Ben O'Connor blasted to a hard-earned stage win in awful conditions on stage nine of the Tour de France 2021.
The Ag2r-Citroën rider made it into the day's breakaway and dropped Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) to take the stage alone, while also pulling himself onto the podium in the general classification battle.
Mattia Cattaneo (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) battled to second place on the stage, followed by Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) in third.
Tadej Pogačar attacked the general classification group near the summit of the final climb, extending his lead by another 32 seconds over his nearest rivals for the yellow jersey.
How it happened
Stage nine of the Tour de France was the final days in the Alps and the last stage before the rest day, making it a pivotal moment in the race.
The stage covered just 144km but was a brutal mountain course, taking in five categorised climbs and finishing on the longest ascent of this year’s race.
Climbing started early with the Cöte de Domancy, followed shortly after by Col des Saisies before the key climbs of the day.
The major climbs started with the Col de Pré (12.5km at 7.9 per cent) which topped out 80km into the stage, and then the Cormet de Roselend (5.8km at 6.6 per cent) immediately after.
After the long descent from the Roselend, riders then faced the massive Montée de Tignes, which stretches to 20.8km long with 5.5 per cent.
Racing started with another tough battle to form a breakaway, with plenty of teams chasing the stage victory, and it took around 30km until a break began to take shape.
Eventually a huge group went clear with more than 40 riders making the cut, including Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic), Ben O’Connor, Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious), and Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck - Quick-Step).
Almost immediately after the group had formed Poels and Quintana attacked on the Col des Saisies, with Mike Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation), Sergio Higuita (EF Education-Nippo) and O’Connor setting off in pursuit.
Poels was able to win the KoM sprint at the top of Saisies to extend his lead in the mountain classification, followed closely by Quintana.
But the Colombian then dropped his companion on the descent, as Poels struggled in the torrential downpours.
Back in the bunch, UAE Team Emirates took up all the chasing work for their race leader Tadej Pogačar.
With 80km still to race, Quintana was then caught by a chasing group on the road to the Col du Pré, making it four riders at the front of the race with around seven minutes on the peloton, as it became clear the victory would come from the break.
That leading breakaway group consisted of Quintana, O’Connor, Woods, and a struggling Poels, who was eventually dropped under the pressure.
Quintana attacked near the summit of the Pré and led over the top, with O’Connor battling to stay in contact.
Over the Roselend Quintana was still leading, but O’Connor finally latched firmly onto the Arkéa rider on the descent towards the final climb as the leading duo firmly left behind the rest of the breakaway and the peloton, which was eight minutes behind.
Back in the bunch, UAE just continued to chase but did suffer a setback as Brandon McNulty lost concentration on the descent from the Roselend and crashed into the grass verge at the side of road.
Onto the final climb and Quintana cracked early, with O’Connor holding composure and comfortably riding on, eventually putting himself into the virtual yellow jersey with his effort, but with just eight seconds to spare he eventually slipping back slightly to second overall.
Quintana’s collapse was pretty complete, as he slipped more than three minutes behind O’Connor, teaming up with his compatriot Higuita but failing to dent the Australian’s advantage.
O’Connor continued to ride away from the rest of the field, finishing five minutes ahead of his nearest rival.
Cattaneo put in a fantastic late surge from the breakaway to finish second, with Colbrelli branching beyond his reputation as a sprinter to finish third on the mountain finish.
Back in the GC group, just as UAE lost their final support rider, leaving Pogačar isolated, Ineos took up the reigns in the bunch and began to set a tough pace for their leader Richard Carapaz.
That injection of pace dragged O’Connor out of the yellow jersey, as Jonathan Castroviejo and Geraint Thomas pulled the GC group towards the summit to put Pogačar under pressure.
But after an attack from Carapaz just over 3km from the summit of the final climb, Pogačar countered with a blistering acceleration and left his competition behind yet again, riding away and finishing sixth on the stage, 6-02 behind O’Connor but most importantly 32 seconds ahead of Carapaz and Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-Nippo).
Pogačar leads with 2-01 over O’Connor his fires up the standings into second, followed by Urán in third at 5-18.
Carapaz now sits fifth overall, 5-33 down.
After the rest day on Monday, the Tour de France continues on stage 10 with a lumpy 190km from Albertville to Valence.
Tour de France 2021, stage nine: Cluses to Tignes (144.9km)
1. Ben O'Connor (Aus) Ag2r Citroën Team, in 4-26-43
2. Mattia Cattaneo (Ita) Deceuninck-Quick-Step, at 5-07
3. Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain Victorious, at 5-34
4. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis, at 5-36
5. Franck Bonnamour (Fra) B&B Hotels p/b KTM, at 6-02
6. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at same time
7. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers, at 6-34
8. Jonas Vingegaard (Den) Jumbo-Visma
9. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar Team
10. Rigoberto Urán (Col) EF Education-Nippo, all at same time
General classification after stage nine
1. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, in 34-11-10
2. Ben O'Connor (Aus) Ag2r Citroën Team, at 2-01
3. Rigoberto Urán (Col) EF Education-Nippo, at 5-18
4. Jonas Vingegaard (Den) Jumbo-Visma, at 5-32
5. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers, at 5-33
6. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar Team, at 5-47
7. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 5-58
8. Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana-Premier Tech, at 6-12
9. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis, at 7-02
10. David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 7-22
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