Froome, Quintana, Dumoulin, Contador... Analysis of the main points from the 'queen' Pyrenean stage of the 2016 Tour de France
Chris Froome defends his lead rather than extends it
In recent Tours we’ve become used to Chris Froome (Sky) attacking early and taking over a minute on all his rivals on the first mountain top finish, but today he was forced into a more defensive strategy at the Tour de France.
He did attempt to attack on the Arcalis, like yesterday working in tandem with teammate Sergio Henao, but the gradient was not severe enough to cause any major gaps.
With no teammates left, he was instead forced to close down attacks from the likes of Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep), Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange), but did so without too much difficulty.
Having already moved into the yellow jersey yesterday, however, he still appears in control in the race, and will be eyeing up next week’s summit finish at Mont Ventoux and the following time-trial as opportunities to gain time.
Tom Dumoulin proves his climbing credentials yet again
He may have defied expectations time and time again by refusing to be dropped on the many summits of last year’s Vuelta, but it’s still astonishing just how well Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) can haul his rouleur’s body up the mountains.
His win today was arguably the best climbing performance of his career to date – over the day’s five mountain passes he ultimately got the better of a breakaway group full of climbing specialists including Rafal Majka (Tinkoff), Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ).
This win wasn’t just about climbing, however. He smartly broke clear from the rest of the breakaway group a few kilometres before the bottom of the climb, and swiftly opened up a gap of around a minute, which proved enough of a head-start for him to hold on for the win.
Watch: Tour de France 2016 stage nine highlights
Adam Yates is looking like the revelation of this year’s Tour
We’ve known about Adam Yates’s talent for several years now, but today was the most exciting taster yet of what the Orica-BikeExchange rider is capable of.
Despite being dropped by one of the earlier accelerations, Yates eventually crawled his way back up to the yellow jersey, and even led the group of favourites containing himself, Froome, Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Richie Porte (BMC) and Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep).
That result means he remains both second overall and leader of the young rider’s classification, though it still feels too early in the race to get overly carried away – he did after all finish a surprisingly high seventh on the first summit finish of last year’s Tour before struggling more later in the race.
Nairo Quintana sticks to Froome’s wheel
Nairo Quintana’s (Movistar) tactic for the final climb of today’s stage was as simple as it was obvious – stick to Chris Froome’s wheel.
The Colombian shadowed the yellow jersey all the way up the Arcalis, and rolled over the line in twelfth, one position behind and in the exact same time as his rival, without trying a single attack.
Such is Quintana’s poker face that it is difficult to gauge whether he opted not to attack by choice or by a lack of legs. But, given the way he has in the past lost time to Froome early on only to gain some of it back in the Alps, it’s conceivable that the Colombian was content to simply avoid losing any time and save his energy for the upcoming showdown in both the time-trials and the Alps.
It may not have been exciting, but he comes out of the Pyrenees in a strong position, and fared much better than other tips for the GC Fabio Aru (Astana) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC), who both lost significant time today.
Alberto Contador abandons
It had been coming since his heavy fall on stage one and, with a resigned wave to the onlooking TV camera, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) dismounted his bike and stepped into his team car to abandon the race.
Illness had exacerbated his already fragile physical state, and, after lengthy talks with his team car, he finally decided to give up the ghost with 100km to go.
Earlier in the day he had been in fighting spirit, going out on the attack with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) on the first climb of the day in an attempt to bridge the gap from the peloton to the breakaway group, but was quickly reeled in by the bunch.
So what next for Contador? Rumours continue to persist that he’s on his way to Trek-Segafredo for next season, but before then a bid for overall victory at next month’s Vuelta a Espana looks likely.