The riders must be wondering when the rest day will come, or if it will come at all. Today saw the second mountainous stage of the race and included six categorized climbs along the 170 km between Gérardmer and Mulhouse.
Yesterday saw the first real shakedown of the GC contenders and we saw that Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) wants this win. To do that though he’s going to have to drop Nibali (Astana) who matched him pedal stroke for pedal stroke until the last 25 meters. Richie Porte showed that Team Sky’s hastily arranged ‘Plan B’ might actually be a good move for the Australian as he fought to hang on to Nibali’s wheel. Valverde (Movistar) was there, Pinot (FDJ.fr) was there and while Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) and his bike found the tarmac yet again, Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) stayed with the leaders.
The question would be who could hang on through another day in the Vosges Mountains and who would crack? With a downhill run of 43 km to the finish though, we may have to wait until tomorrow for the crack to come.
Six Climbs in 100 KM
With rain and thunderstorms forecast for the finish at Mulhouse riders were keen to get up the road and eventually a large group formed at the head of the race. Tommy Voeckler (Team Europcar) went over the first climb in the lead but the race came back together before Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) started to forge ahead with Tony Martin (OPQS).
As the leaders moved ahead, a grupetto dropped off the back containing most of the sprinters but all eyes were on the lead duo as they pushed on. Lars Boom (Belkin) tried to get across to them but was eventually picked up by a chase group of 27 riders so things settled down and we had two leaders followed by a 28-strong bunch and then the main peloton.
The time gaps were growing: Martin and De Marchi were 1:42 over the second group which contained Rodriguez (Katusha), Gallopin (Lotto Belisol), Pierre Rolland (Team Europcar), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling). The Yellow Jersey group was a further 4:36 behind.
Today’s ‘rider-in-trouble’ was yesterday’s winner Blel Kadri (AG2R-La Mondiale) who suffered a mechanical near the start and chased hard to get back to the main peloton.
Race Within a Race
It quickly became apparent that the peloton was not too bothered about the lead duo but the same couldn’t be said about the chase group. With riders like Gallopin and Rolland there was a danger that they could ride themselves back into the race if they weren’t pegged back.
This meant that the bunch was being treated to a display of team riding by Astana in support of their leader. If Tinkoff-Saxo showed them how to ride in yesterday’s stage, today they were determined to show that they have the strength to go all the way to Paris. In the end though, there was no real interest in pulling back the chasers as Contador and Nibali are betting on the high mountains to change the race order once again.
Tony Gallopin wanted that yellow jersey
Climb of the Day
As the race headed up the 1st Category climb of Le Markstein, and then onto the Grand Ballon, the situation had more or less stabilized.
Tony Martin struck for home with 59 km to go leaving De Marchi in his wake as he had seemed to be struggling for a while. The Gallopin group was at 2:40 with the peloton at 6:25. The chasers were not making much headway as the work was only being done by Rolland’s teammates Quemeneur, Pichot and Cyril Gautier and Tony Gallopin of Lotto Belisol because he was now the virtual Yellow Jersey. Would Astana chase or would they let the jersey go, content to see the other GC teams put in some effort?
Tony Martin was riding ahead of the race as riders began to slide out of the back of the main bunch. Chavanel and Kadri lost touch as they paid for their efforts of the day before. Martin was pulling away from the peloton but the chase group was actually keeping in contact with him with Team Europcar sensing a possible comeback. This was when we first saw some rain.
More and more riders were losing contact with the intermediate group as they headed towards the top of Le Markstein just as riders were losing ground on the peloton that was 7:47 behind.
Over the Top
Martin took the summit with 50 km to ride and 3:15 in hand over the Rolland/Gallopin group. De Marchi crested in 2nd place but the action was behind as Edet (Cofidis) and Rodríguez (Katusha) sprinted out the 3rd place position with the Spaniard taking the advantage. Rodríguez has now made it clear that with the overall gone he’s targeting the KOM competition. With the group having a lead of 5:25 over the main bunch it was possible that we would have a new Maillot Jaune by the end of the day.
It was also obvious that the sprinter’s grupetto may also be in trouble with the time limit as they were some 15:00 minutes behind the head of the race.
Grand Ballon to Mulhouse
Martin was now 1 km from the last summit and pulling away from everyone. If he held out to the finish he wouldn’t take the race lead but he was now the new KOM leader and it would make up for his long break in last year’s Tour of Spain when he was caught just before the line.
Over the top, break adjusters in, shoes tightened and the fastest TT rider in the world headed downhill to Mulhouse. Behind, Rodríguez had attacked the group and passed De Marchi to take 2nd place over the top to add to his KOM points.
The descent was complicated by having cobblestones on some of the bends but luckily the rain from the climb hadn’t made it over the summit. Gallopin could smell the race lead and was driving for home along with the Europcar riders. Tiago Marchado (NetApp-Endura) was also working with Gallopin as the riders knew that they’d made it over the day’s climbs and still had a healthy lead over Nibali.
Some riders would ride themselves back into the overall and with the four 1st Category climbs coming up tomorrow they were all keen to make up ground today.
Thibault Pinot (FDJ.fr) had jumped the peloton just before the summit and was also thinking about a high overall finish, especially as he’d been pretty much on it yesterday as well. It was not to be though as the peloton eventually reeled him in.
The very aero Tony Martin
Tony Martin was heading downhill to the win on a day when his country also hopes to win the FIFA World Cup and German sport seems to be in the ascendency again. It looks like German cycling has recovered from the Ullrich era and Team NetApp-Endura is using the rest day on Tuesday to announce a new German title sponsor for the next five years.
But it’s not just all about the Germans. Tony Gallopin was pushing so hard on the descent that he had actually forced a gap and he was thinking solely about wearing yellow tonight. A Frenchman starting Bastille Day tomorrow in the lead of his home Tour; he would seal his place in French sporting history.
He was joined by Mickaël Chérel (AG2R-La Mondiale), another Frenchman as they hit the 10-mile to go mark. The chase group was carrying some passengers and this is why Gallopin was keen to go on his own and preserve the gap back to Nibali but as the roads flattened on the final run-in, the two Frenchmen were only a handful of seconds ahead of their former companions.
Astana had taken up the running at the head of the peloton but only to hold the gap at around the 8-minute mark. The main guys were all thinking of tomorrow’s stage and pacing their effort, even if the GC was going to look very different tonight.
Fabian Cancellara (Trek) got the better of Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) for second
Happiest Man in France
Gallopin and Chérel were eventually back into the chase group but the French rider knew he was going to be in Yellow. Martin had gone under the 10 km banner with 3:10 over the chasers and 8:06 over the bunch.
Another Frenchman, Pierre Rolland, was working to maintain the gap between the chasers and the bunch as he would climb in the overall tonight.
Martin was TT-ing to the finish and was holding 27mph on the flat but just as he looked completely smooth, so the chase bunch were all over the place as the urgency was apparent. They were all looking for as much time as possible to rise in the standings. The Omega-Pharma rider was locked solid on his bike as he treated everyone to a masterclass in how to ride against the clock.
Two kilometers out and he allowed himself a smile as he knew he had the victory. Gallopin and Rolland behind could afford no such signs of victory as they were still struggling for as much time as possible.
Tony Martin took one of the best victories of his career, and a road one at that. He’s one of the most popular riders and was cheered all the way to the finish as the crowd knew that we would have a Frenchman in Yellow tonight.
Gaultier was pulling Rolland all the way to the finish and the sprint came down to BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet and Trek Factory Racing’s Fabian Cancellara with the Swiss rider just edging it. All eyes though were now on the clock as we waited for the gap to tick by and tell us that a Frenchman was now in the lead of the Tour de France.
Nibali and Contador finished together in Mulhouse 7:46 behind Tony Martin but, more importantly, enough time gap to give Gallopin the lead by 1:34.
The biggest day in the life of Tony Gallopin…so far!
The predicted thunderstorm had arrived in Mulhouse even if the sun was shining!
Keep it PEZ for the Roadside Report from the Pez-man himself!
Tour de France Stage 9 Result:
1. Tony Martin (Ger) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step in 4:09:34
2. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek at 2:45
3. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC
4. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Giant-Shimano
5. Matteo Montaguti (Ita) AG2R-La Mondiale
6. José Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar
7. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Belkin
8. Mikael Cherel (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale
9. Brice Feillu (Fra) Bretagne-Seche Environnement
10. Tiago Machado (Por) Team Netapp-Endura.
Tour de France Overall After Stage 9:
1. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Belisol in 38:04:38
2. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana at 1:34
3. Tiago Machado (Por) Netapp-Endura at 2:40
4. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana at 3:18
5. Richie Porte (Aus) Sky at 3:32
6. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step at 4:00
7. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar at 4:01
8. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Europcar at 4:07
9. Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo at 4:08
10. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 4:13.