Stage eight at the Tour de France featured the race’s second “wall” finish; this time the two-kilometer long Mûr-de-Bretagne hosted the fireworks at race end.
The 181.5-kilometer stage began calmly, but as the peloton pedaled closer to the decisive finish the anxiousness grew and the pace amplified.
It was a matter of when not if the breakaway was caught, and inevitably the last relics were swept aside with eight kilometers to go.
The Mûr-de-Bretagne beckoned.
It was full throttle from bottom to top, and in the last meters a surprise move stole the show: Alexis Vuillermoz (AG2R-La Mondiale) jumped with some 700 meters to go and crossed the line five seconds ahead of a hard-chasing Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cannondale).
The level is high here, everyone is close in form, and I was not really surprised to see a large group at the end.
Mollema described the final push up the wall: “I was not well positioned, I was too far back coming into the bottom and I knew that I had to make a big effort on the first kilometer, which is the steepest one, and then the second would be a little better and I could move up.
“It was a big fight again and if you can win this year it’s well deserved. It’s easier to lose a couple of places, much easier than taking them back. The level is high here, everyone is close in form, and I was not really surprised to see a large group at the end.
“I had hoped to finish a little bit better but the winner was too strong and I was a little too far back at the bottom of the last climb and that made it extra hard. I made a mistake with positioning starting the first kilometer, but I was with the GC guys over the line and I think that was the most important for today.”
Bob Jungels has been relatively quiet in the first week of his first Tour de France, always a positive sign in the grand circus – and by finishing with the select group of favorites Saturday he hinted he would be an important piece of the puzzle when the race first hits the mountain climbs.
Jungels gave his analysis of stage eight:
“It was an easy start and I tried to jump into the breakaway a few times; I felt good in the beginning. Everything was quiet until the intermediate sprint when the action started and I was ready to pull if needed, but then other teams also weren’t in the attack and they chased.
“It all came back together and for the finale it was nervous but still manageable. It was good for me because it was hard and with the small hills it was easier for me to maintain positioning.
"To be honest, I was not with Bauke at the end. With 50kms to go I had a bad headache and I didn’t know what to expect [for the finale], but then in the last climb I saw a lot of guys going backwards and I was still there. I was actually really strong on the last climb! In the end, it was a pity that I didn’t start more in front.”