When I woke up this morning I was well aware that this saw-tooth of a stage would be well underway. Perhaps already having crested the first couple of climbs, but confident that the real action was still waiting for me when I ambled into the living room and turned on the television. How wrong I was, because as I slept someone out there in the fast moving peloton of the Tour de France had lit the match and the race had exploded into life.
As it turns out the race wasn’t even on the TV. They were showing the F1 and the build up to the Wimbledon final instead, but it was being live streamed on TSN’s website and so I didn’t have to miss the action. As I sat down on the sofa I had to my right the lights going out to begin the German Grand Prix and to my left a shrinking peloton of men, only one of which was a member of Team Sky, heading up into the mountains.
Somehow, somewhere, down the road the rivals of Chris Froome and Sky had managed to isolate the Yellow jersey with half the stage still to go. It was exactly what they had to do after the beating they had taken the day before and now, if they played it right, they could badly expose Froome. This would be a true test of his abilities and if he came through it we’d know just how good he was looking to win this race.
People said the Tour was over the day before but I held out hope for something like this, I just didn’t think we’d get it the next morning. I thought they might wait until the final week in the Alps when climb after climb would ware them all down to the brink of exhaustion.
The Movistar team had virtually their entire team accounted for at the front and were driving the pace, not allowing any break of men go up the road, even those not dangerous to the overall classification. Alejandro Valverde was tucked in behind his boys and must have been sniffing a massive opportunity. Even Richie Porte, the teammate of Chris Froome who had had finished second yesterday had been blown out the back. The finger pointers claiming there was something sinister and unnatural about Sky had been silenced as it quickly became evident that they were paying a price today for their efforts yesterday. Only Froome could hang on as stiff morning legs were given no time to warm up.
And so it continued over the mountains. Porte tried to bridge the gap back to his leader but cracked in the process and lost an astounding amount of time. Every now and then someone of little GC relevance would attack but could never get far. I don’t mind Chris Froome but as a sporting spectacle I was hoping someone might gain back some time on him and show us that this race could yet be a wide open duel all the way to Paris and as a result I was on the edge of my seat urging someone to attack and not leave it too late.
But nobody of note did attack and down the descent and onto the final climb they went. They’d better go soon I thought or Froome will mark any late surge. All Movistar were doing was exactly what Sky would have done had they been present. This was not putting Froome into trouble. Then Nairo Quintana attacked … but Froome responded. He tried again and once more the Kenyan born Brit rode up to his wheel.
As the climb went on I began to think that Froome himself might make the move, but with 30 kilometres lying between the top of the climb and the finish of the stage at the bottom of the mountain I think Froome thought it wise to conserve himself and not lose any time.
Movistar had all the power but only one man attacked. Alberto Contador on his Saxo-Tinkoff team tried nothing and the rest just sat by watching and waiting. Nobody wanted to risk blowing to bits, to risk their overall position in the top ten by forcing Froome to chace and allowing someone else to counter attack. And I suppose on sage nine that might be a little much to ask with so much Tour still to go. Nobody is going to jeopardise their Tour for someone else to take Chris Froome’s jersey while they lose additional time … not yet, not until late in this Tour when it really will be all or nothing.
As the band of contenders rolled over the final climb it was confirmed that this was little more than an experiment by Movistar to test the legs of the Sky team as a whole. To prove to themselves and to others that if the pressure was applied correctly Froome could be isolated. I can only presume it was done to land a psychological blow on Froome, to make him, his team and everyone think about what would lie ahead come the Alps.
While this was going on Dan Martin, the English born Irish man attacked and went over the final climb in the lead with Jakob Fuglsang of the Astana team. They rode the descent together and fended off the chasing pack to set up the sprint which Martin won giving Garmin their first win of the 2013 Tour and Ireland their first stage winner since Dan’s uncle, Stephen Roche won in 1992. It’s been along time coming.
The win pushed Martin into the top ten overall just 2 minutes, 28 seconds behind Froome and very much in contention, if not for the overall victory, then certainly for a podium position. What a result that would be and with the confidence of the race win behind him as well as the assumed team leadership there’s no reason he cannot be aggressive the rest of the way and really take the race to the others. He might just be the man to make the kind of move on Froome that everyone was hoping for from one of his top five rivals on the final climb today.
Stage 9 results:
1. Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) in 4h 43’3″
2. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) s.t.
3. Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma Quickstep) +20″
4. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) s.t.
5. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) s.t.
6. Cadel Evans (BMC) s.t.
60. Richie Porte (Sky) +17’59”
General classification after stage 9:
1. Chris Froome (Sky) in 36h 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) s.t.