It was a good day for Trek-Segafredo in the Tour de France with the amiable Latvian jumping into the day's breakaway that survived to the end, and a feisty Richie Porte finishing with a select group to keep his GC hopes alive.
Toms Skijins is not considered a climber, but his performance in the first big mountain stage at the 2020 Tour de France showed his versatility as a rider and what makes him such an invaluable teammate.
Wanting to join the day’s breakaway and then actually following through on the pre-race plan is no easy feat when 100 riders or more often have the same idea.
So Skujins made the break, and when the breakaway was gifted almost 15 minutes, it became clear that the win would come from the 13 leaders.
The second of the three mountain passes, the HC climb the Port de Balès, laid bare the strongest amongst the front group. While Nans Peters (AG2R La Mondiale) and Ilnur Zakarin went clear on the grueling ascent, Skujins rode in pursuit with two others, pacing his effort.
Peters dropped Zakarin on the descent and soloed over the succeeding category-one Peyresourde to take a hard and well-earned win. Behind Skujins and Carlos Verona of Movistar caught and passed Zakarin, with the Latvian out-gunning the Spaniard for a brilliant second place.
At the finish, Skujins was stopped by journalists eager to hear his thoughts on how the stage panned out. ‘A day when the strongest man in the break ultimately won…’ led one reporter. “Yes. Yep,” was the Latvian’s curt reply.
Up against some very strong climbers in the break, it was never going to be easy for Skujins, yet his climbing on the Port de Balès and Col de Peyresourde was truly impressive. He stayed within reach of Zakarin and was able to drop him on the final descent towards the finish in Loudenvielle to take second place on the day.
Despite the great result, it was never Skujins’ expectation to fight for the stage, but rather to be well-positioned up the road to help Bauke Mollema and Richie Porte in the GC group.
I wanted to get in the break to help the team later on, and to pass that terrible climb that I never want to do again. I’ve heard that the Port de Balès is a really beautiful climb, but unfortunately, I didn’t see anything. All I could see was my front wheel. We got so much time that we knew we would be playing for the victory.
Lower down the slopes of the final mountain climb, the GC contenders group traded blows.
Porte also attacked in a bid to take back some time lost in Stage 7, and while ultimately it did not pan out, he did show the GC game is far from finished.