Sunday 17 December 2017

Kadri gives the French faithful reason to be cheerful

French rider Biel Kadri celebrates winning the eighth stage of the Tour de France
French rider Biel Kadri celebrates winning the eighth stage of the Tour de France

Sean Ingle

After a wretched first week for British hopes in the Tour de France, a brief parting of the clouds on the road to Gerardmer La Mauselaine. Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish have long departed, having crashed and been crocked, but Simon Yates - one of only two Britons left in the race along with Team Sky's Geraint Thomas - showed plenty of talent and hustle to slip away in five-man group and stay clear for over 100km, before being swallowed by the yellow jersey group near the rain-soaked finish.

While the Frenchman Blel Kadri was crossing the line in triumph, and the crowd were celebrating a first home victory on this year's Tour, the skirmishes among the general classification contenders were becoming sharper. Repeatedly on the 1.8km climb to the finish, with its testing average gradient of 10.3 per cent, Alberto Contador kept jabbing at Vincenzo Nibali. Repeatedly, Contador peered into his rival's eyes, prying for a weakness. But Nibali's face was as impassive as stone.

Contador, who was rocking and rolling on his saddle, found an extra spurt before the line to finish second, 2 minutes 17 seconds behind Kadri, but he only took three seconds out of Nibali, who finished third. The yellow jersey will be satisfied with that - especially as he had a problem changing gears in the last 200m - although today and tomorrow's stages in the Vosges will provide greater opportunities to crack his shell.

Meanwhile, Sky's Richie Porte clung on valiantly to finish fourth, four seconds behind Nibali. Porte is now third on general classification, 1:58 behind Nibali - and 29 seconds ahead of Contador, who is in sixth - and is increasingly seen as a threat.

"Porte is a very good rider," said Nibali. "We've seen that with the way he stays close to Froome in the mountains. He's clearly in great condition, but there are others who'll be dangerous, like Alejandro Valverde, even if he was a bit behind us today."

Nibali was also asked who would be happier now - Contador or Porte. "I can't tell you," he answered. "It's true that Contador grabbed some seconds off me but I don't think it's that important because we have almost two weeks left."

Yates, meanwhile, was spent, despite his heroics. Given fresh legs he might have run the last climb as fast as he rode it. He finished the stage 43rd, 5:59 behind Kadri - numbers that do scant justice to the scale of his effort.

Thomas finished 22nd on the stage - 3:44 back. But he remains 15th overall, a very creditable effort given he has worked so hard for Froome and Porte on the hills of Yorkshire and the cobbles of northern France. Ireland's Nicolas Roche, prominent in the latter stages in support of Contador, finished 16th yesterday. But the stage belonged to Kadri, who made a decisive move on the first of the three climbs on the day, the Col de la Croix des Moinats.

Earlier, another Frenchman, Sebastien Chavanel, had jumped away from the five-man breakaway, but Kadri reeled him in and then shot clear.

"As soon as Chavanel attacked, I went," he said. "I knew he went downhill pretty well, so I decided to go for it on my own. I didn't want to crash or to have mechanical problems so I kept concentrated, and it was only with 200m to the finish line that I really enjoyed the stage win."

As Kadri sped to victory, Yates, a 21-year-old from Bury who only turned professional earlier this year, tried to hang on to third place. But while the heart was willing, the legs were gone. Afterwards Kadri paid tribute to him, calling him a "very strong rider".

"He is a better climber than I so I had to manage my gap," added the Frenchman. "I had to avoid having him coming back to me on the last climb. I think he will have a good career. He will be a very great and strong rider in the future."

Sky's team principal Dave Brailsford says that both Porte and Thomas can be competitive on the two remaining stages before Tuesday's rest day.

"Geraint and Richie are well placed on GC and we would like to keep them both well placed in the GC," he said. "But Geraint did a lot of work on the Sheffield stage. And he did a lot of work on the cobbled stage. Probably more than you'd expect if he was just working for his own GC aspirations. So you have to take that into consideration in terms of fatigue. However, we'd still like to see how he can do. How far he can get into the race. It's a great opportunity for him."

In both 2012 and 2013, Sky rode into yellow on the second Saturday of the Tour. History did not repeat itself again this time round, but Brailsford remains optimistic about the next two weeks despite the loss of Froome.

"It's brilliant," he said. "Grand tours are all about the long haul. As we always say, the goalposts will move, for sure. And life is not fair. But to find ourselves in a slightly different position is fun, too. You have to relish these challenges.

"If you start thinking negatively about it in any way, that is not the right approach to take."


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