Pinot takes stage eight of Tour de France
Mon, 09 Jul 2012 3:14a.m.
Thibaut Pinot gave France its first victory in the Tour de France this year by winning the eighth stage as Bradley Wiggins retained the overall lead after conquering seven mid-size climbs as the race entered Switzerland.
The Frenchman broke away from the pack during a steep, final climb he overcame to win the 157.5-kilometer (98-mile) stage from Belfort to the Swiss town of Porrentruy.
Cadel Evans of Australia was second, 26 seconds behind. Tony Gallopin of France was third, and Wiggins was fourth in a small group that included most of the remaining pre-race favourites.
In the last, mostly flat 10 kilometres (6 miles) of the stage, the Tour favourites relayed each other skilfully in a frenzied chase of Pinot. The 22-year-old Frenchman, who is the youngest rider in the peloton, held on.
Sunday's stage win was by far Pinot's biggest achievement. His previous top performance was at the 2010 the Tour of Romandie, where he won the best-climber award.
"I will remember this day my entire life," Pinot says as teammates were embracing him in the winner's circle to congratulate him. "I can't yet get my mind around it."
Overall, Wiggins leads defending champion Cadel Evans by 10 seconds. The Australian mounted a late, but unsuccessful attack on the Briton. Italy's Vincenzo Nibali was third, 16 seconds behind the leader.
The race was marred by another crash that ended with a high profile withdrawal from the Tour.
Defending Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez pulled out after a crash 65 kilometres (35 miles) into the stage. He broke his right hand and injured his left shoulder, and could miss the London Games.
Twenty riders have dropped out so far from the 99th Tour. Of those, at least 13 gave up the three-week race following a mass pileup during Stage 6.
The ride into the Jura range of the Swiss Alps, known as the birthplace of the Swiss army knife, offered twin-billing drama: A hard last climb that splintered the pack, and a nail-biting chase of Pinot to the finish.
The day's last, and the steepest climb over the 3.7-kilometer (2.2-mile) Col de la Croix, obliterated the pack, with riders like Alejandro Valverde of Spain and Peter Sagan of Slovakia dropping off the back.
Frederik Kessiakov of Sweden pressed the pace, but Wiggins and others, chasing the title, were content to let him go. The Astana rider began the day in 80th place, 19 minutes behind the British race leader.
Pinot, bounding out of his saddle with powerful legs, chased uphill and then sped past Kessiakov with a few hundred meters left before the peak of the Col de la Croix - and held on all the way to the finish.
Wiggins called the stage "a tough day on the team," referring to his British squad Team Sky, and said he was content to get through it: "Another tough day ticked off."
Monday's stage returns to favourable territory for riders like Wiggins and
Evans: A time-trial. Riders will set off one by one in the 41.5-kilometer
(26-mile) race against the clock from Arc-en-Senans to Besancon.
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