Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) time-trialed to victory in stage 9 of the Tour de France on Sunday as Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol) nicked the yellow jersey from Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) took second on the 166km stage from Gérardmer to Mulhouse, crossing at 2:45, with Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) third in the same time.
But it was Gallopin who took the top prize on the day, finishing with a first chase that hit the line nearly eight minutes ahead of the Nibali group.
“It’s incredible to have the yellow jersey. It’s something that you can only dream about,” said Gallopin. “I did my best in the opening stages, and we knew that there was a chance to be in the breakaway, that it might be possible.
“Tomorrow I will try to enjoy the yellow jersey on Bastille Day. It will be a hard day, but to be in the yellow jersey on the national day of France will be incredible. I am so happy, and we will see what happens tomorrow.”
As for Martin, he was delighted to have carried his solo escape all the way to the line.
“It’s not better to win this way than a time trial, but it’s special,” said Martin. “I already tried to do it at the Tour de France, but I only came second at the Mont Ventoux [in 2009].
“With three minutes’ lead, I knew I had the race in my hand. It was an incredible feeling. In time trials, I often have to wait for a long time to know if I had won or not. The Tour de France organizers had scheduled only one time trial this year, so I invented a second one.”
Climbing from the gun
The ninth stage, the second in the Vosges, took in a wealth of categorized climbs that kicked off straight from the gun, among them the category-1 Le Markstein, a 10.8km climb averaging 5.4 percent. After the Markstein and the cat-3 Grand Ballon, the run into the finish was a largely flat one, save for an uncategorized ascent of the Col Amic.
The attacks began almost immediately, and a big break formed up and then came apart along the way. Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) attacked ahead of the cat.-3 Col du Wettstein, Martin followed, and with 50km to race the world time trial champion was the lone leader on the road.
“We all knew that a breakaway could work today,” said Martin. “When we were together with Alessandro De Marchi, I told him he could take the mountain points. Then I was aware that 28 guys were 30 seconds behind us. I decided that it didn’t matter what would happen, I’d better go full gas. I knew there would be a point at which they would give up.”
Martin’s acceleration left De Marchi in pursuit at 1:45 seconds back, with a group containing GC threat Gallopin at 3:15 and the yellow-jersey group of Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) at 8:07 with 50km to go. Gallopin started the day 11th overall at 3:27 down on Nibali.
With 43km remaining Martin crested the Grand Ballon alone and was looking solid for the stage win as the first chase swept up De Marchi some two and a half minutes behind.
Time trialing to the win
Thirty kilometers from the line Martin had more than three minutes over the first chase with the peloton more than eight minutes in arrears.
“It was hard to ride solo but I never got out of my comfort zone. I have an excellent condition now,” said Martin. “We were close to the German border and I could hear so many German fans shouting my name on the roadsides.”
Behind, Gallopin used the descent to have a go out of the first chase, further staking his claim to the yellow jersey as the race leader on the road.
With 22km remaining Martin remained alone out front. Gallopin was three minutes down, 15 seconds ahead of the first chase, with the bunch at 8:10.
Mickaël Chérel (Ag2r La Mondiale) joined Gallopin on the flat, but they didn’t have much of an advantage on the first chase. The Nibali group, meanwhile, seemed content to see the jersey change hands ahead of Monday’s tough final day in the Vosges.
With 12km remaining Martin kept cranking out the watts, as did Gallopin, who knew he was riding into yellow just in time for Bastille Day. He and Chérel were pulled back by the first chase with 10km to go, but it was no matter.
Martin would take the stage, and with it the mountains jersey and the combativity prize, but Gallopin would take the yellow — for Bastille Day, at the least.
As the GC group crossed at 7:46, Gallopin had deposed Nibali, who dropped to second overall at 1:34 with Tiago Machado (Team NetApp-Endura) third at 2:40.
Americans give more ground
Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) remains the top American in the Tour, sitting 16th overall at 5:08 behind the new race leader. Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) sits 19th at 5:56.
“The terrain made it hard but it was probably the most relaxed day,” van Garderen said. “The morale is still high and the legs are still good. I am missing a little bit of skin, but I think a lot of people are. We are looking forward to moving up on GC (general classification) and fighting for the next two weeks.”