Daniel Martin (Garmin Sharp) continued his sensational season by adding a Tour de France stage win to a palmares that includes victories at the 2013 Volta a Catalunya and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
The Birmingham-born Irishman broke clear of an elite climbing group just five kilometers from the summit of the final climb of the day, the first category, La Horquette d’Ancizan.
Jacob Fuglsang (Astana) followed Martin and the pair held off a disjointed pursuit from a formidable bunch containing race leader, Chris Froome (Team Sky).
On the final flat run in to the finish at Bagners-de-Bigorre, Martin and Fuglsang shared the workload equally, but as they passed under the flamme rouge, Martin refused to pass his Danish confederate.
With Fuglsang switching from one side of the road to the other, Martin finally passed him just metres before the final corner, claiming pole position for the run in.
Respected for his formidable climbing skills, Martin, the nephew of 1987 Tour de France winner, Stephen Roche, today revealed an impressive sprint to claim his third major victory of the season.
Polish champion, Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), led home the elite chasing group at the end of another hugely impressive day’s riding from the 23-year-old.
Kwiatkowski’s performance, however, was not the story of the stage. Instead, Froome’s tenacious defence of his yellow jersey showed a rider prepared to roll up his sleeves and fight for victory when required in a complete turn-around from the favourable conditions he had enjoyed yesterday.
The Kenyan-born Brit, who had crushed his rivals en route to victory just 24 hours earlier, today found himself firmly on the back foot, and entirely bereft of team-mates on La Horquette d’Ancizan.
Paris-Nice winner, Richie Porte, Froome’s unswerving lieutenant, finished 18.30 behind Martin, and the Belarusian Vasil Kiryienka, whose machine-like pace setting had served his leader throughout the season, today missed the time cut and is out of the race.
The sole Team Sky representative among a bunch dominated by Movistar, riding for Alejandro Valverde, and containing Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), and Andy Schleck (Radioshack-Leopard) among the big names who lost big time to the race leader yesterday, Froome found himself repeatedly attacked.
White jersey holder, Nairo Quintana (Movistar), was the instigator on every occasion, but on every occasion Froome hauled him back, while Contador and Evans held a watching brief.
As they crested the Ancizan, some 30 seconds after Martin and Fuglsang, Froome might have allowed himself a sigh of relief, but with a worringly technical descent ahead, he was unable to enjoy the luxury of relaxation.
Instead, Valverde and his team-mate, Rui Costa, winner of the Tour de Suisse, were among those to gap Froome and his confederates, but the advantage of each was short-lived.
The Belkin duo of Robert Gesink and Bauke Mollema did most in the pursuit of the escapees, but with little more than 10km remaning, realised they had no support an sat up.
Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) briefly took up the pace, but his effort soon faltered and the momentary disorganisation that followed offered a life-line to Martin and Fuglsang.
Tomorrow will see the first rest day of the hundredth edition of the Tour de France, and for Team Sky it has arrived in the nick of time. The team who controlled every kilometre of stage eight found themselves today in disarray.
Froome showed he has a heart to match his speed, but the efforts he was forced to produce today are unsustainable Sky must recover, and recover quickly, if they are to avoid a repetition of Froome’s blunted challenge for last year’s Vuelta a Espana.
Tour de France 2013: stage nine – report
1) Daniel Martin (IRE) – Garmin-Sharp 4.43.03
2) Jacob Fuglsang (DEN) – Astana – ST
3) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep +20″
4) Daniel Moreno (ESP) – Katusha – ST
5) Joaquin Rodriguez (ESP) – Katusha
6) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing
7) Wouter Pouwels (NED) – Vacansoleil-DCM
8) Bauke Mollema (NED) – Belkin
9) Daniel Navarro (ESP) – Cofidis
10) Maxime Monfort (BEL) – RadioShack-Leopard
1) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky – 36.59.18
2) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +1.25
3) Bauke Mollema (NED) – Belkin +1.44
4) Laurens Ten Dam (NED) – Belkin +1.50
5) Roman Kreuziger (CZE) – Saxo Tinkoff +1.51
6) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Saxo Tinkoff – ST
7) Nairo Quintana (ESP) – Movistar +2.02
8) Daniel Martin (IRE) – Garmin-Sharp + 2.28
9) Joaquin Rodriguez (ESP) – Katusha +2.31
10) Rui Costa (POR) – Movistar +2.45