After his impressive stage win in the first foray into the mountains of this year’s Tour de France the previous day, Britain’s Chris Froome dug in hard to survive several waves of attacks and hold on to the yellow jersey after stage nine on Sunday.
Spain’s Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador failed to gain ground on the Briton during the grueling 168.5-kilometer Pyrenean outing from Saint-Girons to Bagnères-de-Bigorre, but did enjoy a lift in the overall standings. Movistar rider Valverde improved from third to second, one minute and 25 seconds behind the leader, with Saxo-Tinkoff’s Contador moving from seventh to sixth, a minute, 51 seconds behind.
With his young Colombian teammate Nairo Quintana, Valverde piled the pressure on Froome, who summoned the strength to stay with them after each attack.
The same could not be said of his Team Sky teammate Richie Porte. The Australian had been second in the general classification going in the stage, but was unable to keep pace and fell back to 33rd overall. Team Sky’s Peter Kennaugh also fell back due to a crash early on.
The stage was won by Ireland’s Dan Martin from Jakob Fuglsang of Astana. The pair had broken away from the group towards the end of the stage before the Garmin rider bettered the Dane in the final sprint. Martin is the first Irish stage winner since Stephen Roche in 1992.
There are stages ahead to be able to test Froome"
“I knew the last 30 kilometers quite well and I was lucky that Fuglsang came with me because I don’t think I’d have survived,” Martin told the BBC after his win.
“I was praying to get caught with 20 kilometers to go because my legs were hurting. It has been an incredible team effort today, though, so I had to finish it off for the guys.”
In Contador’s view, Sunday was not the right moment to attack Froome despite his isolation after the loss of his teammates. “Today you could have tried, but you have to analyze and look at every moment and today I thought there were a lot of kilometers to go to the finish line and a lot of wind,” the double Tour winner said. “There are stages ahead to be able to test him.”
On Saturday, Froome — who was second behind teammate Bradley Wiggins (absent this year) in the 2012 Tour — had brilliantly left Contador, Valverde and his other rivals behind on the final climb to Ax 3 Domaines. He ultimately finished the stage 51 seconds ahead of second-place Porte; one minute, eight seconds ahead of Valverde; and one minute, 45 faster than Contador.
Froome attributed the poor performance of his teammates on Sunday to their valiant efforts the day before. “I think it’s quite normal given all the work my teammates did for me yesterday that they were feeling it a bit this morning,” he said.
“They did an extremely big job yesterday to get me into the yellow jersey. They are human and they can’t keep doing that every day.”
Of the other Spaniards in the running, Katusha’s Joaquín “Purito” Rodríguez finished fifth, one place behind teammate Daniel Moreno, on Sunday and lies ninth overall.
Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Mikel Nieve is 11th with Moreno 17th.
After a rest day on Monday, the Tour moves north to Brittany for Tuesday’s 197-kilometer stage 10 from Saint-Gildas-des-Bois to Saint-Malo, where the sprinters should be back in their element.