|Hills or no hills, early leader Thor Hushovd is not giving his yellow jersey up without a fight [EPA]|
Portuguese Rui da Costa hung on during a tense finish to claim his maiden Tour de France victory on the
eighth stage held over 189km from Aiguirande to Super-Besse on Saturday.
Norwegian Thor Hushovd proved his critics wrong by retaining the jersey on the first day of climbing in the Massif Central as an expected skirmish between the real yellow jersey favourites failed to spark.
Hushovd, who took the lead last Sunday when Garmin-Cervelo won the team time trial in Les Essarts, was expected to lose it on the first of two consecutive hilly stages.
However, the reigning world champion kept pace with the climbers and punchers who had threatened to steal Rui Costa’s thunder in a wet finish to the stage.
After waiting several minutes for confirmation, Hushovd was finally happy to have retained his one second overall lead on Australian Cadel Evans of BMC.
“I’ve been happy with my Tour de France so far… so if I’d lost the jersey it wouldn’t have been a big problem,” said the Norwegian.
“Of course, when I heard my name I was happy.”
Having been part of a nine-man breakaway that held a lead of 5min 30sec with 106km to race, Rui da Costa did well to stay up front when it split early on the climb to the category two Croix Robert climb.
Biding his time as American Tejay Van Garderen and Frenchman Christophe Riblon launched a series of attacks and counter-attacks, the Portuguese finally struck out with 5km to race to finally go it alone.
“It was a very hard stage, but I’m really happy to have taken this win,” said Da Costa.
The chasing peloton were not far behind, with yellow jersey favourites Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck and Evans testing each other with short bursts on the final 1.5km climb to Super-Besse.
As they kept a close eye on each other’s move, stage one winner Philippe Gilbert slipped into the big chain ring to launch a telling attack.
In the end the Belgian champion came over the finish 12 secs in arrears.
“I needed another couple of hundred metres, but Rui Costa would have won anyway,” said Gilbert.
Three seconds later Evans led a peloton containing Schleck and reigning champion Contador over the finish.