Colombia?s Juan Mauricio Soler (Barloworld) stole the spotlight from the big names in the Tour de France in Briancon, attacking on the legendary Galibier climb and winning alone in Briancon. The 24 year-old gave Barloworld their first stage win in the Tour with an aggressive ride and joined the growing number of young riders showing their talent in this year?s Tour de France.
Behind Soler, the battle for the yellow jersey also exploded on the steep slopes of the second half of the Galibier. Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d?Epargne) blew the lead group apart with four strong attacks and left Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) behind. Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) and most of the other joined Valverde, including Andreas Kloden of Astana but Vino was in serious trouble and it was clear Kloden is now the new protected leader in what has been dubbed ‘Team Borat’.
Discovery Channel?s Yaroslav Popovych and Vladimir Gusev had attacked in a clever early tactical move but were passed by Soler and swept up by the leaders on the long descent to Briancon and Valverde sprinted to take second place on the stage, 38 seconds behind Soler. Rasmussen was just behind and kept the yellow jersey but Valverde made it clear he is now the big over all favourite by moving up to second place at 2-35. Fellow Spaniard Iban Mayo (Saunier Duval) is third overall at 2-39, with Cadel Evans (Predictor) fourth at 2-41. Alberto Contador, also of Discovery Channel, took the white jersey after a strong ride. He was fourth on the uphill dash to the line and is now fifth overall at 3-08.
Vino finished the stage 3-24 behind Soler and 2-46 behind Valverde. He is now 21st overall, a massive 8-05 behind Rasmussen and 5-30 behind Valverde. All the other Tour contenders also have at least four minutes advantage on Vino and his tears at the finish seemed to confirm that he now has almost no chance of winning the Tour de France this year.
?It was very difficult on the Telegraphe and I managed to stay with the leaders but I was hurting all over in the Galibier. The team helped me a lot but finishing two minutes behind the yellow jersey means it was another terrible day,? he said before breaking into tears.
Charly Wegelius (Liquigas) finished the tough stage to Briancon in 41st place at 6-44 despite being stung by a bee and admitting he felt like he had fallen out of a plane when he crashed on stage eight. Fellow Brits David Millar (Saunier Duval), Bradley Wiggins (Cofidis) and Geraint Thomas (Barloworld) were all part of the large gruppetto that finished at 28-51. Millar was 144th, with Wiggins and Thomas in 163rd and 164th place. With the Alps behind them they can now either lick their wounds and recover on the flat stages across the south of France or join the attacks in the attempt to win a stage.
TOUR DE FRANCE: STAGE NINE RESULTS
1 Mauricio Soler (Col) Barloworld 159.5km in 4.14.24
2 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 0.38
3 Cadel Evans (Aus) Predictor same time
4 Alberto Contador (Spa) Discovery Channel 0.40
5 Iban Mayo (Spa) Saunier Duval 0.42
6 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank
7 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Discovery Channel both s.t
8 Kim Kirchen (Lux) T-Mobile Team 0.46
9 Andreas Kloden (Ger) Astana
10 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC both s.t
41 Charly Wegelius (GBr) Liquigas 6.44
144 David Millar (GBr) Saunier Duval 28.51
163 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Cofidis
164 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Barloworld both s.t
OVERALL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE NINE
1 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank
2 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 2.35
3 Iban Mayo (Spa) Saunier Duval 2.39
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) Predictor ? Lotto 2.41
5 Alberto Contador (Spa) Discovery Channel 3.08
6 Christophe Moreau (Fra) AG2r Prévoyance 3.18
7 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC 3.39
8 Andreas Kloden (Ger) Astana 3.50
9 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Discovery Channel 3.53
10 Kim Kirchen (Lux) T-Mobile Team 5.06
75 Charles Wegelius (GBr) Liquigas 56.45
99 David Millar (GBr) Saunier Duval 1.10.07
152 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Cofidis 1.34.23
160 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Barloworld 1.37.31
Mauricio Soler on his way to a stage win. Photo: Luc Claessen