Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) produced another astonishing display of solo riding to win the ninth stage of the 2014 Tour de France.
The three-time and reigning world time trial champion resisted the attentions of a splintered chase group to win by nearly three minutes and ensure there would be no repeat of his narrow defeat on stage six of the 2013 Vuelta a Espana.
He said: “Today everything worked perfectly. I had good legs and condition. It was my kind of weather and with only one rider with me in the breakaway it suits my skills. We didn’t play any games, we just were going and cooperating well. It was just a perfect day.”
“I think there are not so many guys in cycling who can do it like this, but I have to do it this way because I am not a guy for the big attacks and playing games. When I have the space, when I have a gap, I know I can make a good race and go really fast. I can do an effort like that in more than a one hour time trial. I can put out this kind of effort in a three or four hour mountain stage.”
Martin also praised the support he had received at the roadside from German fans, but the greater happiness will be felt among the home nation who will tomorrow will see a French rider roll out in the maillot jaune on Bastille Day for the first time since 2011.
Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol) is the new race leader after crossing the line some 7.46 ahead of the group containing Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). The Italian was shadowed by pre-race favourite, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), and the gap between the two men expected to fight for overall victory remained unchanged.
The stage in detail
After yesterday’s exertions on a rain hit stage, today’s 171km effort from Gérardmer to Mulhouse was hardly an easy day, though 20km of descent to the finish made it unlikely that the GC contenders would rejoin battle. Instead, it was a stage with ‘breakaway’ written all over it.
Martin began the descent of the penultimate climb of the day, the Grand Ballon, with a healthy 8.10 advantage in his pocket, and settled onto his top tube for the long descent, displaying bike handling skills to match his considerable power.
Attacks came thick and fast in his wake, and Brice Feillu (Bretagne-Séché Environnement) was forced to extend a leg to steady himself. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr), winner of stage 10 in the 2012 Tour, jumped clear of the group, perhaps bidding to make the most of his time on home roads, but his impact on the stage was limited.
Martin’s lead had stretched to 8.11 over the yellow jersey group, but more significantly, the group containing Gallopin (Lotto Belisol) was just 2.53 behind. The Frenchman attacked on the final climb of the day, the Col Amic, perhaps sensing that his time in the maillot jaune was drawing near.
Martin continued his majestic progress to the foot of the climb and began a time trial effort to the finish with a lead of 3.05 over Gallopin and Mickael Cherel (Ag2r-La Mondiale). The pair had escaped the attentions of Europcar’s Pierre Rolland on the descent and pushed on with an impressive determination. The peloton, meanwhile, languished some 8.04 behind.
Martin received instructions and evocations from the team car while Gallopin and Cherel passed beneath a 20km to go kite that he had left behind more than three minutes earlier. The pair briefly discussed strategy, but with a peloton suddenly roused, only one presented itself: to work together and ride hard.
As he passed beneath the 15m to go mark, Martin had an advantage of 8.09 over Nibali’s yellow jersey group. Maintaining a formidable pedal stroke, the world time trial champion drove onwards, engaged in a solo effort once again, despite the presence of other riders on the course.
Gallopin, finding himself on the front again, flicked an elbow at Cherel, the pained expression on his face giving a more accurate indication of the effort he was making than any power meter. Moments later, however, they were caught by a chasing group led by Rolland.
Martin swept beneath the 10km to go kite with his forearms on the tops and his mouth wide open. Behind, Gallopin maintained his furious effort, despite having found himself surrounded by the likes of Fabian Cancellara (Trek). Rolland took a turn, his expression revealing a genuine belief that Martin might be caught. The view was not shared by Martin’s directeur sportif, Davide Bramati, who offered a smile and a handshake to Martin from the window of the team car.
The 5km banner came and went and still there was no slowing Martin’s progress. If anything, he appeared to be getting faster. His metronomic rhythm was in stark contrast to the angry hive of excitement buzzing in the chase group.
‘Relaxed’ barely described his demeanour with 2.5km remaining. The German smiled and raised a triumphant fist to the motorcycle cameraman, then rose from his saddle almost for the fun of it, and raised the tempo again.
Rolland returned to the head of the chase group, but despite his sustained assault, he would do nothing to ruin the day of the German world time trial champion. Shortly after passing beneath the flamme rouge, Martin treated the crowd to another early display of celebration, even raising a hand to his mouth to stifle a mock yawn.
When the moment of triumph came, Martin blew a kiss to the crowd, pointed at his jersey, and threw a punch that did as much to identify him as a bike rider rather than boxer than any of his exploits over the previous 170km.
Cancellara showed an interest as the chase group swept into town, prompting BMC Racing to take control as they swept through the final bend. Greg Van Avermaet began his sprint, but it was Spartacus who won the race for the line. The happiest man in the group by some distance, however, would have been Gallopin – the Frenchman who now leads the race and will wear yellow on Le quatorze juillet.
Tour de France 2014: stage nine – result
1) Tony Martin (GER) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep – 4.09.34
2) Fabian Cancellara (SUI) – Trek +2.45
3) Greg Van Avermaet (BEL) – BMC Racing – ST
4) Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Shimano)
5) Maxime Montaguti (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
6) JJ Rojas (ESP) – Movistar
7) Steven Kruijswijk (NED) – Belkin
8) Mickaël Cherel (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
9) Brice Feillu (FRA) – Bretagne-Séché Environnement
10) Tiago Machado (POR) NetApp-Endura
1) Tony Gallopin (FRA) – Lotto Belsol – 38.04.38
2) Vincenzo Niabli (ITA) – Astana +1.34
3) Tiago Machado (POR) – NetApp-Endura +2.40
4) Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) – Astana +3.18
5) Richie Porte (AUS) – Team Sky +3.32
6) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Omega Pharma-Qucikstep +4.00
7) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +4.01
8) Pierre Rolland (FRA) – Europcar +4.07
9) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Tnkoff-Saxo +4.08
10) Romain Bardet (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +4.13