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Old and new heroes animate tough day
Jul 9th, 12. It started with a long time fan favourite attacking and ended with what might be the making of a new French hero.
Along the way, Stage 8 was as hard as its parcours suggested it would be.
On a day with seven climbs including a brutally steep final ascent in Switzerland, the short Stage 8 was expected to be an animated one and the predictions came true - even though the end results don't necessarily show it.
It was the youngest rider in the Tour de France peloton who thrilled the French fans when he soloed to a 26sec victory in Porrentruy.
FDJ Big Mat's Thibaut Pinot was not in the early attacks, or even in the later big counter attack group, but he eventually left the peloton behind and, at his own pace, found the front of the race and made it his.
Behind him, a small group of the GC favourites fought to bring him back over the last climb, the Col de la Croix, a Cat 1 climb of 3.7km at 9.2% average, and to steal seconds on each other.
In the end Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) retained his lead of 10sec ahead of Cadel Evans (BMC), who led the favourites home after being denied a late break for freedom.
Jens Voigt kicks the stage off
The sun was shining at the start and the temperature was around 24 degrees Celsius. Racing began at 1.16pm with 180 riders still in the race. The non-starter was Johannes Frohlinger (Argos Shimano) who was experiencing too much discomfort from the broken little finger he suffered in yesterday's mass crash.
The stage began with an impressive display from Jens Voigt who showed why he is the much loved and respected man in the peloton.
He is the oldest in the Tour, at 40 years old, and has ridden as many kilometres and over as many hills as any other rider, and yet today no one could keep up with the German RadioShack Nissan Trek rider.
He was the lone surviver of an early 11 man break as he led over the day's first two climbs.
His fast pace started a day of suffering for those back in the peloton, and a day of frustration for those who wanted a shot at stage glory - the Team Sky led peloton was not allowing anyone else free.
Robert Gesink (Rabobank) was an early GC casuality, he was dropped after about 30km of racing.
On Voigt went for the first hour, but eventually even he found his limit - at the base of the third climb he was no longer alone having been joined by Steven Kruiswijk (Rabobank).
A large counter attack of 24 riders caught the leading duo after 47km.
Jeremy Roy (FDJ) bridged to the break group then leapt off the front - at the 60km mark he led the rest of the escapees by 18sec and the peloton by 50sec.
Another big name crashes out
At 56km there was a crash involving Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel Euskadi). The current Olympic Champion, who finished 6th in last year's Tour de France, broke his collarbone and had to quit the race.
On the descent of the cote de Saignelegier, Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) and Roy sped ahead of all the other escapees. The pair began the fifth climb with a lead of 30sec on two riders and 1min on the other escapees with the peloton 3m30s behind.
On the fifth climb the Swedish Astana rider left the Frenchman behind and began a long solo journey towards the finish. With 40km to go, Kessiakoff was ahead of the second group by 1m15s and 3m20s in front of the bunch.
The final climb
Kessiakoff began the Col de la Croix climb with a lead of 55sec on Tony Gallopin and Pinot - who had since bridged up from the peloton - but it didn't take long for the youngest rider in the race to drop the RadioShack Nissan Trek rider.
Pinot then sped ahead and caught and immediately raced past Kessiakoff near the top of the final climb and he wouldn't be seen by another rider until after the finish.
Liquigas led the peloton to the base of the final climb but then Lotto-Belisol riders took over with Jelle Vanendert and Jurgen van den Broeck setting the pace on the steepest climb of the stage.
By the top, there was a group of just nine riders - Wiggins, Chris Froome (Team Sky), Evans, Denis Menchov (Katusha), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), van den Broeck and a RadioShack Nissan Trek trio of Haimar Zubeldia, Frank Schleck and Chris Horner.
Van den Broeck was bold enough try attacking the yellow jersey and this prompted a brief surge from Evans but Wiggins always seemed to have them covered.
The defending champion of the Tour would finished second in the stage for a second successive day but he gained no time on his main rival in the race for the maillot jaune.
Kessiakoff earned the lead in the KOM classification for his efforts today and Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) just defended his white jersey... and Wiggins, in 4th place, did all he needed to do to ensure he'll wear the yellow jersey in tomorrow's Stage 9 time trial.
Those out the back
Spare a thought for the non-climbers in the peloton who endured a super high paced day of climbing. As Greg Henderson (Lotto Belisol) put it in his daily update to RoadCycling.co.nz, "It's incredible how much you suffer in this race."
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