Stage 9: Saint-Girons to Bagneres-de-Bigorre, 168.5km
The name is Martin, Dan Martin. In a stage which was action-packed from start to finish, Movistar succeeded in isolating Chris Froome from his black-clad Sky army but were unable to apply the killer blow, leaving the race leader with his advantage intact to
die fight another day. It was left to Martin to outfox Jakob Fuglsang in a two-up sprint to become only the fifth Irish stage winner at the Tour.
The profile of today’s stage was as jagged as a saw and, boy, did this saw cut through the Sky train. If yesterday was the perfect case study of Sky’s strong-arm tactics, today allayed any fears of this becoming a processional race. The high tempo set by the newly formed alliance of Saxo-Tinkoff and Movistar put pressure on Sky, and quickly isolated Chris Froome as his entourage fell away on the Col de Mente, the first of four cat 1 climbs.
After a frenetic flurry of early front-line skirmishes, the race settled down to a four-man break which included Pierre Rolland, who did his King of the Mountains intentions no harm at all today. The race came together at 40km to go, and threatened to explode in the final kilometres to La Hourquette d’Ancizan, with multiple attacks from Nairo Quintana in particular putting Froome under pressure. However, the yellow jersey was able to cover every move, and no one else seemed to have the reserves to counter-punch
It was Dan Martin who made the attack that stuck. Not seen as a GC threat, he escaped the main field with Jakob Fuglsang in tow, and the two worked well together to establish a gap that saw them safely to the finish. Some brief red-kite cat-and-mouse action ensued, before Martin made the decisive move, unleashing his sprint before the final bend and holding Fuglsang off to win by a couple of bike lengths.
VeloVoices rider of the day
Firstly a nod to all of today’s riders, who agreed to donate all of today’s prize money to the victims of flooding in the Haute Garonne and Haute Pyrenees. Not only a wonderful gesture, but one which helped raise awareness on a wider scale.
While there may have been a lack of opportunism on a GC scale, Dan Martin rounded off a very active day for Garmin-Sharp, firstly with a well-timed attack on the final climb, and then with some astute finishing to dispense with Fuglsang and take the stage. If any GC riders need to refresh their memories on how to spot and take advantage of an opening, they need look no further than Martin.
Opinion & analysis
With the huge effort made yesterday by Sky, today was the day for the competition to try to put the hurt down. Tomorrow’s rest day gave further incentive to Froome’s GC rivals to make an all-out effort. More to the point, this was a chance that needed to be taken ahead of Wednesday’s first individual time trial, where Froome will expect to make further gains.
Perhaps weary from yesterday’s exploits, and hampered by Peter Kennaugh’s excursion into some hawthorn bushes, Sky showed uncharacteristic signs of vulnerability today. There was no sign of Robocop stunt double Vasili Kiryienka smashing through the first few climbs, and Richie Porte was blown unceremoniously out of the podium places, losing nearly 18 minutes on the day. Instead, Froome was left unprotected early in the day, with several major climbs still to tackle.
Perhaps feeling that the race was missing its familiar dominant train, a bunch of Movistar riders so big that it would rival the cast of Ben Hur paced the main bunch over the subsequent three climbs. Although Froome was isolated, he probably felt a certain familiarity at following a string of dark-jerseyed riders up a series of Pyrenean passes.
It was only late on in the race, with a smattering of uphill kilometres left, that the attacks started to come. Most came from Nairo Quintana, whose climbing legs were clearly still nice and spritely. With Froome under siege, this was really the time for the killer blow from Contador, Valverde, or even Evans, but the riposte to yesterday’s Froome-geddon never materialised and the Sky man was able to fight through to the finish without losing any time to his rivals. It was a missed opportunity, and brings into question the form of Froome’s rivals. Alberto Contador should really have capitalised – likewise Alejandro Valverde. The disposal of Porte as a GC contender and the elimination of Kiryienka (the only rider to miss the time cut) were not insignificant achievements, but represent only a consolation prize compared to the opportunity that was presented today.
The organisers have put some thought into this race, and today’s stage was a thrill to watch and bore testament to those efforts. Any concerns lingering from Sky’s dominance of yesterday’s stage were wiped out. However, if this race is really going to deliver, it needs the GC rivals to step up to the plate and deliver the killer blow.
Stage 9 result
1. Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) 4:43:03
2. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) same time
3. Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +0:20
4. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) s/t
5. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) s/t
1. Chris Froome (Sky) 36:59:18
2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +1:25
3. Bauke Mollema (Belkin) +1:44
4. Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin) +1:50
5. Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) +1:51
6. Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) +1:51
7. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +2:02
8. Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) +2:28
9. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +2:31
10. Rui Costa (Movistar) +2:45
Green jersey: Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
Polka dot jersey: Pierre Rolland (Europcar).
White jersey: Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
Team classification: Movistar.
Link: Official website