Stage 9: Nantua to Chambery

This stage has one category 2 climb right at the start line and a breakaway went clear right from the start. Later there are two category 3 mountains, two HCs (HC = Hors Categorie – or “beyond classification”), then the intermediate sprint point, a category 4 hill, then one more HC with a downhill finish.

At 144.2 miles, 36 leaders are out in front with 3 riders chasing at 1:20 – they crashed coming down the hill and are rushing to catch up with the rest of the breakaway – pursued by one rider, then the peloton at 2:39, with 3 riders bringing up the back, including Arnaud Dumare and two of his FDJ domestiques again – he managed to connect with the other sprinters and finish in a pack yesterday and is hoping it will work again today. Rainy day and there have already been crashes.

Thibault Pinot from FDJ is in the breakaway and took the mountain points on the first two mountains and gained enough time to move up into fifth place. If he had taken the third mountain, he would have been in the polka-dot jersey but other riders passed him and he’s out of luck for now. There was a crash on the downhill, and two riders including Gesink abandoned the race. There are rumors that there will be rain on the final downhill – if so, there will be blood on the mountain today.

It’s a huge strategic day for the yellow jersey today. All these mountains give the GC contenders the opportunity to either take time out of Froome – or at least out of each other. If they survive, which must be their top priority in a stage as dangerous as today. And Froome needs to take so much time out of the other contenders that they spend the rest of the race fighting for second or third and leave him alone.

83.0 miles and the breakout is all back together and descending at about 80 KPH. The peloton is 3:26 down and the three riders off the back are 10 minutes back. Team Sunweb is driving the pace at the front of the break with five riders, including their sprinter – who is trying to hold on to take the intermediate sprint points – and a contender for the polka-dot jersey.

At 76.6 miles, the break has hit the first HC climb, ten miles at an average 9% gradient.

At 72.6 miles, 35 riders, then 1 rider at :20, one at :50, peloton at 5:01, the green jersey at 5:25, and the three pursuers at 14:00. GC contender, Fugelsang from Astana just had a flat tire and his team car was so far back that he couldn’t wait for them. Luckily, he had a teammate with him – unluckily, they took forever to change the tire. This is the second time today that a slow wheel change slowed someone down and forced him to expend extra energy to catch up – the other one was a mechanic changing a wheel for Team Sky. Do they spend time drilling on wheel changes? If not, they may need to – when a wheel change takes 20 seconds instead of 10 in a race where 12 seconds divides first from second place, it makes sense.

Top of the HC and Pinot didn’t get the points – they went to Primoz Roglic, who is on the same team as Gesink who crashed out with what looked like a broken collarbone today. With their GC contender out, the team now must find some other way to attract attention for their sponsors and secure the future for the team. The peloton – including the green jersey – is at 6:03 back, and the three riders off the back are nearly 20 minutes back.

Crash on the descent, it looks like the two Astana riders and a Movistar rider. Two are back up and moving cautiously forward. The third rider was off the left side of the road with his bike off to the right and it sounds like his jersey and shorts were torn off by the impact [looking at the results a day later, no more of the Movistar riders have dropped out; so it must have looked much worse than it was].

A little jockeying in the peloton to be on the front for the descent. When you’re on the front, you can pick your own line, rather than following someone else’s lead.

AG2R is on the front bow – their team is based in the town where today’s stage ends, and teams tend to try to go for attention in their home towns. The road is wet but AG2R is riding aggressively – since this is their home town, they train on these roads all the time and are more familiar with them.

In the main field, riders are riding 41 MPH. Geraint Thomas, who was in 2nd place in the GC and wore the yellow jersey for the first four days of the Tour went down with 3 riders from Bora-Hansgrohe including Rafal Majka who had the polka-dot jersey earlier [post-note: he dropped out during the rest day]. The AG2R rider that was leading the front of the peloton just missed a corner and turned off into a parking lot but the rest of the team are still driving up the pace. Chris Froome missed the crash but apparently other Sky members are back with Thomas.

61.4 miles out, 7 riders at the front, with 19 riders 35 seconds coming behind, 8 people 2:06 back, the peloton at 6:14 and Dumare off the back at 19:15. AG2R is lined up on the front of the breakaway. AG2R also leads at the front of the peloton, with Sky lined up behind them. Thomas is at least 5 minutes behind the peloton and just abandoned with his arm in a sling. He’s not even riding to the finish in his team car; he’s climbed into the medical van. Thomas had some Sky domestiques with him; so Froome has fewer riders to help him on today’s climbs.

At 58.4 miles out, the front group of 4 has broken up on the climb, with AG2R in leading group. Contador had just pulled himself back to the peloton and bumped into Quintana and they both went down (on a climb, when they are moving at their slowest – what the heck?).

At 56.9 miles, the AG2R rider got dropped from the lead group and is riding with two other riders 34 seconds back. The main peloton is 5:58 back (without the green or polka-dot jersey). In the main field, Froome has a couple of domestiques left but other GC contenders have more domestiques left. Contador and Quintana don’t have any domestiques with them in the peloton.

50.3 miles and they’ve gone over the top of the mountain and are descending quickly. The sun is out now and the roads are a little dryer – thank goodness – at least in the sun. In the shade, the trees are dripping and the roads are still wet. 5 riders at the front, 6 riders chasing at 1:02, peloton at 5:34, and four riders back at 28:26. Sky is on the front of the peloton on the descent.

42.4 miles, in the valley before the final mountain. 12 riders at the front – the 5 who were in front before were arguing about who should ride in front and the group behind them caught up with them – followed by 3 riders at 2:20, the peloton at 4:12 (green and polka-dot still trailing), and four riders off the back by 32:40. Richie Porte has two domestiques with him – a BMC rider who was in the break dropped back. Quintana’s team car is preparing to change his bike when he gets to the feed zone when the peloton is going slower and he can catch back up, but he doesn’t have any teammates with him to pace him back to the peloton.

34.7 miles and they’re approaching the intermediate sprint points. Sunweb’s sprinter, Michael Matthews, has managed to hold onto the break and hopes to get the sprint points. There are no other sprinters in the break. Dumare is 37:33 minutes back and the cut-off is 40 minutes. He lost another 3 minutes just since they got off the mountain, and there’s still another mountain to go. It’s looking bad for him – and for the two domestiques that he has with him.

Michael Matthews took the intermediate sprint easily – and got 20 green jersey points. He can relax for the rest of the stage – he’s already dropped back to the chase group – and focus on finishing safety. One of the AG2R riders is one of the two front riders.

22.9 miles. 2 riders at the front, 9 riders :50 back, peloton at 3:16 and 4 riders at 36:24 back. Michael Matthews was back in the peloton but has now dropped off the back.

Froome has three teammates left; BMC has 2; AG2R has 3. The other GC contenders are by themselves, but Movistar has a rider dropping back from the breakaway who, if he has any energy left, can support Quintana.

20.8 miles. 3 riders all riding individually at the front, then 5 riders :37 back, followed by the peloton at 2:18. Sky has been pulling the break back and could catch them on this climb.

19.9 miles, Aru and Quintana jump out of the peloton. Froome drops back with a mechanical problem. Porte catches up with Aru and Quintana and Froome is on a new bike. Froome has three guys with him to pace him back to the rest of the group and are clawing their way back to the other contenders. It looks like Aru attacked after seeing that Froome had called his team car to say that he needed help – this goes against the traditional agreement not to attack when a GC contender has a problem. Dan Martin just told Aru that they can’t attack while Froome has a mechanical issue; so they slowed down until Froome caught up. As soon as Froome regained the group, Fugelsang went off the front.

19.3 miles, Warren Barguil is out from by 20 seconds, followed by a chase of 3 riders, then Fugelsang, then the peloton at 1:58. They just showed the riders going around a hairpin turn; Aru was right next to Froome and Froome bumped him into the crowd. Accident? Revenge? [Froome said in the post-race show that it was an accident. Right.]

A lot of 1’s in this group – #1, #21, #31, #41, #61 – these are the numbers of the team leaders. They know how important this stage is and they’re all sticking it out looking for an opportunity to strike (or at least, trying not to fall behind).

17.2 miles out. Aru just attacked, Porte counter-attacked with Froome on his wheel and Quintana following. The white jersey holder just broke off. Aru goes again. Dan Martin goes, Froome follows, Porte attacks and Froome follows.

Porte attacks again, Bardet AG2R follows and they get a little gap on Froome and the other leaders. They catch back up but Martin is barely holding on. Froome goes, Porte, and . Quintana, Martin, Aru, fall off the back. They’ve caught Fugelsang!

At 16.7 miles, Barguil then the yellow jersey group. Aru and Bardet are catching Froome back up again. Rigoberto Uran, Fugelsang, Aru, Porte are sticking with him. Froome keeps lifting the pace and the others don’t counterattack. Barguil has 32 seconds on the group. Martin regains Froome’s group.

16.2 miles at the top of the hill, Barquil has 32 seconds on the yellow jersey group; then Quintana at about a minute.  Barguil has 21 seconds when they go over the top of the mountain.

Now downhill – it’s crazy and they’re racing all out to win. Contador just crossed the top 2 minutes down. Dan Martin and Richie Porte just went down – Porte ran off the road on the downhill side, his bike went one way, he bounced back across the road without his bike, slammed into Martin and took him down, then smashed into the vertical uphill wall. Porte is very badly injured; he was clocked at 45 MPH when he crashed. He’s conscious but he won’t be continuing – he looks horrible. They just put a neck brace on him and took off his helmet, but he’s moving his arms and legs. [Later: concussion, broken collarbone, broken pelvis.]

Froome is leading the leaders down the hill full blast about 17 seconds behind Barguil. Martin is trying to regain the group.

9 miles, Barguil is in front by 11 seconds, pursued by Bardet from AG2R, then the yellow jersey group – Froome, Aru, and two guys who are further down – at 21 seconds, Quintana chasing at :52 seconds. Contador is at 3:19.

Barguil and Bardet have joined up and are 25 seconds in front of the yellow group.  Barguil just wants to win the stage and/or get the mountain jersey and Bardet could get the yellow jersey so they can work together.

Uran’s gears are messed up and he has to switch his bike, but his car is too far back and he’d have to get a bike from the neutral service car. [Later: Vande Velde points out that Uran was behind Martin when Porte crashed into him and Martin’s shoe hit Uran’s derailer; maybe that’s what caused this problem.]

Bardet just dropped Barguil and is riding for the finish. The yellow jersey group is 32 seconds back and just caught Barguil.

6 miles, :28 seconds to the yellow group, then Quintana at 1:30. They just hit a straight road where the yellow jersey can see Bardet.

The yellow jersey group is working together with Froome – if Bardet wins, he’ll move up to the start of the race and none of them want him to do that.

2 miles and they’re into the twisty town streets. Bardet is barely holding on and is going to get caught. Fugelsang has been riding for his leader, Aru, and pulled him back to the yellow jersey group. Now they’ve caught Bardet and are slowing down just slightly. The next group on the road is Quintana and Martin and the white jersey at 1:20 back.

The Finish

Fugelsang attacks to try to take out Froome. Last kilometer, Froome is lifting the pace trying to drop them with an acceleration. Fugelsang accelerates.  Bardet, Barguil, and Aru race for the finish, and the winner is….

Photo finish…

Rigoberto Uran from Cannondale takes the win.

Martin, Quintana, and Simon Yates finish 1:14 later. Martin is in 6th, Yates in 7th, Quintana in 8th.

Yellow, Green, and White stay on the same backs. Barguil takes the polka dot. Aru is in second for the yellow, 18 minutes down; Uran is in 4th but he’s 55 seconds back. He may be able to fight into 2nd or 3rd, but 1st seems a distant reach unless Froome has a rotten day. Michael Matthews’ intermediate sprint points puts him in 2nd for the green jersey, but he’s 51 points down and it will be hard for him to take green unless he can hold on for a lot more intermediate sprints on mountain stages and Kittel crashes out.

Contador lost around 4 minutes today. Oof.

Dumare and his three domestiques are all out – disqualified for finishing so far behind the rest. That means the rest of his team will need to work hard for stage wins, breakaways, etc. to get their sponsors lots of air time.

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