MULHOUSE, France: Germany’s Tony Martin powered to an impressive victory in the ninth stage of the Tour de France yesterday after a 155-km mountain raid in the Vosges that saw Vincenzo Nibali surrender the yellow jersey to France’s Tony Gallopin.
Time-trial world champion Martin attacked after 15 km and dropped his breakaway companion with just under 60 left to win his third Tour stage following time trial victories in 2011 and 2013.
“It was perfect, there were no mind games in that breakaway,” Martin told a news conference.
“I just had to go, I knew I could ride very fast. Today everything worked perfectly, I had really really good legs, there were good conditions.”
Gallopin took the overall leader’s yellow jersey after Nibali’s Astana team did not chase hard to catch a counter-attacking group.
That meant the Kazakh team will not be forced to defend the lead in today’s 10th stage, one of the most demanding of the Tour.
“We did not lose the jersey, we just surrendered it,” Astana sports director Giuseppe Martinelli told reporters.
“I also wanted us to save energy before tomorrow because it is going to be the toughest stage of the first part of the Tour.”
Gallopin, of the Lotto-Belisol team, now leads Italian Nibali by 1:34 going into Monday’s 161.5-km trek to La Planche des Belles Filles but has little hope of retaining the lead.
“It’s unbelievable. But it won’t be the easiest stage for defending the lead,” said Gallopin.
“Favourites will undergo their first real big test and I only have a one and half minute lead.
“I’ll do all I can to keep the jersey. I’d love to have it for more than one day.”
Gallopin, whose uncle is a sports director with the Trek team, is the first Frenchman to wear the yellow jersey since Thomas Voeckler in 2011.
Several groups attacked early on, with Martin of the Omega Pharma-Quick Step (OPQS) team and Italian Alessandro De Marchi leading the way.
They were followed by a group of 28 featuring Pierre Rolland - fourth in the Giro this year - and Gallopin, who had been 3:27 behind Nibali at the start.
Martin’s mammoth work helped the duo build a 6:30 lead over the peloton while the Gallopin group could not close the gap, gradually falling back despite the work of Rolland’s Europcar team mates.
Martin powered away with 59 km left at the foot - the first-category climb of the Col de Markstein - keeping the Gallopin group at bay while De Marchi struggled.
The OPQS rider, who had come agonisingly close in the Vuelta last year when he was caught by the bunch a few metres from the line after a 175-km breakaway, had time to celebrate well before the finish this time.
Martin shook hands and smiled with his sports director Davide Bramati as OPQS snatched their second stage win of this year’s Tour after Italian Matteo Trentin prevailed on Friday.
Swiss Fabian Cancellara took second place and Belgian Greg van Avermaet finished third in the stage.
Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez, third overall last year who said before the race he was looking for stage wins only, signalled his intentions to claim the polka dot jersey for the mountain classification.
The Katusha rider, who was in the Gallopin group, grabbed points at top of the Markstein and Grand Ballon climbs.
Gallopin jumped away from the counter-attacking group in the descent of the Grand Ballon but was reined in with 10 km left.
In what German soccer fans will see as a good omen, German rider Olaf Ludwig won a Tour de France stage on the day Germany beat Argentina in the 1990 World Cup final.
The two countries were playing the final later in Rio de Janeiro.