Stage 9 Saint-Girons to Bagneres-de-Bigorre 168.5km
Froome put on notice by Movistar
Froome was put under the pump early by the Spanish Armada but repelled everything thrown at him. If stage 9 showed anything, it's that this Tour is far from over..
Another absolutely cracking stage. After a weekend feast of racing, some surprising stage 9 results have hushed the "tour is over" talk that followed Sky's domination yesterday.
Early there were a few attempts at a break, with the chance after yesterday that the peloton's legs would want a rest and let a small group get away, however everything early was chased down. Peter Kennaugh provided the footage that will surely be shown on every mainstream TV sports clip tomorrow when he fell down a ravine. The look on his face when he was coming out was priceless, like he had just wandered out from the deepest, darkest jungles of Africa.
At the start of the climb up the Portet d'Aspet the control that Sky had traditional displayed was absent and there were counter attacks all over the shop, with a group including Van Garderen, Rolland, Gautier, Pineau and Millar putting Sky under the pump and forcing Froome to chase early in the stage. This was causing chaos in the laughing gear and riders were being pumped back to the Venga Bus very early in the stage.
Over the top of the d'Aspet and down the sinuous descent, 3 riders including Dan Martin and Niemiec were away. The situation at the front was changing continuously and a settled composition off the front was tough to form with relentless attacks coming from within the yellow jersey group.
At the foot of the Col de Mente 14 riders were away and this began to cause carnage in the main bunch. Cadelephant was soon OTA and Richie Porte, maybe feeling the effects of his efforts the day before, was in trouble and dropped back to the Evans group.
Saxo Bank had taken the group by the throat and were driving it in the hope that it would blow a race apart - already at pressure cooker intensity. Froome was now alone in the front group, barely 40kms into the race and the other teams were beginning to smell blood. Attacks began coming thick and fast. Hesjedal and Rolland got away as well as Anton, all bridging up to Danielson and Trofimov. All the while Contador was talking shop with Valverde and Costa before the attacks started against Froome. Froome resisted all and on the descent had to chase down Valverde who maybe decided to test out Sky's descending abilities. This only goaded Valverde to go again when Plaza attacked and Froome again chased him down. This put both Contador and the recent addition to the lead group, Cadelephant, under the pump and neither could follow.
The race situation was dynamic, to coin a Paul Sherwen phrase "You could expect the unexpected". Froome was away from the yellow jersey group and it seemed that the intensity being heaped upon him was beginning to backfire. Soon Movistar were essentially putting everyone but Froome under pressure, by dropping two team riders back from a lead break to pace Valverde up to the next group.
The pressure was now on the Cadelephant and Contador group to shut it down and Roche turned himself inside out to bring the two groups back together.
The situation at the foot of the Peyresourde was chaotic. At the front 4 riders including Rolland. Behind them a chase group of another 4. Behind this the yellow jersey group which was being driven by Saxo and Movistar and then a couple of minutes behind this the Porte\Sky group full of used shells from the morning's combat. The main groups remained fairly constant up the climb with only a plucky Simon Clarke coming out of the Froome group to bridge up to the leaders before taking off on his own.
Following a spectacular descent into the town of Arreau Clarke was still out the front by himself heading into the climb of the Azet. Porte had now attempted to bridge across on his own but Movistar were hip to his beat and went to the front of the yellow jersey group to increase the pace and keep him off the back.
This continued through the top of the climb and by the foot of the last climb of the day, the Hourquette d'Ancizan, the break including Clarke only had 10 seconds over the yellow jersey group. Soon Movistar were at the head of the race and this saw Quintana attack. Dan Martin countered once he was bought back and soon Fuglsang had bridged across.
While Movistar were toying with Froome in the group Martin and Fuglsang had established a 45 second lead over the top of the climb and the long descent to the end was on.
It seemed though that a truce was called following the final climb and the gap to Martin et al stayed relatively constant. It was only late in the stage that the gap began to drop but by then it was a two up horse race.
Fuglsang led it into the final 250m waiting for Martin to blink but to his credit he took control of his kick and once he went was never bested and took the first stage win in the Tour for the Irish since Stephen Roche in 1993.
An amazing stage where Froome was put into the corner early but came out it beaten but not defeated. I am sure he will be looking forward to his rest day tomorrow.