Costa wins 8th stage in Tour de France |

Costa wins 8th stage in Tour de France

AP Sports Writer

SUPER-BESSE, France – The attacks never came on the first mountain trek of the Tour de France, as defending champion Alberto Contador and his main rival Andy Schleck both held fire and let others contest victory during the eighth stage.

There was much hype about the possibility of a first hilltop duel following a crash-marred week of nervous racing on flats roads.

But with much harder climbs to follow in the Pyrenees and Alps, three-time Tour winner Contador preferred to save energy on Saturday’s stage in the Massif Central, which Rui Alberto Costa held on to win after a solo breakaway.

When Costa surged ahead late on the 117-mile trek from Aigurande to Super-Besse, the likes of Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan and Philippe Gilbert of Belgium tried – and failed – to chase the Portuguese rider down.

But, with neither Gilbert nor Vinokourov a real threat for the overall title, Contador was not going to follow them for the sake of it. The Spaniard has bigger battles to win later on, harder mountains to climb.

The final climb up to the Super-Besse ski resort was less than one mile long and, even if he had hunted down Gilbert and Vinokourov, Contador would not have been able to drop Schleck and Evans on such a minor climb – making chasing futile.

“It was not too testing a climb at the end and it was too difficult to split the pack,” Contador said after Costa won his first ever Tour stage in a time of 4 hours, 36 minutes, 46 seconds ahead of Gilbert. Evans, the Australian, was third.

“We rode at a high tempo all day and we didn’t have time to get a rhythm going in the climbs,” Contador added.

Norwegian rider Thor Hushovd kept the overall lead heading into Sunday’s ninth stage, just one second ahead of Evans, something Hushovd described as “a miracle” since he’s not a renowned climber and had expected to lose the jersey.

Schleck remains 12 seconds off the lead in sixth place, while Contador is still 1:42 behind Hushovd in 20th.

Although Contador and his rivals did not take the bait by committing themselves to an all-out attack, they still checked each other out. Heading into the mountain stages, riders always look for indications as to what shape their rivals are in.

As Vinokourov and Gilbert surged after Costa, Contador, Evans and Schleck took turns to launch micro-attacks, but only because they were trying to test each others’ reactions.

“It was interesting to see how every one would end up,” Contador said. “I can see we are all very close. it’s very important to get the measure of other contenders.”

Even though he resisted the chance to go after Gilbert, Contador secretly felt he would have caught him.

“I had felt very, very good today,” Contador said. “I was capable of following Gilbert.”

After withstanding Gilbert’s charge, Costa waved his hands in delight and punched the air.