Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) soloed to the stage victory at the top of the Arcalis after spending all day in the breakaway. He crossed the line 38 seconds ahead of former breakaway companions Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff). George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) claimed seventh on the stage, 2:48 down on the winner, while Chris Froome (Sky) retained his race lead as the peloton heads into a rest day.

Stage nine looked promising for a shakeup in the overall classification, featuring the first mountain top finish of this year’s tour on the out of category Arcalis. However, the stage profile suggested that a break was likely to form early on, as the peloton started their day by ascending the category one Port de Bonaigua right from kilometre zero. One of the first men to try and make it into the early break was Brice Feillu, who had won the stage the last time the Tour climbed the Arcalis back in 2009.

Bennett in the break

His attempt at instigating a break was not successful, but very soon after a massive group of riders went off the front of the race, numbering somewhere around 40 initially, with George Bennett making his way into the move. A small group including Dumoulin was quick to see the potential and made their way across to the group, which also included the likes of Peter Sagan (Tinkoff). Next it was Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) who decided to chance his luck as he jumped across to the lead group, taking with him Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and being marked by Sergio Henao (Sky).

As they were making their way across to the lead, former polka dot jersey Thomas de Gendt pushed on ahead of the peloton. The Contador group made it across to the lead, but Henao decided to return to the peloton voluntarily, shortly thereafter followed by an involuntary return by Contador, who struggled to maintain the pace as the lead group continued to break up.

As the top of the climb approached, De Gendt made a renewed bid to reclaim the polkadot jersey, but it was Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) who took the prize, and with it the virtual lead in the KOM competition.

However, the Sky-controlled peloton behind was managing the gap, and reached the summit only a minute down on the break, which now comprised George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) Aljendro Valverde, Winner Anacona, and Jesus Herrada (Movistar), Mathias Frank, Jerome Coppel, and Stef Clement (IAM), Peter Sagan and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff), Luis Leon Sanchez and Diego Rosa (Astana), Thomas de Gendt and Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal), Dani Navarro and Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), Rui Costa and Tsagbu Grmay (Lampre-Merida), Natnael Berhane (Dimension Data), Alexis Vuillermoz (AG2R-LaMondiale), Tom Dumoulin (Giant Alpecin), and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ).

The presence of strong riders like Valverde meant that Sky was not keen on letting the break get much of a lead as they worked at the front to keep the gap manageable, and the break soon let Valverde know that his presence was a problem as he sat up and went back to the peloton. Valverde’s return to the peloton appeased Sky, who was happy to let the break gain time, as the gap shot up from around the one minute mark to just shy of three minutes within a couple of kilometres.

Contador quits the Tour 2016!

The category one Port de Canto was next, with De Gendt taking maximum points over the top, ahead of Pinot. However, the big news on the climb was the abandon of Contador, who was suffering a fever on top of the injuries suffered in earlier crashes.

With 60 kilometres to go, the break had in excess of eight minutes over the peloton, and with some really good climbers in the break it looked like this could be the race winning move. The break went through the intermediate sprint with Sagan taking an uncontested win, clawing back some points in the race for the green jersey. Sagan sat up as soon as the next climb started, having achieved his goals for the day, as De Gendt took maximum points at the top of the next category two climb, before pushing on as the break started the climb of the category one Col de Breixalis. De Gendt was soon brought back on the steep slopes of the climb as the break started disintegrating, with the peloton behind also shedding riders as they tackled the slopes of the Brexailis.

Bennett takes matters – and fans – into his own hands

It was on the slopes of the Brexalis that Bennett decided that the climb suited him.  The Kiwi launched a series of attacks that began to break the will of some of the other riders in the move as they headed for the summit, but it was Pinot who took maximum points again as they hit the top.  With a solid gap over the peloton, the riders in the break started thinking about a stage victory, and the attacks started coming thick and fast as they headed into the final climb of the day, the brutal Arcalis.

After a flurry of attacks, Dumoulin launched a decisive move, and hit the Arcalis 30 seconds ahead of the remnants of the break, as meanwhile Bennett’s rhythm was broken as he connected with a spectator who got too cosy with the riders. Thankfully for Bennett he did not hit the deck himself.  Majka and Costa set off in pursuit of Dumoulin, but with five kilometres to go and more than a minute over the chasers, Dumoulin looked set for a glorious win.

Behind, things heated up in the peloton as Henao launched an attack for Sky but Dan Martin shut it down. Porte was next to attack, catching Henao, as Aru dropped from the lead group. Froome was next to attack, with Quintana right there with him, and Porte sticking with them as well, as did Martin and Adam Yates.

Dumoulin claims the stage

At the head of the race, Dumoulin claimed the stage win, 38 seconds ahead of Costa in second with Majka in third. Navarro took fourth on the line, 1:39 down on Dumoulin, with Anacona rounding out the top five. Pinot was sixth across the line, but it was job done for him as he pulled on the polkadot jersey, with Bennett taking a brilliant seventh place finish, rewarding his team’s confidence in selecting him for the Tour de France.

Froome, Quintana, Yates, Porte, and Martin made the running at the head of what used to be the peloton, ahead of a second group containing Roderiguez, Henao, Meintjies, Mollema, Bardet, and Van Garderen.

As they came up to the line, Yates managed to sprint ahead of Froome and Quintana, with Porte and Martin losing two seconds to them. The group containing Henao, Bardet, Mollema, Meintjies, and Roderiguez finished 21 seconds back on the Froome group, with Van Garderen losing a further 17 seconds, just a head of Kreuziger and Valverde. Aru crossed the line a minute down on the Froome group, paced over the line by Nibali.

The result means that Froome retains his lead in the yellow jersey competition, 16 seconds ahead of Adam Yates in second, with Dan Martin a further three seconds back in third. However, with nine days down, a mere 1:01 separates the top eleven riders, which means that the race for yellow is still very much open.

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