With four kilometres to go on the eighth stage of the 2017 Tour de France, Lilian Calmejane stopped pedalling, grimaced and stretched his legs for a few seconds. He had cramp. He was losing time to his pursuer, having worked so hard to gain it on the final category one climb. Calmejane had emerged from one of the umpteen breakaway groups which had forced their way clear of the peloton throughout the stage on a confusing, messy day. Riders started attacking right from the gun, with different groups getting away and being chased down all the time.
When it became clear that a group was not going to disappear up the road with any ease, the sprinters' teams began to take an interest in pulling the peloton in the knowledge that the early intermediate sprint would allow them to steal some points they may not have expected to. After those sprinters left in the group had gotten their points, the race was on again at the front as Greg Van Avermaet, Alexey Lutsenko and Sylvain Chavanel forming a group at the front. Even they could not withstand the pace of the peloton, so finally, with eighty kilometres ridden at an infernal pace, a group stuck. That group was fifty riders strong, containing representatives from practically every team and quickly set about gaining three minutes of an advantage. Sky went to the front to prevent them getting too much of a gap, suffering a scare as Chris Froome overshot a corner, but the grassy verge was kind to him, as he soon returned to the front.
Up front, the situation was fluid, groups going off the front and getting caught by what was essentially a peloton. However, a group of riders were maintaining a lead at the front, despite people getting dropped and other attacking to reach them. At the foot of the final climb, Nicolas Roche, Lilian Calmejane, Robert Gesink, Serge Pauwels, Simon Clarke, Michael Valgren, Warren Barguil, Jan Bakelants and Greg Van Avermaet were in the lead group, but at Roche's attack the group became a four-man effort, with just the Irishman, Gesink, Calmejane and Pauwels still in contention.
Calmejane had soon had enough of his company, leaving the group in his tracks as Roche tried to follow, overestimating his ability to. Only Gesink could really settle into a rhythm behind the Frenchman, but he couldn't gain any time, as Calmejane got over the climb in first place to take the king of the mountains jersey off the shoulders of Fabio Aru, pointing his bike in the direction of the finish line and setting off along the flatter roads. It looked in the bag, right until his legs betrayed him. Calmejane did not panic, however, putting his bike into a lower gear and spinning his way to the finish line, recovering to beat Gesink by thirty-seven seconds and take a rare Tour win for a wildcard team.
Behind in the peloton, the GC group had a rather less stressful day. Sergio Henao kept the group going at a quick pace, if not a torturous one, until the flat section, where although Dan Martin had a dig with four kilometres remaining, no gains could be made and the top ten on GC retained their positions, Guillaume Martin winning the sprint for third place and bonus seconds from Nicolas Roche.
Forty minutes behind, a sick Arnaud Démare fought to stay in the race, alongside two team mates, Tim Wellens, Mark Renshaw, Luke Rowe and Roy Curvers. Fifteen kilometres behind the peloton halfway through the stage, he somehow succeeded to fight another day. As did Juraj Sagan, who finished behind even that group, forty minutes down. Tomorrow, on a day with seven categorised climbs and a likely thunderstorm, will be another challenge for these riders.
- Lilian Calmejane (FRA), Direct Energie - 4:30:29
- Robert Gesink (NED), Team LottoNL-Jumbo - 0:37
- Guillaume Martin (FRA), Wanty-Groupe Gobert - 0:50
- Nicolas Roche (IRE), BMC Racing - st
- Roman Kreuziger (CZE), Orica-Scott - st
- Fabio Aru (ITA), Astana - st
- Michael Valgren (DEN), Astana - st
- Rafal Majka (POL), Bora-Hansgrohe - st
- Nate Brown (USA), Cannondale-Drapac - st
- Romain Hardy (FRA), Fortuneo-Oscaro - st
Froome holds yellow, Kittel slightly tightens his hold on green, Calmejane is the new polka-dot holder and Simon Yates carries on in white.