John Degenkolb of Trek-Segafredo has won his first ever stage of the Tour de France.  The German sprinter was fastest out of a group of a group of 3 riders who arrived in Roubaix together, taking the win ahead of the yellow jersey of Greg van Avermaet and Yves Lampaert.  It was a day of drama in the GC battle though as Rigoberto Uran lost almost 1.30mins on his rivals, and Richie Porte was forced out of the race.

Many riders would have been dreading the 156.5km from Arras Citadelle to Roubaix.  Though one of the shorter stages of the race, with 15 sectors of cobblestones it would be a day to remember for everyone; for better or for worse.  The cobbles would begin after 47.5km, with 109km remaining of the stage and a number of riders wanted to hit the pavé with a bit of a buffer to the peloton.  That meant that the pace was on almost immediately and a formidable breakaway group emerged.

It was on the one hand a day to forget for BMC Racing as Richie Porte crashed out and Tejay van Garderen (left) also fell far back in the GC battle, photo Sirotti

Disaster as Porte doesn’t even reach cobblestones

 

Direct Energie had two riders in the move courtesy of Damien Gaudin and Jérôme Cousin, with Omar Fraille of Astana, Antwan Tolhoek of LottoNL-Jumbo and Lotto Soudal’s breakaway giant in Thomas De Gendt.  Despite counter attacks behind them, they managed to build a reasonable advantage of close to a minute before disaster struck back in the peloton.  Richie Porte was one of a number of riders to go down in a crash early on, but unlike many others who were able to remount, Porte immediately grabbed his collarbone; in a lot of pain.  

It didn’t take long for the news to filter through that the Tasmanian, for the second year in succession, had been forced out of the Tour de France due to a crash; and sadly for Porte directly afterwards the pace in the peloton dissipated and the break were released.  Also forced to abandon the Tour as a result of the crash was José Joaquin Rojas of Movistar.

Nevertheless BMC Racing were still responsible for heading to the front of the race and representing the yellow jersey.  With 130km to go the breakaway group had a lead of 2.28mins over the peloton, while another group sat 1.10mins ahead of the bunch.  BMC Racing were leading the way on the peloton, but BORA-Hansgrohe and Direct Energie were also present on the front of the pack and it would be interesting to see at what point the fuse would be lit and the battle for positioning on the cobblestones would begin.

The breakaway were bolstered by the addition of a number of riders to the move including Team Sunweb’s Chad Haga, Direct Energie’s Lilian Calmejane, Reinardt Janse van Rensburg of Dimension Data, Olivier Le Gac of Groupama-FDJ and Nicolas Edet of Cofidis.  The ten riders joined together and grew their lead out to 3.18mins by the time they reached the first sector of cobblestones and sailed across the two-star sector at a solid speed of upwards of 45kph.  But even in the break Antwan Tolhoek came to grief, suffering a puncture on the very first sector and falling back.

 

Sagan’s troops dictate early pace on pave

 

BORA-Hansgrohe were determined to dictate the pace in the peloton, and they surged to the front before the commencement of the first sector, with Peter Sagan well positioned, and the likes of Sep Vanmarcke and Heinrich Haussler also in a strong position.  But struggling mechanically early on was Romain Bardet of AG2R La Mondiale, he was another who lost time early on.

After the first two cobbled sectors the breakaway group passed through the intermediate sprint with Thomas De Gendt taking maximum points.  It was clear back in the peloton though that BORA-Hansgrohe were taking control of matters, in a way resplendent to how Quick-Step Floors would in the cobbled classics.  They led the way through with 84.4km to go with a deficit of 3.20mins to the break.  

The time gap hovered at the 3.20min mark, but then started to tumble as the first major sector of cobblestones approached.  With just under 75km to go the gap had come down to 2.50mins, and that gap dropped further to just over 2.15mins with the arrival of the 3 star and 2km long sector 12.  The break were still humming along at a solid tempo, but back in the pack Team Sky were beginning to marshal themselves at the front of the race; determined to miss nothing and seize any advantage they could for Chris Froome.

By contrast Greg van Avermaet had a great day out and nearly won in yellow, photo Sirotti

Team Sky assert themselves but Froome takes a tumble

 

On the first sector 4 stretch of cobbles, the Tilloy à Sars-et-Rosieres Team Sky sensed an opportunity to break up the field and they took the opportunity eagerly with Luke Rowe and Michal Kwiatkowski opening up the pace on the front of the group with Chris Froome in the group.   A number of GC contenders had made the split as well as the likes of van Avermaet and Sagan, but the likes of Adam Yates, Rigoberto Uran and Vincenzo Nibali were caught out and had a bit of chasing to do.

The time gap to the breakaway was coming down and with 60km to go the deficit sat at 2 minutes.  Behind the break the Nibali group and the Froome group united and a much enlargened peloton made their way onwards towards the next 4-star sector, of Auchy à Bersée.  The break hit that sector with 1.38mins in hand but behind them Tejay van Garderen came down after already showing signs of struggle.  It was looking like BMC Racing’s day was going from bad to worse as their next best placed GC rider was falling back.

But then an injection of pace came courtesy of Greg van Avermaet.  The maillot jaune put in a powerful turn of pace that saw everyone at full stretch to try and stay on his coat tails.  While he went on the offensive, Romain Bardet was again brought to a halt by another mechanical issue.  The peloton managed to stay with van Avermaet but one got the sense that this was just the beginning.

On the next sector of cobblestones Chris Froome became the next major GC rider to hit the deck.  The defending Tour champion just went over the handlebars and was quickly back up and running after a little bit of lost ground.  That meant that Sky dropped back en masse from the front of the peloton to support Froome; but while they did that Philippe Gilbert and Peter Sagan struck, with the gap to the breakaway coming down to below 1 minute with 44km left to race.

Tom Scully makes his way through a tough day for EF Education First-Drapac, photo Sirotti

Landa down as GC contenders face battle

 

Froome had 21 seconds to make up on the group ahead of him, and Movistar sensed an opportunity to take full advantage; to put Froome and Bardet under pressure.  But Froome was composed and together with Rigoberto Uran and Daniel Martin he regained contact with the stage’s main contenders.  Bardet had more work to do though, and with Movistar, Astana and Team Sky all involved in the pace at the front it was not looking good for AG2R La Mondiale.

In the break an attack from van Rensburg and Gaudin saw them hit the next sector ahead of the remnants of the break, while behind in the pack a crash brought down Michal Kwiatkowski.  Despite that the peloton were moving along comfortably aside from the cobbles, with Movistar in control at the front; but van Avermaet was not afraid to put in the occasional injection of pace.  The rest of the break were absorbed with 33km to go, leaving van Rensburg and Gaudin out in front with 43 seconds in hand.

Drama hadn’t ended yet though, as Movistar’s Mikel Landa was the next to crash on one of the smooth stretches of road.  Interestingly the decision was taken by Movistar not to wait initially; before dropping back eventually to support him.  With 29km to go Tom Dumoulin hit the front of the pack, but behind him Julian Alaphilippe and Rigoberto Uran both came down together and now faced a difficult task to try and regain contact with the rest.

Gradually the time gap to Gaudin and van Rensburg dropped, and with 21.4km to go the duo hit sector 3 with 20 seconds left to the good.  Tom Dumoulin hit the front of the sector and drove the peloton onwards, while Chris Froome sat towards the back of the same group.  Jasper Stuyven of Trek-Segafredo became the first rider to bridge the gap from the fragmented peloton, with the trio finally brought back to heel with 19.4km left to race.  No sooner had Gaudin been caught, however, than he was striking off the front once again; trying to launch Sylvain Chavanel.

Dion Smith in the action on the cobbles of stage 9, photo Sirotti

Degenkolb and co decide the race

 

The move that would decide the stage came on the next sector of cobbles.  With 16.5km to go on sector 2 of Camphin-en-Pévèle Yves Lampaert of Quick-Step Floors, John Degenkolb and Greg van Avermaet went on the attack; and there was no reaction behind.  Peter Sagan was forced to the front of the group to chase, and his force began to break the peloton up behind him.  Exiting the sector the leading trio had just 10 seconds in hand and just one more sector to come in 6km time.

Degenkolb, van Avermaet and Lampaert had timed their move well and as they hit upwards of 50kph their advantage climbed to 34 seconds with 10km remaining.  The final sector of pave saw the trio’s lead continue to climb to 48 seconds with 7.5km to go.  While they were set on contesting stage honours, yet another problem befell Romain Bardet; who was again brought to a halt.

Up ahead the deficit grew still further; guaranteeing the yellow jersey would remain in the BMC camp, but leaving everything up for grabs in terms of the stage.  Attacks back in the group saw Peter Sagan escape up the road with Philippe Gilbert, Jasper Stuyven and Bob Jungels.  They wouldn’t catch the break, but they would have enough of a gap to contest fourth place behind the leaders; as the peloton were not gaining on them.

With 1km remaining the games were being played by Stuyven, van Avermaet and Degenkolb.  Degenkolb on paper was the fastest but he was forced to the front to lead out the finish.  With 500m to go it was all to play for, and finally it was 200m to go when the German hit for home from the front.  Although van Avermaet tried to come over the sprinter there was nothing he could do to stop the German who claimed his first ever Tour de France stage win ahead of the yellow jersey and Lampaert.  

Philippe Gilbert took fourth place ahead of Sagan with Andre Greipel leading the bunch home.  Credit to both Mikel Landa and Romain Bardet who lost just 7 seconds after a frustrating day of crashes and mechanicals.  Rigoberto Uran lost significant time, crossing the line 1.28mins behind Froome, Nibali, Quintana etc.

Tour de France 2018 stage 9 results

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