Germany’s Tony Martin powered to an impressive victory in the ninth stage of the Tour de France after a 155 kilometre mountain raid in the Vosges that saw Vincenzo Nibali surrender the yellow jersey to France’s Tony Gallopin.
Time-trial world champion Martin attacked after 15km and dropped his breakaway companion with just under 60km left to win his third Tour stage following time trial victories in 2011 and 2013.
Gallopin took the overall leader’s yellow jersey after Nibali’s Astana team did not chase hard to catch a counter-attacking group. That meant the Kazakh team will not be forced to defend the lead in today’s 11th stage, one of the most demanding of the Tour.
“It is always a big difference between the success in a race and in a time trial,” Martin said afterwards. “You don’t know when you cross the line in a time trial if you have won, but here, with this, where I knew 5km out that even with a puncture or a crash I would still be all right.
“I didn’t want to be involved in the silly game if I was caught by the chasers so I still had some power left in my legs so I decided to go for it. It was an incredible feeling, one of my best days in cycling.”
Gallopin, of the Lotto-Belisol team, now leads Italian Nibali by one minute and 34 seconds and will be sporting the yellow jersey on Bastille Day for today’s 161.5-km trek to La Planche des Belles Filles but has little hope of retaining the lead.
Nibali’s Astana team-mate Jakob Fuglsang also dropped down the general classification from second to fourth as Tiago Machado moved into third place for Netapp-Endura.
Team Sky manager Sir Dave Brailsford has backed Richie Porte to deliver a third successive Tour de France title to the team, but the Australian now sits over three and a half minutes off the lead in fifth place. Alberto Contador slipped to ninth but will be hoping to make up some time on today’s difficult mountainous stage.
Gallopin is the first Frenchman to wear the yellow jersey since Thomas Voeckler in 2011.
Several groups attacked early on, with Martin of the Omega Pharma-Quick Step (OPQS) team and Italian Alessandro De Marchi leading the way. They were followed by a group of 28 featuring Pierre Rolland – fourth in the Giro this year – and Gallopin, who had been 3mins 27secs behind Nibali at the start.
Martin’s mammoth work helped the duo build a 6mins 30secs lead over the peloton while the Gallopin group could not close the gap, gradually falling back despite the work of Rolland’s Europcar team-mates.
Martin powered away with 59km left at the foot the first-category climb of the Col de Markstein, keeping the Gallopin group at bay while De Marchi struggled.
The OPQS rider, who had come agonisingly close in the Vuelta last year when he was caught by the bunch a few metres from the line after a 175km breakaway, had time to celebrate well before the finish this time. Martin shook hands and smiled with his sports director Davide Bramati as OPQS snatched their second stage win of this year’s Tour after Italian Matteo Trentin prevailed on Friday.
Swiss Fabian Cancellara took second place and Belgian Greg van Avermaet finished third.
Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez, third overall last year who said before the race he was looking for stage wins only, signalled his intentions to claim the polka dot jersey for the mountain classification. The Katusha rider, who was in the Gallopin group, grabbed points at the top of the Markstein and Grand Ballon climbs.
Gallopin jumped away from the counter-attacking group in the descent of the Grand Ballon but was reined in with ten km left.
Meanwhile, retired former Giro d’Italia winner Denis Menchov has been handed a two-year ban dating back to 2013 after irregularities were found in the Russian’s biological passport.
“The Union Cycliste Internationale confirms that it has imposed a two-year ban on Russian rider Denis Menchov as a result of anti-doping rule violations based on his Athlete Biological Passport,” the UCI said in a statement. “The rider is declared ineligible until 9 April 2015 and is disqualified from the Tour de France 2009, 2010 and 2012, competitions during which abnormalities were clearly identified.” Menchov, who won the Giro in 2009 and the Vuelta (Tour of Spain) twice, was second overall in the 2010 Tour de France.
The 36-year-old retired last year, citing knee problems.