Tour de France: Chris Froome ready for battle to keep yellow jersey

Astana rider Fabio Aru in action in Tour de France

"Winning alone like that is incredible", said Calmejane, who also won a stage at his first Grand Tour, the Spanish Vuelta, last year.

They will be further tested on Sunday, when the ninth stage takes the peloton through the Jura mountains with three lung-busting climbs in prospect before a unsafe descent to Chambery.

Robert Gesink of the Netherlands finished second while Guillaume Martin of France was awarded third, leading led a group of riders who were credited with finishing 50 seconds back, including Nathan Brown of the United States in ninth place.

In truth, he would have struggled to find a way past Kittel on a flatter finish on Thursday, although he might have noted with interest the way Arnaud Demare seemingly using his head to battle his way past a couple of opponents on the way to second place.

An eight-man breakaway took off early in the stage and built up a maximum lead of three and a half minutes.

"I'm happy with my ride for the first mountain stage".

"This weekend, we will see exactly where everyone's at", Froome said, explaining that the top 10 riders are still too close together for him to clearly identify one sole rival.

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As Fabio Aru impressively took the stage win, Froome was able to finish third and jump above Team Sky colleague Geraint Thomas at the top of La Planche des Belles Filles.

Froome remained 12 seconds ahead of Sky teammate Geraint Thomas and 14 seconds ahead of Stage 5 victor Fabio Aru of Italy.

Since today's start line was across the road and the pan-flat stage ahead didn't suggest a frantic start, my team-mates and I chose to go for a coffee together and spent a while chatting in the sun before lining up for another five-hour day in the saddle.

That was the question at the Tour de France yesterday. Especially in the first week of racing after four, five, six days, your body has like an adjustment period and some people in the fourth or fifth day have a little low and they come back.

Nairo Quintana was the biggest loser of the day, coming in 14sec behind Froome, leaving him ninth overall at 54sec.

However, seven years ago, the Welshman faded badly on the climb, dropping to 31st.

With the sprinters eagerly anticipating another chance to gain a stage victory, and claim green jersey points, it's unlikely a breakaway will get much joy.

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