the La Planche des Belles Filles ski resort.
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