GERARDMER, France – In a solo breakaway, Blel Kadri gave France its first stage winner at the Tour de France in the entree to the Vosges mountains on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Vincenzo Nibali extended his lead over his biggest rivals except an important one: Two-time champion Alberto Contador, who sped ahead thinking he might win the stage and trying to test the response of the Italian in the yellow jersey.
Contador dueled with Nibali to capture second place at the uphill finish of a rainy 100-mile eighth stage from Tomblaine to Gerardmer La Mauselaine ski resort. Contador reduced his 2 1/2 minute deficit by only a few seconds, but the threat was loud and clear.
“I wanted to see a bit how he was doing. It was a surprise for me to see that he stayed hooked onto me until the end,” Contador said, adding he felt good about the stage.
“I wasn’t really sure if someone was ahead of me or not for the stage victory, and that’s why I burst ahead, I accelerated a little,” he said. Then, “I saw there was someone in front of me, and I thought, ‘Well, I’ll get a few seconds’ ” on Nibali.
Kadri, sensing his looming victory in the last mile, clasped hands in joy with a staffer of his AG2R Mondiale team, who was alongside him in a team car. He kissed his fingers to the crowd and smiled broadly at the line.
“Today was my day, and I’m really, really, really happy,” he said after his maiden Tour stage win. “We work all year for good performances in this race. … Today it paid off.”
There were fewer crashes than in recent days. Before the stage, Mathias Frank, the Swiss leader of the IAM Cycling team, withdraw because of a broken left femur in a crash on Friday. Frank, who was runner-up in last month’s Tour of Switzerland, underwent surgery in Geneva on Saturday.
The toughest ride in the Vosges will come on Monday when cyclists face seven ascents, including an uphill finish to the storied ski resort La Planche des Belles Filles.