Costa wins hilly stage as Hushovd keeps Tour lead

SUPER-BESSE, France, (Reuters) Portugal’s Rui Alberto Costa held the peloton at bay to win the first medium mountain stage of the Tour de France in the Super-Besse ski resort yesterday.

Even though the battle between the favourites raged in the last climb, the 24-year-old Movistar rider pulled away to win 12 seconds ahead of Belgian champion Philippe Gilbert, the winner of the first stage.

Australian Cadel Evans had been expected to snatch the yellow jersey following the 189 km race from Aigurande — the first stage in this year’s Tour with significant climbs. He finished third for his fourth podium placing in this edition but it was not enough to seize the Tour reins.

Norway’s Thor Hushovd maintained his one-second overall lead over the Australian after a brave effort in which he finished in the same time as Evans.

The steep but short final climb saw the favourites test each other – three-time champions Alberto Contador was the first to surge but was immediately checked by Evans and Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck.

The three were unable to react when Gilbert raised on his pedals to try vainly to go and catch Costa.

Kazakh Alexandre Vinokourov also tried his luck in the penultimate second category ascent, Croix St Robert, hoping to achieve his dream of holding the yellow jersey in his last Tour.

But the Astana team leader was reined in on the final climb.

One of the pre-Tour favourites, Dutchman Robert Gesink was unable to follow the pace after injuring his arm in a crash earlier in the week and crossed the line 1:23 behind Costa.

Today’s 208-km ninth stage between Issoire and St Flour is another bumpy one as eight hills feature on the day’s course.

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