Chris Froome stays in yellow as Tom Dumoulin conquers Andorran monsoon
Britain’s Chris Froome maintained his overall lead in the Tour de France as Dutchman Tom Dumoulin broke clear of a large breakaway to win stage nine in apocalyptic conditions in the Pyrenees, writes Felix Lowe.
Six and a half minutes up the road was lone ranger Dumoulin, who soloed to a brilliant victory after a gruelling hors-categorie climb to the ski resort of Arcalis in Andorra at the sodden conclusion of the otherwise sweltering 184.5km stage from Vielha Val d’Aran in Spain.
The Giant-Alpecin rider conquered a dramatic rain and hail-soaked ascent in the Pyrenees to take a first career stage win on the Tour by 38 seconds over Portugal’s Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and Poland’s Rafal Majka (Tinkoff), who lost the polka dot jersey to Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (FDJ).
“It’s a dream and it came true. I cannot even speak right now – I’m so tired. It was incredible – the queen stage. It was really hard and I did it,” said an ecstatic Dumoulin, who has now won stages on each of the last three major Grand Tours.
“I’m a time trial specialist but today I showed that I can do more – as I did already in the Vuelta,” said the 25-year-old, who famously lost last summer’s Vuelta to Italian Fabio Aru on the penultimate day in the high mountains.
Froome retained his 16-second lead over compatriot Yates at the top of the standings with Ireland’s Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) leapfrogging Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) into third place, at 19 seconds, after the Spaniard was tailed off towards the end of the decisive climb.
Colombia’s Quintana enters Monday’s first rest day poised in fourth place just 23 seconds down on his rival Froome, with Rodriguez completing the top five at 37 seconds.
It was a tough day for Astana’s Aru, who faded in the rain to finish one minute behind Froome and drop out of the top ten. Romain Bardet (Ag2R-La Mondiale), Tejay Van Garderen (BMC), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) all lost varying degrees of ground, too – although the race is finely poised with the top nine riders separated by only 55 seconds.
How the stage was won
Break: A flurry of attacks came from the outset with Daniel Teklehaimanot (Dimension Data) setting the tone on the first of five climbs, the Cat.1 Port de la Bonaigua, from the outset. A group of 45 riders formed around the Eritrean and eyebrows were soon raised when Spaniards Contador and Valverde entered the fray.
While Valverde was able to join a select 25-man group on the front, Contador’s involvement was clearly a last throw of the dice: suffering from a fever and already three minutes down on his big rivals following his crash-strewn opening weekend, the Spaniard was unable to keep the wheel of team-mate Peter Sagan and soon dropped back to the bunch.
Frenchman Pinot – himself almost 20 minutes in arrears on GC after struggling in the hills of the Massif Central and beyond – was first to cross the summit in a break that included some big names in Diego Rosa (Astana), George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo), Mathias Frank (IAM Cycling), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Dani Navarro (Cofidis), the polka dot jersey Majka, a former world champion in Lampre-Merida’s Costa, and that man Dumoulin.
The battle for KOM points became the subplot of the break with Pinot, Majka and De Gendt exchanging blows over the five climbs which resulted in Pinot wresting the polka dot jersey from the shoulders of Majka by the close of play.
Chris Froome in yellow during the Tour de FranceEurosport
Turning point: Two-third up the second climb of the day – once the pace had settled in the pack allowing the return of those riders who had been tailed off on the opening climb – Contador pulled up on the side of the road and entered his Tinkoff team car.
Team owner Oleg Tinkov later confirmed that his star rider – who is expected to announce his move to Trek-Segafredo on Monday’s rest day – would now focus on returning to full fitness and winning a fourth Vuelta a Espana title in September.
It says a lot for the plummeting form of Contador that his withdrawal on the Port del Canto could not exactly be seen as a turning point in the stage – that instead came from the sitting-up of Valverde, whose position of virtual yellow jersey on the road threatened to spell the end for the break.
Once Valverde dropped back, Team Sky took their collective foot off the gas and the escapees were able to stretch out their lead to a whopping 10 minutes at the foot of the third climb, the Cote de la Comella, which was preceded by an intermediate sprint which Sagan won to move within four points of Mark Cavendish’s lead in the green jersey standings.
De Gendt attacked to crest the summit in pole position and rekindle his own interest in the polka dot jersey battle – but the Belgian hit the wall on the steep double-digit ramps of the penultimate climb, the Cat.1 Col de Beixalis.
Thomas De Gendt in stage 9 of the Tour de FranceEurosport
New Zealander Sam Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) attacked the leading group – by now reduced to 10 men – on the climb but it was Pinot who managed to take the points which would all but secure him the climber’s jersey.
Finale: The conclusion to a thrilling stage played out under torrential rain after the heavens opened just as the leaders started the final ascent to the finish.
Costa, Navarro, Rosa, Majka and Pinot all jostled for position on the approach to the climb, but it was the rangy Dutchman Dumoulin who managed to break clear with 13 kilometres remaining to build up a decent cushion ahead of the ascent.
Drizzle turned to rain which in turn became hail as Dumoulin powered up the climb on the front of the race, never looking back and never seemingly under any threat by his pursuers.
Costa joined forces with Majka in the chase but the pair eventually came home 38 seconds down on the winner, and just over a minute ahead of fifth-place Navarro. Winner Anacona (Movistar) took fifth ahead of Pinot, Bennett and Rosa – while Switzerland’s Frank was the last man from the break to cross the line before Yates brought Froome and Quintana home after an intriguing battle between the race favourites.
Richie Porte (BMC), Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) were all particularly active under the heavy rain on the climb to Arcalis – but it was Yates who had the last say, putting in a dig on the home straight to take tenth place and force a small split before Porte crossed the line with Martin.
Porte may have performed even better had he not been caught in two worlds following the struggles of his team-mate Van Garderen, who eventually shipped 37 seconds to Froome and Quintana.
In the space of 10 months Tom Dumoulin has won stages on all three Grand Tours and done so not merely on his favoured terrain – racing against the clock – but in the high mountains and in contrasting conditions. Just 25 years old, Dumoulin has led both the Vuelta and the Giro – and although he trails Chris Froome by some 40 minutes on GC in France, his win on Sunday was a reminder that the Dutchman is one of the best all-round prospects of his generation.
Alberto Contadot’s race came to an end in ignominious fashion and it’s hard to see the Spaniard being a major GC factor in the Tour de France again – even if his expected move to Trek-Segafredo gives the 33-year-old a new lease of life. Valverde, Van Garderen, Aru and Barguil all lost time in Andorra, while three riders joined Contador in withdrawing from the race: Frenchmen Cedric Pineau and Matthieu Ladagnous (both FDJ) and Australian Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data).
Coming up: Stage 10 – Escaldes-Engordany to Revel, 197km
The Tour returns to France on Tuesday with a transitional stage that could reopen the door to the sprinters although perhaps better suit escape artists keen to exploit weary legs still in rest-day mode. The early climb of Port d'Envalira (where Alejandro Valverde triumphed in the 2003 Vuelta) is followed by a long descent and the rugged bluffs of the Haute-Garonne.
If this baroudeur's bonanza is not enough to force a selection then the punchy Saint-Férreol climb near the finish should recall the heady exploits of Alexandre Vinokourov, who in 2010 soloed to victory in Revel – a 14th century 'bastide' town renowned for its antique furniture and mint liqueur.