Attacks flew from the drop of the race flag in the 157.5km Stage 8 — a mountain stage with four Category 2 climbs, and one climb each of Category 4, 3, and Category one.
As groups of riders continued to try to escape, attacking early on, it became a matter of which riders could maintain the pace with the group and perhaps have a chance at winning the stage. Sylvain Chavanel tried his hand early on, attempting to bridge. However, his group was reeled in. Kevin De Weert also took a chance in a group of 24 riders that was up the road on yellow jersey wearer Bradley Wiggins (Sky ProCycling). De Weert stayed aggressive, attacking with Steven Kruiswijk (Rabobank) on the base of the fifth climb of the day when Jeremy Roy (FDJ-BigMat) and Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana Pro Team) were up the road on their former break mates. De Weert and Kruiswijk caught the two on the cote de Saulcy, with a 25" gap on their escapees. The Cote de Saulcy was 4.6km, with an 8.6% average gradient. However, on that same climb, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ-BigMat) and Christophe Kern (Team Europcar) worked their way up to the riders up the road, and Kessiakoff decided to go solo.
The sixth climb of the day — Col de la Caquerelle — was steep enough to decimate the chase group to Kessiakoff. De Weert was eventually caught, as he could not keep pace.
"It was a really hard day," Kevin De Weert said. "From the start it was impressive, the attacks. At one point Sylvain was in the front but at another point more than 20 riders were ahead. We discussed at the meeting to try to put someone in front, to try and jump on a climb. It worked. I came to the front, and the there were two riders up the road. With 20 riders in my group, it was not a good situation, so I tried to attack. Then all the riders came back together except a few and then at the end, I think all the efforts I did all week, the first week with Levi, I was dead at the end. But we tried and we will keep on trying."
Kessiakoff maintained his solo position in the meantime. However, Pinot and Tony Gallopin (Radioshack-Nissan) continued to chase at the 28km to go mark. By the time Kessiakoff began Cat 1 Col de la Croix, he began to tire while Pinot was catching up to him. With 16.5km to go, in the final 500m of the climb, Pinot caught and dropped Kessiakoff. Pinot went on to victory solo, while a select group of nine riders including Wiggins, Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team), Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), and Chris Froome (Sky ProCycling) were left to battle for 2nd. Evans tried to attack in hopes of stealing the yellow jersey in the final meters, but he was unsuccessful. He took 2nd, while Gallopin was 3rd.
"I think everybody was just suffering," Levi Leipheimer, top finisher for the team in 20th place, said. "It was a really hard stage. I didnt expect it to break up as much as it did. I was surprised by the climbs, they were really, really tough here. These last few days have been harder than anyone expected. What can you say? It's been a great race."
Peter Velits finished in a group behind the one of Levi.
"Levi was in the group in front of me and it was a really hard day," Peter Velits said. "It was super hard in the beginning. I was in good position once, but I got dropped 1km from the top of the big climb at the end. But it is still better than yesterday, I had a better feeling in my legs, and I am confident."
Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team will now focus its sights on the 41km time trial on Monday. World Time Trial Champion Tony Martin reached his first goal of completing the stages leading up to the first time trial, but it was not without difficulty.
"Today was a hard day in the mountains," Tony Martin said. "The hand was also painful, but OK, I passed two mountain stages now. I am focused on the time trial tomorrow. Tonight I will try to fix a little my position on the bike. We will try to find a good position with the mechanics to tune things up and have a perfect set up for tomorrow. I will try to do my best tomorrow, but it won't be easy for me."