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With a rear derailleur stuck in the 11-tooth sprocket for the final 20 kilometres due to a bent derailleur hanger, Colombian Rigoberto Uran of Cannondale-Drapac won a chaotic Stage 9 of the Tour de France from a select group of GC contenders.
“I wasn’t sure if I had won or not,” Uran said. “When I was told I did, I felt a lot of happiness. It was a big occasion for me after so many things happened today like the crash of Richie Porte. Then my derailleur was out of order. I managed to save myself and contest the stage victory. It’s a surprise. I’m very happy to have won this complicated stage. It’s also positive for the general classification. It’s a great day for my team.”
Uran’s stage win from a six-man sprint, in a photo finish against Warren Barguil (Team Sunweb) was but one of many storylines on a day that saw several marquee riders on the ground, including Richie Porte, Dan Martin, Alberto Contador, Geraint Thomas, Robert Gesink, and Rafal Majka — with Porte, Thomas and Gesink all out of the race due to injuries.
The most severe injury belonged to Porte (BMC Racing), who came to this Tour as a heavy GC favorite and started the stage sitting fifth overall. On the descent of Mont du Chat with 23km remaining, Porte misread a corner and lost control, sliding across the road at high speed and into a rock wall. Porte’s crash put Martin (Quick-Step Floors) on the deck, though the Irishman was able to continue.
Porte was tended to by medical staff and taken from the course by ambulance to a hospital. Initial reports from race staff suggest that Porte, who was seen moving his arms and legs though he never stood up, did not lose consciousness.
BMC Racing later announced that Porte had broken his clavicle and pelvis. “He was responsive and he remembered everything that happened before and after the crash,” team doctor Max Testa said. “X-rays confirmed a non-displaced right clavicle fracture and a non-displaced right acetabulum fracture. Richie also suffered extensive superficial abrasions involving the right side of his body. At this stage, the injuries will not require surgery. The plan is to re-evaluate Richie tomorrow morning and confirm that he is stable enough to be transferred home.”
Race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky) withstood a mechanical issue, several attacks, spending the final 30km isolated without teammates, and the hectic descent of Mont du Chat to finish third on the stage and defend his yellow jersey.
“I have mixed feelings,” Froome said. “I am happy to be in jersey. That was a crazy stage. I’ve just seen images of Richie Porte’s crash, and it gives me a horrible feeling. I really hope he is alright, and has a speedy recovery. Also Geraint Thomas is out of the race with a broken collarbone, so yes I have mixed feelings about today. The rest of my team was fantastic, the guys did a massive job, to control that kind of race today was no easy task.”
Adding to the drama of the day, eight riders missed the time cut, including stage winner and green jersey contender Arnaud Démare and three of his FDJ teammates, as well as Matteo Trentin, one of the key men in Marcel Kittel’s Quick-Step Floors leadout train.
A day set for carnage
Stage 9 of the Tour de France, a 181km route from Nantua to Chambéry, looked, on paper, to be the hardest of this year’s race, delivering seven categorized climbs, including three HC climbs, and the technical descent of Mont du Chat. The last time there were three HC climbs in the same stage was during the 2011 Tour.
Seven categorized climbs, including three Hors Category climbs, were on the course:
• Km 3.5: Côte des Neyrolles (cat. 2), 3.2km at 7.2%
• Km 11: Col de Bérentin (cat. 3), 4.1km at 6.1%
• Km 38: Côte de Franclens (cat. 3), 2.4km at 6%
• Km 67.5: Col de la Biche (HC): 10.5km at 9%
• Km 91: Grand Colombier (HC): 8.5km at 9.9%
• Km 134: Côte de Jongieu (cat. 4): 3.9km at 4.2%
• Km 155.5: Mont du Chat (HC): 8.7km at 10.3%
Ten minutes into the stage, during the hectic struggle to get into the day’s breakaway, a crash saw Manuele Mori (UAE), Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Angelo Tulik (Direct Energie) tangle up, with both Mori and Gesink forced to abandon.
Finally, a 38-rider group rode away, with two riders from that group also crashing — Eduardo Sepulveda (Fortuneo) and Stake Laengen (UAE).
A few riders came across and others were dropped, until the breakaway totaled 39 riders on the approach to the Col de la Biche, the first Hors Category climb of the 2017 Tour. After 46km of racing, the 39 riders were 3:30 ahead of the peloton, with Betancur the best-placed rider on GC, 3:17 behind Froome, making him the virtual yellow jersey.
The 39-man group: Jan Bakelants, Axel Domont and Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Jesus Herrada and Carlos Betancur (Movistar), Bauke Mollema and Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo), Alessandro De Marchi and Amaël Moinard (BMC), Bakhtiar Kozhatayev and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Kristjian Durasek and Vegard Stake Laengen (UAE), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Michael Albasini (Orica-Scott), Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors), Pawel Poljanski (Bora-Hansgrohe), Robert Kiserlovski and Tiago Machado (Katusha-Alpecin), Tiejs Benoot, Thomas De Gendt, Tony Gallopin and Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal), Michael Matthews, Nikias Arndt, Warren Barguil, Simon Geschke and Laurens ten Dam (Sunweb), Nicolas Edet and Dani Navarro (Cofidis), Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo), Thomas Voeckler and Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie), Pierre Rolland and Dylan Van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac), Tsgabu Grmay and Javier Moreno (Bahrain-Merida), Brice Feillu and Pierre-Luc Périchon (Fortuneo-Oscaro).
The day’s fourth climb, the HC Col de la Biche, began with 125km to go. Roglic, Vuillermoz, Barguil, Pinot, and Mollema were the first five riders over the top.
Eighty kilometers into the stage, several riders crashed descending the Col de la Biche. Geraint Thomas (Sky) was out with a broken collarbone. Former Tour de France KOM winner Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) also crashed, but was able to carry on.
“I got back on the bike and carried on down the descent,” Thomas said. “But when I got on the flat, I knew something was wrong.
At km 83, on the section of road between the Col de la Biche and Grand Colombier, seven riders were in the lead: Bakelants, Domont and Vuillermoz (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Pantano (Trek-Segafredo), Poljanski (Bora-Hansgrohe), Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) and Barguil (Sunweb).
Ag2r rode at the front of the breakaway up the Grand Colombier, with a one-minute advantage over Betancur, Mollema, Matthews, Geschke, Navarro, and Roglic. The rest of the French team — Ben Gastauer and Pierre Latour, followed by Romain Bardet — led the GC group, in front of Team Sky.
On the slopes of the Colombier, Bakelants, Poljanski and Domont were dropped from the front group, leaving Barguil, Vuillermoz, Benoot, and Pantano.
Pantano was next to peel off, unable to match the pace of Barguil, Benoot and Vuillermoz.
Back in the yellow jersey group, which was down to about 25 riders, Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) crashed for the second time of the day as the gap to the breakaway sat at six minutes.
Vuillermoz was unable to hold the pace of Barguil and Benoot, however five riders came together on the descent of the Colombier: Vuillermoz, Mollema, Benoot, Barguil and Roglic, with a gap of five minutes ahead of the peloton.
Shortly after, seven riders bridged up to the leaders — Pantano, Matthews, Betancur, Bakelants, Geschke, Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal) and Navarro — forming a 12-rider group.
Five categorized climbs and 110km had been raced, with two climbs and 71km to go. A long valley road led to the day’s intermediate sprint
The gap came down considerably in the valley between the Colombier and the Cat.4 Côte de Jongieu; at the intermediate sprint point, won by Matthews, it was down to 3:30 with 54km to go.
After the intermediate sprint, Bakelants and Gallopin went clear. Sky drove the chase group, with Michal Kwiatkowski, Sergio Henao, Mikel Landa and Mikel Nieve in front of Froome. At 36km to go, Kwiatkowski swung off after a major stint at the front.
Chaos on Mont du Chat
Tensions were heightened as the leaders reached the base of the Mont du Chat, an 8.7km climb averaging 10.3% — but the real danger would be found on the other side of the mountain.
At 33km to go, Gallopin attacked Bakelants, nursing a 2:15 lead over the Froome group.
At the foot of the climb Froome had mechanical. Immediately after Froome’s arm went up, Aru attacked, drawing out Quintana, Porte, and Martin, with Porte and Martin telling the Italian to wait for the maillot jaune.
“I had a bit of a problem, the gears stopped working and I had to change bikes,” Froome said. “Richie was instrumental in slowing that group down, I think this is not the moment to attack the leader of the race, so I want to say thanks to Richie.”
Aru told reporters after the finish that he hadn’t seen Froome raise his arm before he attacked, and that he stopped his attack as soon as he realized what had happened.
“I didn’t know Froome had had a mechanical. When I found out, I stopped,” Aru said. “I didn’t see anything because it all happened just as I was going to attack. I always wanted to try for a win a long way out. I didn’t see that he’d had a mechanical. I hadn’t opened up a big gap. I wanted to attack right at that point, six kilometres from the summit. I didn’t see anything. When we heard over the radio that Froome had a problem, I stopped.”
Another moment simmering with controversy occurred shortly after Froome was back onto the GC group, as he swerved right, into Aru, pushing the Astana rider against the fans lining the road.
— Lionel Birnie (@lionelbirnie) July 9, 2017
“I wasn’t aware that Fabio Aru attacked,” Froome said. “I got to know it once the journalists told me at the finish. At the time, I was too busy looking for my team car for a bike change. From what I understand, it looks like Richie told my rivals ‘it’s not the moment to attack’. I thank Richie for having said that and the whole group to not have taken advantage of this. When I touched Aru’s arm later on, it wasn’t retaliation. It wasn’t on purpose.”
Once Froome was back in the group Fuglsang attacked, opening a 25-second gap. While Froome had Nieve and Landa left, Contador was isolated and quickly under pressure.
Aru attacked again, with Porte chasing and countering, and Quintana tucked on Froome’s wheel. Martin was next to attack, with Porte again counter-attacking.
Up ahead, Barguil had gone it alone, with a slight lead over Gallopin.
Froome attacked next, with Porte following. Both Aru and Quintana struggled to match the pace, while Uran and Bardet followed closely.
Barguil went over the top of Mont du Chat with a 22-second advantage; 25km remained, mostly downhill. Behind, seven men chased — Fuglsang, followed by Froome, Bardet, Aru, Martin, Porte, and Uran.
On the technical descent of the Mont du Chat — a descent used a month earlier at the Criterium du Dauphine that has since been repaved — Porte misread a corner, went into the dirt on the left side of the road, lost control and crashed, sliding across to the right side of the road and into a wall. Martin was unable to avoid Porte and also crashed, at high speed.
While Martin was able to remount, Porte stayed on the ground and was quickly attended to by medics, who put him into a neck brace. His Tour was over.
Video: BMC Racing sport director Fabio Baldato on Richie Porte’s Stage 9 crash
The remainder of the GC group — Froome, Aru, Bardet, and Uran and — caught and passed Fuglsang, winner on this stage at the Dauphine last month.
Bardet used his advanced descending skills to ride clear of the rest, and with 15km to go, Barguil nursed a slight 12-second lead over Bardet.
Behind, Sky’s Nieve crashed, while Martin crashed almost immediately after remounting his bike.
At 12km to go, Bardet caught Barguil; the French pair held a 25-second lead over Froome, Uran, Aru, and Fuglsang. Bardet quickly passed Barguil, in attempt at a solo victory, hoping for both GC time and time bonus on the line.
Meanwhile Uran drifted back to the Mavic neutral service car; his rear derailleur hanger was bent, and he could not shift. The mechanic could not fix it, and moved the chain to the 11-tooth sprocket, the hardest gear to push, in anticipation of the impending sprint.
The group caught Bardet at 2km to go, and a bunch sprint was inevitable. Fuglsang launched early, at about 400 metres to the line, and though he opened a gap, Uran closed it down. Barguil jumped and looked to have won the stage — the Sunweb rider even celebrated across the line — but upon closer examination, the race jury awarded the Cannondale-Drapac rider with the victory.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Uran. “I didn’t think it was true. I was actually leaving for anti-doping control when they told me I had won. It’s a huge surprise for me.
“When there was the crash of Richie Porte and Dan Martin, Martin hit my gear and broke it,” Uran added. “I did the whole descent with a broken gear, and I was thinking that I had to find a way to save the day.”
Barguil, who was in tears, could only take consolation in the fact that he had earned the KOM jersey for his efforts.
“Four years ago, it was me beating Rigoberto [Uran in stage 16 of the Vuelta a España] but today I passed him after the line,” Barguil said. “After the efforts I made in the breakaway today, I had heavy legs at the end. It’s kind of an exploit I managed to sprint for the win and finish second. I’m disappointed but I’m also proud of the work of the team all day. I’m proud of myself because not many riders could have taken the breakaway after the efforts I produced yesterday. I was in pain in the first climb. But I felt better later on.
“It was a marathon stage, something that suited me very well. At the difference of yesterday, I think I rode at perfection today. I didn’t sprint atop the third category climbs to keep my energy for the Hors Category climbs. The other riders might have thought in the third category climbs that I wasn’t interested in the polka-dot jersey but that was my goal today. I’ll go on the offensive again. There are two more weeks to race and I like that.”
Martin finished the stage 1:15 down, alongside Landa, Quintana and Simon Yates (Orica-Scott).
“I was lucky when Geraint crashed, because his bike touched my handlebars, but my luck ran out at the end and I couldn’t avoid Richie,” Martin said. “It was slippery under the trees, he lost his back wheel on that corner, went on the grass and crashed hard. There was nowhere to go for me. It was a bummer to go down again because I couldn’t break after getting a front wheel from the neutral service. On the plus side, I immediately joined a group and was soon flying over the descent. I gave everything there, rode with the other guys like it was a team time trial and tried to salvage as much as I could.”
Froome now leads the race by 18 seconds ahead of Aru, with Bardet in third, 51 seconds back. Uran sits fourth, 55 seconds back, with Fuglsang in fifth at 1:37 and Martin in sixth at 1:44.
“I said yesterday the GC would be blown away today and it did,” Froome said. “There are no longer ten guys in one minute on GC. It’s been brutal. For us, losing Geraint Thomas is a massive disappointment. Losing Richie Porte is a big blow to the race. No one wants to see a protagonist quitting like this. His crash was terrifying.”
Tour de France (2.UWT) Nantua → Chambéry