Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) triumphantly crossed the finish line alone atop the hors categorie Andorra Arcalis climb in a pelting hail storm Sunday to win Stage 9 of the Tour de France.
It was the first Tour stage win for the talented Dutch rider, who now has won a stage at all three Grand Tours at the age of 25.
Former world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) finished second and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) came home in third.
“This is a dream come true,” Dumoulin said. “I’m so tired that I can’t even speak. It’s been an incredible day. I’ve won the queen stage. It’s special. I’ve showed that I’m not only a time trial specialist. I can do more. I’m so happy.”
The climb to the Andorra ski resort did not disappoint in creating an action-packed finale. In the battle for the overall title, Richie Porte (BMC Racing) showed he was on a good day, despite the foul weather, attacking repeatedly on the final climb. The Tasmanian’s accelerations put many riders in difficulty, including his teammate and co-captain Tejay van Garderen. Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) was also an animator on the final climb.
Into the final kilometre Porte led the maillot jaune of Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) with the white jersey of Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) also making the selection.
Yates won the GC sprint for the line followed by Froome and Quintana, 6:35 behind Dumoulin. Porte was gapped slightly in the sprint and finished two seconds behind. Martin recovered well in the final kilometre after being dropped and finished alongside Porte
Van Garderen lost 38 seconds to Froome, while Italian Fabio Aru (Astana) suffered the most on the climb, losing a minute to the top GC contenders.
Froome leads Yates by 16 seconds in the general classification with Martin third a further three seconds behind. Quintana is fourth at 26 seconds.
Spaniard Alberto Contador, who had been suffering from crashes occurred on the first two stages of the Tour, abandoned the race with about 100km remaining. The Tinkoff had been on the attack earlier in the stage, but a fever overnight proved to be his undoing.
“I couldn’t continue,” Contador said. “This morning I was feverish after the crash in the first day, I really didn’t feel well and it pushed me to make this decision. I must have medical checks to see what’s wrong to try and recuperate for the rest of the season.”
HOW IT HAPPENED
No passports were needed for the multinational ninth stage of the 2016 Tour, which started in Spain, in the town of Vielha Val d’Aran, and finished atop the hors categorie Arcalis climb in Andorra. The 184.5km (114.6mi) route included five climbs with four being Category 1 or higher. The many climbs made for a total 4,640m (15,223ft) of climbing on the day.
The parcours was uphill from the 0km mark, with the riders climbing to over 2,000m in altitude on the Category 1 Port de la Bonaigua (13.7km at 6.1%). The racing was incredibly aggressive up the climb with Contador sending shockwaves through the peloton by going on the attack in pursuit of the early leaders. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) followed the two-time champion and Sergio Henao marked the move for Team Sky.
The trio began picking off riders on the climb, as more than 40 riders had made their way up the road ahead of the peloton by the time Contador made his move less than 7km into the stage. Contador and Valverde both had teammates up the road to help pace them.
Meanwhile at the back, Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data) abandoned the Tour. Mark Cavendish’s loyal lieutenant had fallen ill overnight.
Henao dropped off, and Valverde and Contador began working together to pick off more riders.
Contador finally waved the white flag and rejoined the Sky-led peloton, but Valverde continued on to join the breakaway.
At the top of the Bonagiua, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), and Majka fought for the KOM points with the FDJ rider coming out on top. The peloton crossed the summit 1:20 behind.
On the descent a few dropped riders rejoined the leaders and a 21-rider breakaway was firmly established by the time the riders entered the valley about 40km into the stage.
Among the leaders were three Movistar riders; Valverde, Jesus Herrada, and Winner Anacona. Also in the lead was world champion Peter Sagan and Majka (Tinkoff), Diego Rosa and Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana), Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r-La Mondiale), George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo), Mathias Frank, Stef Clement and Jérôme Coppel (IAM), Natnael Berhane (Dimension Data), Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), Rui Costa and Tsgabu Grmay (Lampre-Merida), Daniel Navarro and Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), De Gendt and Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal), and Pinot.
Team Sky continued to keep the breakaway close at hand and was able to force Valverde’s hand, as the former champion of Spain sat up and drifted back to the peloton.
“We tried to go after that move with Contador, knowing that we had teammates at the front, but once Alberto wasn’t able to keep up the pace I couldn’t be there either, because if I did, the break just wouldn’t go forward,” Valverde said.
Nearly 30km separated the first and second climbs of the stage and allowed the riders to catch their breath after a leg-searing start. Contador was seen going back to the Tinkoff team car on multiple occasions and it was revealed he had begun the stage feeling under the weather.
“Alberto [Contador] had a bit of fever this morning,” Sean Yates, Tinkoff’s director sportif, told France TV from his team car. “He told us at the beginning of the race that he wasn’t feeling super and it’s obvious. We’ve told him to stay quiet. Now the peloton is going slower, which is better for his recovery after the fast start this morning.”
The car visits foreshadowed what occurred with about 100km to go in the stage, as Contador abandoned a Grand Tour for only the second time in 15 participations.
De Gendt took maximum KOM points over the Category 1 Port del Cantò (19km at 5.4%) with the peloton trailing by over six minutes.
The race entered Andorra with about 50km to race and Sagan won the intermediate sprint shortly thereafter. The four-time points classification winner didn’t earn enough points to take the lead, narrowed the gap to Cavendish to just seven points.
Three climbs remained in the stage and they progressively increased in distance and difficulty.
De Gendt attacked the breakaway about a kilometre from the summit of the Category 2 Côte de la Comella (6.4km at 8.5%) and gained maximum KOM points. The Belgian continued to push on over the top and held an advantage of 40 seconds as he began the Category 1 Col de Beixalis (6.4km at 8.5%).
It was soon game over for the Lotto-Soudal rider and 10 riders crested the penultimate climb together with Pinot leading the group over.
ON TO THE FINAL CLIMB
A few riders rejoined the front group on the descent and the leaders began to attack each other in the valley before the final climb.
Finally the riders where upon the climb that had loomed in the distance all day, the hors categorie Andorra Arcalis (10.1km at 7.2%).
Dumoulin, who came within a stage of winning the 2015 Vuelta a Espana before cracking on the final day in the mountains, began the Arcalis alone. He opened a 30-second advantage over his former breakaway companions, as rain had begun to fall, which turned to hail at the finish line.
Bennett had a brief moment of panic when he struck a spectator on one of the lower hairpin corners, but reacted quickly and avoided crashing.
With 5km to go, the Dutchman held an advantage of 45-seconds over Anacona and Majka. Behind, Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac), who crashed on Saturday, was seen going out the back of the peloton.
Henao started the attacking in the peloton and Martin was quick to react. He was followed by Froome and the rest of the main GC favorites.
Porte tried his hand with an attack and Froome launched a perfectly timed counterattack, opening a gap. Quintana was the only one able to follow, but Porte was able to recover and rejoin the duo before attacking again. The attacks came to naught, as the race came back together.
Martin, a resident of Andorra, was the next to have a go and his blistering acceleration split the group, but again no one wanted to set the pace and the group reformed. Aru was suffering in the cold rain and was eventually paced up the climb by teammate Vincenzo Nibali.
Another notable absence from the select group of favorites was Tejay van Garderen. The American had another off day in the cold and rain, matching his bad day in bad weather at the Tour de Suisse in June.
“It was long and super hot and then it got super cold at the finish,” van Garderen said. “It was just a hard day off the back of a hard day so I think Richie [Porte] and I did pretty well. Richie was obviously a lot better than me, but we just look forward. It’s been nine hard days of racing so fatigue definitely starts going into play but it’s still the first week. The first real mountain day of the Tour I always tend to struggle more than the other ones, so I think it can only get better from here. Any one of the stages could be an opportunity to gain back time, the mountains, the time trials, so I’ll just take it as it comes.”
As hail fell heavily on the finishing line, Dumoulin captured the stage win, a. He is now the 11th active rider with victories in all three Grand Tours. Costa finished second, with Majka in third. Majka lost his lead in King of the Mountains classification by three points to Pinot, who finished sixth on the stage.
“It’s the glass half full, half empty,” Pinot said. “I’m really disappointed because I targeted the stage victory. That was my priority and I was convinced that I was able to make it until we reach the last climb. I’m not sure what happened there. I possibly had a hunger flat. But I’ve not lost everything since I now have the polka-dot jersey. It can become an objective even though I’d really like to win a stage. The Tour is not over.”
Porte continued to attack into the final kilometre and only Froome, Quintana, and Yates were able to follow. Yates led the group of favorites across the line followed by Froome and Quintana. Porte and Martin finished a few seconds behind.
“I put some time into some otherGC guys so it’s a good day,” Porte said. “I need to get time back so that’s what I was thinking [when I attacked in the final]. The team was fantastic today, we worked quite well together. It would have been nice to get a bit more of a gap but I’m guessing that they’re not just going to let me ride away like that. I feel good. It’s nice to get the first proper block of racing done. Physically I know where I am and that’s in a good place.”
Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) finished together 21 seconds behind Froome and company.
Aru would lose a minute to the GC favorites and was led across the line by the Giro d’Italia champion.
“It was a hard, difficult stage,” Nibali said. We all felt tired. Yesterday I was not feeling well. Today I was in better shape and I tried to help Fabio Aru. In the end it was so-so. The rest day will help us recover.”
The Andorra Araclis shook up the general classification, but the top-11 riders are still only separated by 1:01.
Froome leads Yates by 16 seconds, with Martin at 19 seconds, making it two British riders and an Irishman in the top three overall.
Quintana is still close, only trailing Froome by 26 seconds. Van Garderen sits 11th on the GC on the same time as Valverde at 1:01.
“Several times before the Tour, I said this would be the biggest battle of my career, and it’s definitely the case,” Froome said. “It’s not easy to ride away from everyone this year. The level is higher than in previous years. At the back of my mind, I was waiting for Nairo Quintana to attack until we reached the last kilometer. I was wondering if he was saving himself for a big move. As he didn’t, I like to think that he was at his limit. He stayed on my wheel, glued.”
On Monday the riders will enjoy a much needed rest day in Andorra, but it is back to business on Tuesday. The 10th stage of this year’s Tour will take the riders along a 197km (122.4mi) route from Escaldes-Engordany in Andorra to the French town of Revel. A Category 1 climb right from the gun will make sure the riders are wide awake, but then it’s a long descent and a mostly flat ride to Revel. The Category 3 Côte de Saint-Ferréol (1.8km at 6.6%) throws a wrench into the finale, peaking with just 7km to the finish.
Adam Yates continues to impress at the 2016 Tour de France, producing an intelligent and mature performance on stage nine, brilliantly following the attacks on the final climb before accelerating to lead the overall favourites over the line. The Briton retains the white jersey and second on the general classification.
“It was a difficult start to the stage with the attacks of Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) on the first climb,” said Yates. “Then on the last climb it started to rain and cooled down quite a bit.”
“For me when it cools down like that I feel a lot more open and it enabled me to go a little bit deeper, so it was good timing really.
“We all have the rest day tomorrow and some time to recover so we will see how everyone comes out of that and continue to take the race day by day.”
Sport director Matt White was pleased with how the stage went for ORICA-BikeExchange.
“It was another very pleasing ride by Adam (Yates) and the team today,” said White. "Especially when you consider the last forty-eight hours that Adam has had.”
“The guys did a great job again today, looking after Adam and maintaining our position going into the finale.
“Ruben Plaza and Daryl Impey both played important roles on the stage and stayed with Adam for as long as possible after Daryl had tried to get into the earlier breakaway moves.”
“We are happy with our position going into tomorrow’s rest day and look forward to stage ten on Tuesday.”
This article is a modified version of that originally published on cyclingtips.com
Photography by Cor Vos