‘Mon­ster stage’ to­day; Calme­jane wins Stage 8

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SCOREBOARD -

STA­TION DES ROUSSES, France — Af­ter nearly 900 miles in eight days of rac­ing, the suf­fer-fest Tour de France now turns the pain dial up a notch or five. How does scal­ing half the height of Ever­est in one day sound?

That’s the mon­strous chal­lenge lurk­ing to­day for the 193 al­ready tired and sun­baked rid­ers who have made it this far.

For the mo­ment, when race leader Chris Froome looks over his shoul­der, he sees a gag­gle of chal­lengers hot on his heels. Just 61 sec­onds sep­a­rate him from 10th­placed Rafal Ma­jka of Poland. More dan­ger­ous con­tenders are closer still to the three­time Tour cham­pion.

All that will likely change on the suc­ces­sion of seven climbs in east­ern France’s Jura moun­tains to­day — three of them so tough they defy cat­e­go­riza­tion on cy­cling’s slid­ing scale of climb­ing tough­ness. “A mon­ster stage” is how Froome de­scribed it, pre­dict­ing the race stand­ings will “get blown to pieces.”

To­tal el­e­va­tion, when all the as­cents are added to­gether: 15,000 feet. That’s just shy of the height of western Europe’s high­est peak, Mont Blanc, and about belly but­ton-height on Ever­est.

The last “hors cat­e­gorie” climb, Mont du Chat, may be named af­ter a cat but looks on Tour maps like a lion’s fang. With an av­er­age 10 per­cent gra­di­ent, and even steeper than that in parts, it will push rid­ers al­ready ex­hausted by the pre­vi­ous six climbs to the very limit. Hearts pound­ing, legs burn­ing, they will have no time to re­cover from its hair­pin bends be­fore plung­ing into more fast, twist­ing bends on the de­scent. Clear heads and quick re­ac­tions are a must: Not easy when body and brain are scream­ing for rest.

“That climb is sav­age,” Froome said. “I imag­ine it’s go­ing to blow the gen­eral clas­si­fi­ca­tion right open.”

Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters: Satur­day’s stage, also in the Jura moun­tains, was far from easy.

Froome’s team­mates at Sky had to ride hard to make sure that rid­ers who rode off at the front of the race, chas­ing the stage vic­tory, didn’t get too far ahead and take the over­all lead away from him. The ques­tion now is whether Sky will pay for the ef­fort to­day and run out of juice on the 112-mile Stage 9 from Nan­tua to Cham­bery in the Alps, ar­guably the most gru­el­ing of this Tour’s 21 stages.

“It was good to see them pull on the front,” said Aus­tralian Richie Porte of the ri­val BMC team, who is 39 sec­onds be­hind Froome over­all, in fifth place. “I hope there’s some tired legs among them to­mor­row.”

Grind­ing away from pur­suers on a small moun­tain road more suited to goats than rid­ers, Lil­ian Calme­jane won Stage 8 to the Rousses ski sta­tion, for his first vic­tory in his first Tour.

Calme­jane, rid­ing for French team Direct En­ergie, fought cramp af­ter break­ing away on the fi­nal climb and hung on, tongue lolling, for vic­tory in only the second visit by the Tour to the Rousses, with its cross-coun­try ski trails through dense forests.

It was the second win at this Tour for a French rider, af­ter Ar­naud De­mare’s on Stage 4.

Froome rode in 50 sec­onds af­ter Calme­jane — plenty close enough to re­tain the yel­low jer­sey — in a group with all of the other top con­tenders for over­all vic­tory in Paris on July 23.

Froome’s day wasn’t with­out in­ci­dent: On a down­hill, right-hand bend af­ter the second of three rated climbs on the 116-mile stage from Dole, the Bri­ton went into road­side gravel in­stead of cor­ner­ing. Froome stayed on his bike and quickly re­cov­ered. But team­mate Geraint Thomas went over road­side bar­ri­ers. Thomas quickly re­joined the race, and Froome said his team­mate was un­in­jured.

The cor­ner “sprang up on us a lit­tle bit,” Froome said. “One mo­ment you’re in con­trol, the next thing you’re in a ditch.”

Calme­jane held off Dutch rider Robert Gesink, hot on his heels, on the fi­nal climb and rolling fin­ish. Cramp­ing from his ef­fort, Calme­jane had to slow and rise off his sad­dle to stretch his legs in the fi­nal sec­tion and then grit­ted his teeth and ped­aled on­ward to the line.

“I gave my­self a huge fright,” Calme­jane said of his cramps. “It would have been so sad to lose the stage like that.”

Gesink, of the Nether­lands’ Lotto-Jumbo team, rode in 37 sec­onds af­ter Calme­jane. French rider Guil­laume Martin placed third on the stage, an­other 13 sec­onds back.

By be­ing the first rider to scale the day’s last climb, Calme­jane en­joyed the added bonus of pick­ing up enough points to take the polka-dot jer­sey — awarded for points col­lected on climbs — off the shoul­ders of Ital­ian Fabio Aru.


France’s Lil­ian Calme­jane won the eighth stage of the Tour de France Satur­day, com­plet­ing a 116-mile climb from Dole to Sta­tion des Rousses, France.

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