Chasing Le Tour: Martin pounces, the peloton fights back

by Matt de Neef


Without a doubt today was the most exciting day of racing we’ve seen at the Tour de France so far this year. This is a perfect example of what shorter stages bring out in the riders and how it animates the race.  It was a day that had its surprises, but not a surprising winner. Dan Martin could already have called this season a success before Le Tour, thanks to his memorable win in Liège–Bastogne–Liège, but getting his first stage win at the Tour de France and moving up to 8th place overall has likely made 2013 a year he’ll never forget.

The first 80km of stage 9 reminded us that the riders of Team Sky are, in fact, human and not “skybots”. Perhaps the days of full teams spending stage after stage at the front are now behind us.

The action from the GC contenders doesn’t normally come until later in stages like today’s, but repeated attacks by Garmin, Saxo Tinkoff and Movistar found race leader Chris Froome isolated without his wingman, Richie Porte, in the opening hour of today’s stage.

As Porte said after the race, “Full credit to Valverde. He attacked so early and it takes a fair set of swingers to do that.” Movistar showed they are determined to ensure Sky doesn’t ride all the way to Paris in yellow unchallenged.

As amazing as it was to see Team Sky dominate proceedings yesterday, it would seem that Porte and Kiriyenka paid for it today. Porte lost nearly 18 minutes on the stage and dropped from second overall to 33rd. He said after the race:

“Yesterday was my day, but today was probably the worst day I have had on a bike all season. There are still another two weeks of the Tour, so I will look forward to moving on. I think the peloton kicked our arses and that’s all there is to it.”

Kiriyenka fared even worse, missing the time cut and has been eliminated from the race. It’s still more than 2,000km to Paris and Kiriyenka would have played a vital role in defending the jersey for Froome.

We’re now seeing a bunch of conspiracy theories pop up on Twitter saying that Porte intentionally lost time in order to make himself appear more human. I’m sorry, but there’s no way a team would order their riders to “have a bad day” to alleviate suspicion at the cost of jeopardising the win. I just don’t buy it.

What this stage tells us is that the yellow jersey is far from being won. There were some big gains and big losses on GC today and if Froome has a day like Porte did today, the yellow jersey could slip through his fingers.

On a charitable note, all of the riders that won prizemoney on stage 9 have donated those earnings to the victims of the recent floods in the nearby Haute-Garonne and Huates-Pyrenees areas. They’ll also donate a jersey signed by all the riders which will be auctioned off to raise more money.

Tomorrow’s the first rest day in this year’s edition of the race and I’m sure there are more than a few people involved in the Tour — not just riders — that will be grateful for a break. We’ll be back tomorrow with something a little different but until then, check out the photos below from the second and final day in the Pyrenees.

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