MUR DE BRETAGNE, France (AP) – Frenchman Alexis Vuillermoz won the eighth stage of the Tour de France on Saturday with a late attack on the final climb, while British rider Chris Froome kept the leader’s yellow jersey and defending champion Vincenzo Nibali lost valuable time.
The mostly flat 181.5-kilometer (112.5-mile) ride started in Rennes and finished with a short and sharp 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) climb up Mur de Bretagne.
After Vuillermoz made an early move, Froome counter-attacked about 850 meters from the end and briefly moved into the lead. But Vuillermoz responded with a strong attack and then raised both his arms in the air when he crossed the line to give French riders a first win on this year’s Tour.
“Congratulations to Vuillermoz. That was a great win, he was very strong,” said Froome, the 2013 Tour champion. “That was a tough climb, my team did a great job to bring me to the front.”
Vuillermoz, a former mountain bike specialist, finished third on stage 3, which also finished with a sharp climb.
“It’s always been a childhood dream of mine to win a stage on the Tour,” said the 27-year-old Vuillermoz. “I lost my father three years ago. I was thinking of him a lot today and I hope he’s proud of me … He’s the one who gave me this passion for the Tour de France. He would sleep out on the stages with his cousins and his friends.”
British rider Dan Martin was second and Spaniard Alejandro Valverde placed third.
The climb took its toll and Nibali lost 10 seconds to Froome and to his other main Tour rivals: two-time champion Alberto Contador, 2013 Tour runner-up Nairo Quintana of Colombia and American Tejay Van Garderen, who has made a solid start to the race.
Rolling through the Brittany countryside, the riders went past the imposing Chateau de Hac on the Cotes-d’Armor, a 15th century castle perched on the Brittany coastline.
As they started to climb, thousands of raucous fans – many of whom were waving the black and white flag of Brittany – cheered them on loudly.
Froome positioned himself to the right, while Vuillermoz and two other riders pushed ahead. Froome then launched one of his trademark blistering attacks but, after Vuillermoz responded in kind, Froome let him go and rolled in 10 seconds later in eighth place.
“In my mountain bike days, when I was next to a great champion I wasn’t scared to attack them,” Vuillermoz said. “I’ve kept that audacity in road racing.”
Behind them, Nibali crawled up at a sluggish pace to finish 30th.
“I was not feeling so good,” Nibali said. “I could not respond to the acceleration.”
Sunday’s ninth stage is a team time trial and Monday is a well-earned rest day.
After an intense start to the race marked by three big crashes, strong side-winds and searing heat, the rest will be needed. Especially as Tuesday is the first of three straight days of tough climbing in the Pyrenees.
“I feel really good at the moment. Better or worse than 2013, it’s hard to say,” Froome said. “When we arrive in the Pyrenees that will be the Tour. The fight for the yellow jersey will begin then.”
Before that, Froome will turn his attention to the undulating 28-kilometer (17.4-mile) time trial through Brittany, well suited to strong climbers like him as it finishes with a 1.7 kilometer (1.1 mile) ascent.
Overall, Froome leads Van Garderen by 13 seconds, Contador by 36, Nibali by 1:48 and Quintana by 1:56.
Times in a team time trial are taken from the fifth rider crossing the line.
“I really see as much as 20 or 30 seconds won or lost (between contenders),” Froome said. “It’s going to go down to who can deliver five guys fresh enough to get off that final climb.”
Van Garderen is a serious threat to take Froome’s yellow jersey.
His BMC team includes Rohan Dennis – the Australian rider who won the Tour’s opening stage individual time trial in a record average speed – and it won the team time trial at last year’s world championships and finished first at the Criterium du Dauphine last month.
“With the team I have and what they have shown so far, we are pretty confident,” Van Garderen said. “We have four world champions in that discipline on the team.”
AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin contributed to this report.
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