Chris Froome leads Richie Pote by 51 seconds on GC, with Alejandro Valverde in thd at 1:25. After cracking on the final climb, Alberto Contador is in seventh place at 1:51.
Castres - Ax 3 Domaines
Tour de France - 6 July 2013
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Cadel Evans lost a huge four minutes at the finish.
Rodriguez comes home 2:06 down on the winner.
Contador crosses the line 1:46 down on Froome in a cluster of five riders.
Valverde finishes 1:10 down, with Belkin pair Mollema and Ten Dam not far behind.
Richie Porte drives to the line and will make it a one-two for Sky. Porte grins as he crosses the finish 51 seconds down on his team-mate.
Victory for Britain's Chris Froome in this, the first summit finish of the 2013 Tour de France. The favourite has delivered.
Froome will enjoy this flat stretch over the summit before the finish...
Contador has completely cracked - he's been dropped by Mollema and Nieve. Froome passes the one-to-go banner.
Contador, Kreuziger, Mollema and Nieve are riding in a foursome 1:20 behind Froome.
Froome is riding into a strong lead in the overall standings - he may have more than a minute on his main rivals tonight.
Froome has 27 seconds on Porte, his team-mate. Valverde is in pursuit, with Quintana dropped. Contador and Kreuziger have been passed by Mollema.
ATTACK BY PORTE! The Tasmanian leaves Movistar pair Quintana and Valverde for dead and powers clear. Saxo pair Contador and Kreuziger are already out of the equation. Brutal riding from Sky's top two.
NOW FROOME GOES ALONE! Porte and Quintana can't keep up with Froome, who powers clear and surely towards a stage win and the yelloe jersey.
Froome and Porte ride clear with Quintana - Contador, Kreuziger and Valverde have no answer.
Contador looked to be in difficulty, but he's fought back on with Valverde. They have almost caught Quintana.
Just five left now: Froome, Porte, Contador, Kreuziger and Valverde. Rodriguez and Mollema were the last to fall off the front.
Kennaugh has done his job and drops off the front, leaving Richie Porte to take up the pace-setting for Chris Froome. Michael Rogers, formerly of Sky, has been dropped. Euskaltel pair Anton and Nieve have been dropped.
Evans dropped! Rolland dropped! Schleck dropped! Dan Martin dropped!
Rolland has been caught by the pack.
Tejay van Garderen is a huge 2:45 down on the peloton - the American has well and tryuly cracked!
The white jersey of Michal Kwiatkowski and Frenchman John Gadret have been dropped by the pack.
Quintana looks Rolland in the eye and then steps on the pedals, zooming clear while in the dancing position. Rolland is completely humbled by that turn of pace.
Peter Kennaugh still leads the peloton, with Chris Froome and Richie Porte on his back wheel.
Rolland catches Quintana and they'll start this final climb together. They're onto the Cat.1 climb of Ax 3 Domaines - 7.8km at 8.2%.
The riders roll through the town of Ax-les-Thermes 10km - and one big climb - from the finish.
Quintana has almost been caught by Rolland, who is just 5 seconds back. The peloton is just another 15 seconds back.
So, BMC's leadership issues may be decided pretty early, what with Van Garderen being dropped and Evans still going strong.
Rolland may be better off waiting for the pack so he can profit from Sky's pacing. Quintana has 38 seconds to play with now. Meanwhile, Roche has almost caught up with the main group.
Quintana has reached the botto; of the descent - or at least a little plateau in the descent. He has 25 seconds over Rolland and 40 seconds over the peloton, so it's coming back together.
Pinot has been dropped by Roche. He's taking this descent very gingerly. Quintana continues his descent along off the front of the race, with Rolland riding solo in pursuit.
Roche is riding with Thibaut Pinot of FDJ, 10th last year, who has been dropped by the main group on this downhill. The Frenchman hates descending - so does Rolland, to be honest.
Nicolas Roche is trying to fight back onto the main pack on the descent after just being distanced towards the top of that last climb.
Quintana takes 25 points for crossing the summit in pole position, with Rolland bagging 20 points. That puts Rolland on 31 points and back in the virtual polka dot jersey, with Quintana second in the KOM standings on 25 points. Third is Mikel Nieve on 19 points.
Over the summit of the Port de Pailheres for Nairo Quintana of Movistar, who wins the Souvenir Henri Desgrange prize for the Tour's highest peak. Pierre Rolland (Europcar) crosses over 40 seconds down, then Igor Anton (Euskaltel) goes over at 55 seconds just ahead of the peloton. Actually, no, it's Mikel Nieve for Euskaltel, who must have attacked when Anton was reeled in.
Quintana downs a can of coke as he reaches a little flat section ahead of the final rise to the ascent of the Port de Pailheres. The crowds are pretty large.
Quintana has 40 seconds over Rolland, with the main pack of 25 riders at 1:05.
Contador has three team-mates left - Rogers, Kreuziger and one more, to be confirmed. Nicolas Roche is in the main pack, but hanging in off the back in the wheel of Andrew Talansky. Andreas Kloeden has been dropped.
Now Riblon is caught by the peloton. Quintana leads Rolland by 40 seconds and Anton by 55 seconds. The main pack rides about 10 seconds further back.
Anton catches Riblon - and passes him. But back with the main group, Tejay van Garderen has been dropped. Andy Schleck is just holding on.
Rolland has caught and passed Riblon. He'll move back into the polka dot jersey if he crosses the summit in second place.
Kiryienka has blown, allowing Peter Kennaugh to take over on the front of the pack, with Froome and Porte in his wheel.
ATTACK: Igor Anton of Euskaltel is the latest rider to jump off the front - proof that Sky's pace is not so infernal. Saxo Tinkoff are riding as a unit around Contador just behind the Movistar pair in the wheels of Sky.
ATTACK: Europcar's Pierre Rolland pings off the front, taking advantage of a moment of respite from the Sky quartet, who were restocking with water bottles.
Quintana has now dropped Riblon as he powers up a series of tight switchbacks.
Sky still have four on the front of the peloton, with Movistar's Valverde and Costa right behind.
Quintana catches Riblon and then gestures for him to ride with him, offering him his wheel. Classy touch.
Riblon, the lone leaders, has just 10 seconds on Quintana, who is closing in fast. The Colombian takes a bottle of water from the neutral bike and presses on. He's a man possessed today...
Voeckler has been caught and past by the peloton. He's even passed by a small trio containing Sylvain Chavanel and Impey, who are doing their best to get back onto the main pack.
Gesink doesn't have the legs to keep up with Quintana - and the Dutchman waves the cameraman away - he's really beginning to suffer.
Quintana has now caught Gesink. This morning he said he was unsure how he'd fare in the mountains because of a sore knee - but he appears to be riding pretty well. Riblon has 48 seconds over the two chasers, with the peloton 25 seconds back.
ATTACK: Nairo Quintana bursts out of the peloton. The Colombian from Movistar has been in the wars with numerous crashes, but this shows he's feeling good. He catches Voeckler pretty quickly - and passes Voeckler, who is now pedalling squares.
Daniel Navarro, now of Cofidis, has been dropped. He's struggled since crashing early in the race. Finally Daryl Impey starts to fade - he's off the back...
Riblon has 50 seconds on Gesink and a further 15 seconds on Voeckler. The peloton is about 20 seconds behind Voeckler.
Voeckler will be able to see Gesink ahead on the road - he's closing in. Off the back, Damiano Cunego has been dropped. Sky have lost Lopez, but they still have Kiryienka, Kennaugh, Froome and Porte.
Daryl Impey is still in the main group, doing the yellow jersey proud. The South African has no GreenEdge team-mates with him and is tucked in behind the Sky train. Riblon still rides 1:30 up the road from the peloton.
ATTACK: Europcar's Thomas Voeckler pings past the Sky quintet and opens up some air in front of the pack.
Gesink has caught Marino and Hoogerland so he has just Riblon further up the road. The Dutchman looks in good nick - very lean. Sky have five riders on the front - Kennaugh, Kiryienka, Lopez, Froome and Porte.
ATTACK: Robert Gesink of Belkin has pinged off the front. The Dutchman is a solid climber, but he's nine minute down on GC and so is allowed to ride forward by Sky, who are controlling matters.
The main pack is down to about 60 riders now. Rudy Molard has been caught, but Hoogerland and Marino still ride together between lone leader Riblon and the peloton.
David Millar of Garmin has come to the front of the pack to pace Dan Martin. The yellow jersey is still near the front, but his team-mate Simon Gerrans has dropped off the back.
Riders are popping off the back in numbers - all the sprinters, including Sagan, Cavendish and Greipel, have been shed. Jerome Coppel too. This climb is really thinning out the main pack.
Riblon has his glasses off as he pedals hard on the front of the race. If the win is unlikely, he could still target the Souvenir Henri Desgrange and the polka dot jersey by cresting the summit in pole position. He has 1:10 over the pack as he reaches out and takes a bottle of water from the public to pour over his head.
The polka dot jersey Blel Kadri has already been dropped by the peloton as the pace ramps up at the start of this monster climb.
ATTACK: Christophe Riblon has dropped his fellow escapees right from the outset of this climb, trying to repeat history from his 2010 victory in Ax 3 Domaines.
Hoogerland and Marino have their jerseys unzipped and flapping in the wind, while Riblon and Molard are still keeping it together, so to speak. And here they are, the HC climb of the Port de Pailhères has started - 15.3km at 8%,
Puncture for Vacansoleil's Juan Antonio Flecha, just as the pace is going great guns. At this rate, the leaders will be caught before this climb gets going. The gap is 1:20 now.
ATTACK: Johnny Hoogerland decides enough is enough and makes his move. Jean-Marc Marino is first to latch on his wheel, followed by Rudy Molard and Christophe Riblon. And now it's Riblon driving the pace. They have just two minutes to play with.
It's very much a three-pronged peloton now, with Saxo, Belkin and Sky all lining up their men in separate columns on the front of the peloton, which has strung out considerably.
In the absence of the Col du Galibier, the Port de Pailheres is the tallest peak of this year's Tour, at 2,001m above sea level. The first rider over will pick up the prestigious Souvenir Henri Desgrange, awarded for whoever tames the tallest peak in pole position.
It's not looking too good for the four escapees - Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM), Jean-Marc Marino (Sojasun), Christophe Riblon (Ag2R-La Mondiale) and Rudy Molard (Cofidis) - whose lead has dropped below the three-minute mark.
Sky and Belkin are the most prominant teams on the front, but BMC and Saxo Bank are right there, looming with intent. The road is currently heading uphill through the Gorges de Saint Georges, and it's absolutely stunning.
Emphasising just how hot it is out there, Johnny Hoogerland takes a whole bottle of fresh, cold water and sprays it over his head, neck and back. Back with the peloton, Belkin have come forward alongside Sky on the front. They have their man Bauke Mollema to protect today.
The gap is coming down pretty fast - just as the road is edging up. It's going to be hard for these four riders to stay out today. They have 4:50 over the peloton.
The whole of the Sky squad are camped out in the wheels of GreenEdge, except David Lopez, who has just dropped back to speak to his team car. The Sky riders are wearing special light-weight jerseys today, which on a closer look are more grey than black. They're certainly partially see-through, to help with the heat. Fingers crossed Froome has put on some sun cream - he has very fair skin...
Andre Greipel times his surge to perfection to come round Sagan to take fifth place ahead of the Slovak sensation, with Mark Cavendish crossing in seventh. Greipel will close the gap to 93 points in the green jersey competition, while Cavendish will drop 12 points further back.
Cannondale have come to the front as the peloton approaches the intermediate sprint. There are four men in green there to lead out their man in green, Peter Sagan.
Dutch national champion Johnny Hoogerland, heavily bandaged following his crash on Wednesday, leads the break through the intermediate sprint at Quillan to pick up maximum points and the prize.
Orica-GreenEdge are still leading the peloton, which is very generous of the Australian team given the fact that their man Daryl Impey has next to no chance of retaining the yellow jersey today.
The lead for the four escapees is down to six minutes as the edge closer to the first major climb of the day.
Alberto Contador also wasn't giving away much this morning. The Saxo-Tinkoff rider told us: "It's the first mountain stage so it will be a chance to see everyone's form. I don't know how the race will go, we'll have to see what the pace is before weighing up if we go on any attacks."
The temperature is up to 33 degrees Celsius, with the sun high in a bright blue sky. It's going to be pretty unforgiving out there this afternoon at the business end of today's first stage in the mountains...
Team Sky directeur sportif David Brailsford echoed his lead rider's sentiments, telling us: "We’ve been looking forward to this stage and getting excited about it. They’re raring to go and are very excited, very positive. We want to get to the final climb in a situation where Chris and Richie Porte are in a great position. I think everyone will want to test their legs – and I don’t think our guys will be any different."
Eurosport spoke to Chris Froome at the start today in Castres. The Sky race favourite said: "I'm a bit nervous but we’ve practiced and trained for the mountains and so I’m actually quite looking forward to it. Everyone’s here and in their best form. We’re still within hitting range of the GC and we could do something today. We’ll see what the other guys do and then if the opportunities come we’ll attack."
It's strange not to see any Europcar riders on the front. This is, in face, the first time Europcar have missed the day's main break. The reason is quite clear: today's priority is to protect Pierre Rolland and give him a good chance of riding with the top GC favourites on the final two ascents. Besides, Ismael Mottier, the Europcar DS, has told Eurosport.fr that "the big teams will soon start to ride hard and won't give the break much of a chance of staying out, I'm sure of that."
The leaders are approaching the feed zone with a gap of 7:30 over the peloton. Everything will depend on how they tackle the early part of the Port de Pailheres - and whether or not the GC riders come out to play, resulting in the gap plummeting down.
Despite picking up the Dutch national champions title, it's been a tough season for Johnny Hoogerland. In February he collided with a car while training in Spain, and suffered injuries to his ribs, liver and spine - injuries which drew a line through his spring classics campaign. He won the Dutch road road on 23rd June, but he crashed badly in stage five of the Tour last week after - ironically - getting tangled up with a banner advertising the daily combativity award.
The lead is down to 8:20 for the four leaders. Remember, before the first of the two big climbs there is the small matter of the intermediate sprint. After missing out yesterday, the likes of Greipel, Cavendish and Kittel may be motivated to recoup some ground on Sagan.
Italian Matteo Bono (Lampre-Merida) has withdrawn from the race. The 29-year-old was one of Lampre's experienced riders, with four Tour appearances to his name. The Italian team is fielding six debutants in this year's Grande Boucle... With Adriano Maroli quitting yesterday, that means that the only rider Lampre have left who has ridden a full Tour before is Damiano Cunego.
Vincent Lavenu, directeur sportif of Ag2R, thinks the break will need six minutes at the foot of the Port de Pailheres if it is going to stay out. "When Christophe won in 2010, the break had four minutes over the peloton but this year I think they will need six minutes to hold on all the way to Ax 3 Domaines. It's looking good but we don't know how the favourites will ride the last ascent. Last time, it wasn't so fierce, but this time Sky may try and test Contador, see if he is strong enough."
The last rider in this group is Vacansoleil's Johnny Hoogerland, the Dutch national champion. The 'Bull of Beveland' is renowned for his attacking style - although until his national road race win last month, it had not led to much. The 30-year-old is a former Tour of Flanders junior winner and wore the polka dot jersey for two stints during the 2011 Tour, when he was famously thrown into a barbed wire fence at top speed following an incident with a TV car.
Team Sky have now come to the front of the peloton to help GreenEdge with the chase and pace-setting duties... The gap is down to 8:40.
Jean-Marc Marino is riding his second Tour for Sojasun. The 29-year-old was born in Castres, where today's stage started, and so no doubt wanted to impress family and friends by getting in today's break. Marino won the Cote Picardie race in 2005 but other than that has a rather bare palmares.
Rudy Molard is riding his debut Tour de France at the age of 23. The Cofidis rider was pretty active in the recent Criterium du Dauphine, riding into two breakaways in the week-long race in the Alps. Molard made his grand tour debut last year in the Vuelta and is still looking for a maiden professional win.
The Orica-GreenEdge team of yellow jersey Daryl Impey are setting the pace in the peloton. They're not too concerned at the moment with the gap of 9:10. Besides, deep down, they know that Impey will not be in yellow tonight.
Riblon is the only former stage winner in this four-man break. This is the 32-year-old's sixth Tour - his best coming in 2010 when he finished 28th and won stage 14 here in Ax 3 Domaines. The Frenchman has had a quiet season so far for Ag2R-La Mondiale.
Today we'll get a good idea of how Cadel Evans is feeling in this year's race. The 2011 champion was a bit off the boil last year, but has had a good season at BMC with third place on the Giro. "I am disappointed to be so far back on time already from the team time trial. That was a bit of a blow," he said. "Team Sky is a bit quieter this year in the first week, but of course we will see in the Pyrenees how quiet they really are."
The peloton has crossed the summit of the Cote de Saint-Ferreol nine minutes in arrears, so it's looking good for the four leaders. Their objective will be to build up as big enough cushion as possible ahead of the Port de Pailheres - that way, even the fierce battle for GC behind won't affect them. At least, that's the theory...
Rudy Molard goes over the top in pole position to take the solitary point in the KOM standings. The four escapees now have eight minutes over the peloton, which is taking things early so far today after that Cannondale battering yesterday.
The leaders are onto the first climb of the day, the Côte de Saint-Ferréol - 2.2km at 5.4%.
Let's take a look at where some of the big race favourites are placed on GC - for today should shake things up: 7th Chris Froome +8, 11th Alberto Contador +14, 14th Ryder Hesjedal +22, 17th Alejandro Valverde +25, 19th Nairo Quintana +25, 22nd Cadel Evans +31, 24th Tejay van Garderen +31, 29th Joaquim Rodriguez +33, 33rd Andy Schleck +34, 37th Bauke Mollema +42, 41st Thibaut Pinot +47, 43rd Jakob Fuglsang +1:01, 49th Pierre Rolland +1:18.
The gap has ballooned to a huge four minutes and 50 seconds - which puts that man Riblon into the virtual yellow jersey by one slender second.
One of these four leaders has very good memories of Ax 3 Domaines: Christophe Riblon won stae 14 here in the 2010 Tour de France. It was the last stage win for Ag2R-La Mondiale in the Tour... Can lightening strike twice for the 32-year-old Frenchman and his team?
The four leaders now have two and a half minutes over the peloton, so this one will stick until those big climbs that conclude today's stage.
As expected, the chasing riders have made the junction and we now have four leaders out in front - three Frenchman and a Dutchman close to the French public's hearts after his horrific rendez vous with a barbed wire in the 2011 Tour: Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM), Jean-Marc Marino (Sojasun), Christophe Riblon (Ag2R-La Mondiale) and Rudy Molard (Cofidis).
The two chasing riders are about 10 seconds back from the two leaders, who now have 50 seconds over the peloton. We can expect the four riders to come together some time very soon.
The two leaders are being chased by two riders, both Frenchmen: Christophe Riblon (Ag2R-La Mondiale) and Rudy Molard (Cofidis).
ATTACK: There's our answer - Vacansoleil-DCM's Johnny Hoogerland, the Dutch national champion, jumps clear of the peloton alongside Jean-Marc Marino of Sojasun.
The remaining 188 riders get this eighth stage under way. No overnight withdrawals to report after yesterday saw Christian Vande Velde (Garmin) crash out of his final Tour and Adriano Malori (Lampre) call it quits.
Today's stage will be fascinating - although after the infernal pace set yesterday by Cannondale, there will be some weary legs in the peloton. Besides a short Cat.4 climb 25km into the stage, the first 120km are largely flat, before the road starts to rise ahead of the back-to-back climbs of the Pailheres and Ax. Some riders may try an early break but more likely it will be quite a slow start, given what's on the horizon and the travails of the opening week. We're about to get under way...
The sun is out again as the riders make their way through this short neutral zone ahead of the official start of today's decisive stage. The temperature is currently 26 degrees Celsius.
No change in the white jersey competition for the best young rider, with Polish 23-year-old Michal Kwiatkowski of Omega Pharma-Quick Step leading American Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) by 16 seconds. Along with Sylvain Chavanel, the Polish youngster was one of two OPQS riders who did not drop back to try and pace Mark Cavendish back into contention after Cannondale forced tat split on the second climb of the day. Both riders are well placed on GC in 5th and 6th place.
There was a changing of the guard in the polka dot jersey competition, however, with Frenchman Blel Kadri (Ag2R-La Mondiale) part of a two-man break with Jens Voigt (RadioShack) to pick up enough points to move above compatriot Pierre Rolland (Europcar) in the KOM standings. Kadri has 12 points to Rolland's 11 points - although the two mammoth mountains on the agenda today will no doubt see the polka dot jersey change hands once again.
If yesterday welcomed a belated first stage victory for Peter Sagan in this year's Tour, it also marked the time that the Slovakian built up a near-insurmountable lead in the green jersey points competition he won last year. The 23-year-old picked up maximum points at both the intermediate sprint and the finish, with all his major rivals failing to reply because of the massive split Cannondale caused in the pack. Sagan now leads Andre Greipel by 94 points and Mark Cavendish by a further 11pts.
There was no change in the overall standings with South African Daryl Impey completing a first ever full day in yellow for an African rider. The Orica-GreenEdge rider leads Norway's Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) by three seconds on GC, with his Australian team-mate Simon Gerrans in third place at five seconds. GC favourites Chris Froome and Alberto Contador are still separated by just six seconds, in 7th and 11th place respectively.
Yesterday, Slovakia's Peter Sagan finally got the win he'd been looking for with a comprehensive sprint victor over Germany's John Degenkolb in Albi. After a string of second-place finishes, Sagan and his Cannondale team rode hard on the front for most of the undulating 205.5km stage to shed the green jersey's rivals Andre Greipel and Mark Cavendish on the second of four climbs before chasing down a break and setting up their man for his first win of the race.
Welcome to live coverage of stage eight of the Tour de France, a 195km trek into the Pyrenees from Castres to the ski resort of Ax 3 Domaines. The first of back-to-back weekend stages in the mountains features the highest point in this year's Tour, the monstrous Port de Pailheres, ahead of the race's first major summit finish.