- Associated Press - Saturday, July 9, 2011

SUPER-BESSE, France — Portuguese rider Rui Alberto Costa won the eighth stage of the Tour de France after withstanding a late attack from Philippe Gilbert on Saturday, while Thor Hushovd kept the leader’s yellow jersey.

Costa waved his hands in delight and then punched the air as he clinched the first Tour stage win of his career.

“I knew I could get in the breakaway today, the team put me in the best position,” Costa said. “I was lucky that I managed to hold on until the end. I’m very happy with this win.”

The race entered the mountains for the first time in the 117-mile trek from Aigurande to Super-Besse, featuring a sharp category 2 climb up Col de la Croix and a final climb of one mile.

Hushovd has been wearing the yellow jersey for a week.

Hushovd, who is not a renowned climber, was certain he was going to lose the yellow jersey before the stage.

“Maybe I was a bit pessimistic,” he said. “I didn’t think I could do it.”

Alexandre Vinokourov closed within 15 seconds of Costa in the last mile, but the Kazakh rider ran out of steam as he had no teammates to help him.

Gilbert was fresher after sitting in with the main pack for much of the day’s climbs. He overtook Vinokourov after launching an attack with about 400 meters left.

None of the main Tour contenders lost any significant time.

Defending champion Alberto Contador of Spain, Andy Schleck of Luxembourg and Cadel Evans of Australia — both two-time runners-up — tested each other out with mini-attacks.

“We tested each other, 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.”

Since Gilbert is not considered an overall Tour contender, they didn’t feel the need to chase down the Belgian when he went after Vinokourov — although Contador thinks he could easily have caught him.

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

Evans is looking forward to trying another attack on Sunday’s ninth stage, which also features several climbs.

“I have a very good team that’s been working very hard every day,” Evans said. “Let’s wait and see what happens tomorrow.”

Hushovd, a two-time winner of cycling’s green sprint jersey, only has to survive one more day in the mountains to keep hold of the yellow jersey into Monday’s rest day and wear it on Tuesday’s 10th stage.

“I live in the south of France, in Monaco, and I train a lot in the mountains,” Hushovd said, joking about his newfound climbing prowess. “I also train a lot with Philippe Gilbert, and he pushes me.”

Nine riders charged ahead early on, but only four remained by the time the Col de la Croix appeared on the horizon — a testing ascent lasting for 4 miles at an average gradient of 6.2 percent.

Just before the pack reached it, the 37-year-old Vinokourov — who once served a ban for blood doping — accelerated out of a corner and slammed down his pedals in a blistering attack that has been his trademark during his career.

The three riders who went over Col de la Croix with Costa were American Tejay Van Garderen and French riders Cyril Gautier and Christophe Riblon.

Vinokourov was tucked in about a minute behind, but gained time down a descent made tougher by intermittent rainfall that caused slippery roads.

“When I saw that Vinkourov was getting closer, I thought it would be difficult,” Costa said.

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