(Road Bike Action & AFP; Photo: Bettini)
Alexis Vuillermoz won the eighth stage of the Tour de France on Saturday to become the first French rider to triumph this year. The 27-year-old former mountain biker escaped on the final 2km climb to the finish at Mur de Bretagne following a 181.5km stage from Rennes. Ireland’s Dan Martin timed his counterattack a shade too late and came home second at 5sec with Spaniard Alejandro Valverde winning the sprint finish for third at 10sec.
Briton Chris Froome finished eighth, safely in the lead peloton to retain the overall leader’s yellow jersey by 11sec from Peter Sagan, who did at least take the green points jersey. American Tejay Van Garderen is third overall at 13sec. But reigning champion Vincenzo Nibali gave up a few seconds as he was dropped by the lead pack on the final climb, with its average gradient of 6.9 percent. Vuillermoz confirmed the promise he’d shown on Monday’s third stage when he was third behind Joaquim Rodriguez and Froome on a similar finish at the Mur de Huy.
The 27-year-old showed how comfortable he was on such short, sharp uphill finishes, no doubt leaning on his mountain biking experience, having also taken sixth place at April’s Flèche Wallonne one-day Classic, which likewise finishes on the Mur de Huy. It was a thrilling finish after a fairly pedestrian stage with a regulation breakaway that was reeled in 8km from the end.
While the time gaps were minimal, Nibali will be concerned that he was dropped just three days away from the first mountain summit finish at La Pierre-Saint Martin with its beyond category climb measuring 15.3km at an average 7.4 percent.