George Bennett of LottoNL-Jumbo has broken into the top ten overall at the Tour de France after a dramatic ninth stage of the race. Rigoberto Uran took the stage in a photo finish from Warren Barguil on a day where Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte both crashed out of the race.
The hardest stage of the Tour de France so far would take the riders 181.5km from Nantua to Chambéry. Along the route would be seven categorised climbs including three HC climbs up Col de la Biche, Grand Colombier and finally up Mont du Chat – the last climb of the day – which peaked at 155.5km, with 26km still left to race.
Aggressive start as Thomas crashes out
After the flag was pulled in it was Tim Wellens of Lotto Soudal who got the attacks started. He was joined by Thibaut Pinot of FDJ, and gradually the group of leaders swelled at the head of the race. Bauke Mollema and Jarlinson Pantano of Trek-Segafredo made their way into the breakaway, so too Primoz Roglic of LottoNL-Jumbo, and interestingly Michael Matthews of Team Sunweb also got into the move, making a clear statement of intent towards the green jersey.
The day would be noted for the number of different riders who didn’t make it to the finish line today sadly. George Bennett of LottoNL-Jumbo lost teammate Robert Gesink, Manuele Mori would also abandon, but so too would Geraint Thomas of Team Sky after a nasty crash on the Col de la Biche; but that was still to come. While the breakaway’s numbers continued to develop and change, Team Sky settled into the task of leading the peloton, and with 147km of racing still to go the gap was holding at 2.30mins.
After Primoz Roglic took maximum points at the top of the Col de la Biche, the advantage for the break was looking significantly more promising at 6.40mins to Team Sky. It was on the descent here that disaster struck though as Geraint Thomas went down, and sadly also went out of the race with suspected broken collarbone. It meant that the Tour de France lost its second placed rider and arguably Chris Froome’s most significant mountain domestique in the latter kilometres.
AG2R La Mondiale show their muscle
On to the Grand Colombier it was AG2R La Mondiale who made a statement for the first time, moving their riders to the front of the yellow jersey group. Up until now the team working for Romain Bardet – second in the Tour de France last year – had been reasonably quiet at the head of the peloton, but now we saw them asserting themselves at the front. But the climb of Grand Colombier saw a number of GC contenders lose valuable assets around them. Nairo Quintana and Daniel Martin lost support, Richie Porte only had one rider with him, while Chris Froome still maintained his position with four riders in support, and Romain Bardet had two on hand with him.
All the while George Bennett of LottoNL-Jumbo simply maintained his position in the yellow jersey group. The Kiwi had no support in the main bunch, but he was keeping himself well positioned and out of trouble
After the climb of Grand Colombier, the long descent gave way to a flat section that ended shortly after the intermediate sprint. This is the moment Michael Matthews had been building towards, and it was also the chance for riders in the lead group, who had been dropped, to regain contact up front. Eventually 11 riders were reunited at the front of the race. Jarlinson Pantano and Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo, Roglic, Matthews and teammate Warren Barguil and Simon Geschke, Tiesj Benoot and Tony Gallopin of Lotto Soudal, Alexis Vuillermoz and Jan Bakelants of AG2R La Mondiale, Carlos Betancur of Movistar, Daniel Navarro of Cofidis. The group went to the intermediate sprint together where Michael Matthews comfortably mopped up 20 points for first place. But Jan Bakelants and Tony Gallopin were ready to attack and press on to the climb of Mont du Chat.
Controversy from Aru as Froome suffers mechanical
Team Sky had restored order in the yellow jersey group, and gradually they started collecting riders from the lead group, including Michael Matthews; who’d done his job for the day. Gallopin and Bakelants had managed to hit the climb of Mont du Chat with 2.20mins in hand over the yellow jersey group. But out of the chase group came an attack from Bauke Mollema. He looked strong as he tried to rid himself of his companions and catch Tony Gallopin, who had now dropped Bakelants with 33.5km remaining. But Warren Barguil was able to join him in pursuit of the Frenchman.
Barguil was visibly stronger than Mollema, and the Sunweb rider was able to drop his companion and go after his compatriot with just under 20 seconds of deficit to make up. Barguil made light work of the distance as Jan Bakelants tried to hold on to the wheel of Barguil. With 32.3km to go Barguil caught Gallopin and immediately left him, Mollema and Bakelants behind.
Meanwhile behind in the yellow jersey group Fabio Aru launched an attack and was pursued by Nairo Quintana and Richie Porte. What made things interesting was the fact that just at the same time Chris Froome had been brought to a halt with a rear wheel puncture. The cameras showed that Froome had raised his hand to signal the problem and Aru was behind him and saw the gesture; then he attacked.
To their credit Richie Porte, Nairo Quintana, Romain Bardet and the GC contenders jumped on Aru’s wheel but none of them were prepared to support the Italian, much to the Italian’s annoyance. Froome had support from his teammates and gradually he made his way back to the group. Next to attack was Jakob Fuglsang, as Team Sky retook their place on the front of the group. With 31km to go the gap from Barguil to Froome and co had dropped to below 2 minutes
Chase group finally takes shape to pursue Barguil
With 28km to go Fabio Aru launched another attack and this time, with Alberto Contador dropped, the game was on in earnest. Aru was caught but then Porte launched a counter attack as he found himself without support. Quintana, Aru and Rigoberto Uran were all able to come across as Simon Yates and George Bennett were finally dropped. Romain Bardet were able to come across, so too Daniel Martin after a laboured chase. Aru wasn’t done yet though as he made another move. Froome was wise to the attack though as the gap continued to close to Barguil.
With 27km to go Warren Barguil had 1.24mins in hand on the yellow jersey group. Tiesj Benoot of Lotto Soudal had gone rather under the radar but he sat second on the road at 1.11mins, while Jakob Fuglsang found that he was being brought back a little. In the yellow jersey group Richie Porte smelled and opportunity and went on the attack a couple of times, stretching Daniel Martin and dropping him, as Nairo Quintana also found the going too tough. Even Fabio Aru was suffering under the acceleration of the yellow jersey; an attack that saw Fuglsang’s lead swept up and the gap to Barguil close to just 45 seconds.
So the yellow jersey group was now made up of Richie Porte, Chris Froome, Rigoberto Uran and Jakob Fuglsang as Fabio Aru and Romain Bardet now found themselves being the next to suffer. They were just about holding on for now though. Quintana had lost close to 30 seconds to the Froome group, but it was Contador who’d really suffered, losing almost 2 minutes in no time. Impressively though Daniel Martin had managed to regain contact with the group as they made it to 1km to the top of the climb.
Disaster strikes as Porte is wiped out on descent
Barguil was holding on valiantly to his advantage but it was now looking uncertain as to whether he’d have much of a lead at all by the time he reached the summit of the climb. With 400m to the top of the climb his lead to Froome and co was just about 30 seconds. He crested the top of the climb solo, guaranteeing that he would be on the podium at least once as the new leader of the king of the mountains classification. But would he hold on for the stage?
The group of seven followed close behind Barguil and with 25km to go had just 10 seconds to make up on the Frenchman. Suddenly though disaster struck for both Richie Porte and Daniel Martin who both came down, virtually gauranteeing that Porte’s Tour de France was over. The Tasmanian undercooked one of the many weaving bends and went into the dirt. He went flying and inevitably took out Daniel Martin with him. Unfortunately there was nowhere left to go but the rocky bank on the opposite side of the road. Porte was motionless but conscious as medical support attended him. Daniel Martin appeared able enough to continue, but at what cost? Reports began criculating that Martin had actually crashed a second time.
Up ahead in the Froome group Romain Bardet and Chris Froome were beginning to test the nerves and the descending skills of the rest in the group. Bardet was evidently the stronger of the group as he began to open up a bit of a lead back to Froome, with Aru, Uran and Fuglsang now the remaining chasers in the group. Fuglsang now appeared to be the least brave of the group as he began to let a gap open up ahead of him. He was able to get back on board towards the bottom of the descent as Romain Bardet closed in on Warren Barguil. The catch was made with 11.6km remaining and so it was two Frenchmen ahead of the yellow jersey group which were 21 seconds adrift.
Uran wins on broken bike as Bennett equals greatest stage finish
More drama awaited though as Rigoberto Uran found that his gears weren’t functioning. Romain Bardet now sensed an opportunity to go solo, and he succeeded in dropping Barguil. But had he too much work to do on his own? He certainly seemed confident with a 32 second lead with 10.7km to go. Uran was able to remain with the chase group as the pursuit was on. The gap was closing as the group cooperated with each other well.
Behind the group Simon Yates, Nairo Quintana, Daniel Martin and George Bennett had joined forces at 1.26mins to Bardet. But up ahead the gap was closing to Bardet. The last 5km were technical but Bardet was well within sight of the yellow jersey group. But Bardet was still hanging on with a 10 second lead and less than 4km of racing to go. But bit by bit the gap was reducing, and finally with 2.2km of racing the catch was made. The rider who had potentially benefited the most now though was Warren Barguil who hadn’t contributed to the chase effort. There was plenty to play for then as Froome took over the pace setting with 2km to go.
With 1km to go Uran led the way as the six riders got ready for the sprint, but Froome was prepared to retake the lead and launch an attack of his own. It didn’t look like Warren Barguil would be able to come through though as Froome launched a bit of a dig of his own. It came to nought though and it c=all cmae down to a sprint. Fuglsang led out the sprint from a long way off, but was pursued by Uran who looked like he might have done enough but for a final acceleration by the brave Warren Barguil. It came down to a sprint finish between Barguil and Uran but the Colombian had done enough. Barguil thought he’d done enough and began celebrating, even bursting into tears; but the Cannondale-Drapac rider with the mechanical problem had done it. Chris Froome finished third and got a small time bonus, with Barguil fourth.
Daniel Martin led out the sprint for seventh place with Bennett, Quintana, Yates and Mikel Landa of Team Sky. They crossed the line at 1.13mins with George Bennett equalling his best ever stage finish in seventh place. The result would also move Bennett up into the top ten overall, with the Kiwi now 10th at 3.53mins.
Overall then Fabio Aru sits in second place at 18 seconds, with Romain Bardet third at 51 seconds. Rigoberto Uran and Jakob Fuglsang round out the top five with Daniel Martin, Simon Yates, Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa and George Bennett taking out positions 6-10.