Stage nine photo gallery>>

Love him or hate him, nobody can deny that Riccardo Ricco (Saunier Duval) is the best climber in the Tour de France.

Like Mark Cavendish in the sprints, the young Italian has an extra gear and showed it with panache and style on Sunday by winning the first mountain stage in the Pyrenees to Bagneres-de-Bigorre.

Ricco was expected to save his strength for Monday?s mountain top finish to Hautacam but instead went on the attack on the Col d?Aspin and was the only one laughing at the finish after the 224km stage. He sent loyal team mate Leonardo Piepoli on the attack mid-way up the 12km climb and went across to him, but when they were pulled back, Ricco caught his breath and then went again with a strong acceleration.

He jumped passed other attackers, swept past the remains of the early break and then powered past lone leader Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner). He was more than a minute clear of the bunch over the top and even extended his lead on the descent as the peloton gave up the chase.

Ricco finished 1-04 clear of Vladimir Efimkin (Ag2r) with the front group of chasers at 1-17. Kim Kirchen (Columbia) finished with all the other overall contenders and so kept the yellow jersey. Cadel Evans crashed heavily on a descent but was not seriously hurt and is still second at six seconds, with Christian Vande Velde (Garmin) moving up to an impressive third at 44 seconds.

RICCO: “I SURPRISED EVEN MYSELF TODAY”
“This is for my girlfriend Vania because when I won the other stage and didn’t dedicate to her she got up set,” Ricco said, always ready with a quick response to any question.

“I surprised even myself today but it’s a great to win again. I have thank my team; Piepoli did a good job and then when I noticed that everybody was near their limit I went for it. I didn?t think I?d gain so much and hold on to it because the descent was very fast.?

David Millar was dropped over the top of the Col d’Aspin and finished 55th, 4-34 behind Ricco. He slipped from seventh overall to 25th at 4-31. Chris Froome (Barloworld) had a dig early on the Col d’Aspin and finished 51st, 1-57 behind Ricco.

Mark Cavendish was dropped early on the Col de Peyresourde along with many of the other sprinters but finished the stage inside the time limit, 28-11 behind Ricco. He is now 151st overall at 1-12-09.

As expected the stage did not change the overall battle for the Tour de France. That is expected to happen on Monday at Hautacam after the 156km tenth stage.

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: STAGE 9 RESULTS
1. Riccardo Ricco (Ita) Saunier Duval 224km in 5h 39m 28secs

2. Vladimir Efimkin (Rus) AG2R La Mondiale at 1m 3secs03
3. Cyril Dessel (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale at 1m 17secs
4. Dmitriy Fofonov (Kaz) Crédit Agricole
5. Christian Knees (Ger) Team Milram
6. Maxime Monfort (Bel) Cofidis
7. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
8. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas
9. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre
10. Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Silence all same time.
British
51. Chris Froome (GB) Barloworld at 1m 57secs
55. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Chipotle at 4m 34secs
150. Mark Cavendish (GB) Columbia at 28m 11secs

GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE 9
1. Kim Kirchen (Lux) Columbia

2. Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto 6secs
3. Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin 44secs
4. Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner 56secs
5. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 1-03
6. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 1-12
7. Stijn Devolder (Bel) Quick Step 1-21
8. Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
9. Samuel Sánchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 1-27
10. Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC-Saxo Bank 1-34
British
25. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Chipotle at 4m 31secs
84. Chris Froome (GB) Barloworld at 38m 7secs
151. Mark Cavendish (GB) Columbia at 1h 12m 9secs

POINTS COMPETITION
1. Kim Kirchen (Lux) Columbia

KING OF THE MOUNTAINS COMPETITION
1. David De La Fuente (Spa) Saunier Duval

YOUNG RIDER COMPETITION
1. Andy Schleck (Lux) CSC-Saxo Bank

Tour de France 2008Kim Kirchen: still in yellow

Tour de France 2008Aleksandr Kuschynski, Sebastian Lang and Nicolas Jalabert on the day’s big break

Tour de France 2008Sebastian Lang pulled away on his own from the break and put in a great ride

Tour de France 2008Cadel Evans took a spill and his team worked hard to take him back up to the bunch – not great news for the overall contender

Tour de France 2008It wouldn’t be the Tour without a sunflower photo

Tour de France 2008David Millar slipped out of the overall top ten today, now he’s aiming for stage wins

Tour de France 2008Euskaltel-Euskadi showed themselves today in their Pyrenean home

Tour de France 2008Caisse d’Epargne also worked hard to get team leader Alejandro Valverde into the stage top ten

Photos by Graham Watson

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: STAGE REPORTS

Stage eight: Cavendish wins again in Toulouse
Stage seven: Sanchez takes action-packed stage
Stage six: Ricco storms to win
Stage five: Cavendish takes first Tour win
Stage four: Schumacher wins TT and takes race lead
Stage three: Dumoulin wins stage from break
Stage two: Hushovd wins chaotic sprint
Stage one: Valverde wins

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: NEWS

Cavendish talks about his second stage win [stage eight]
Beltran heads home but doubts remain about other Tour riders
David Millar: the dope controls are working
Manuel Neltran tests positive for EPO at the Tour
Comment: How the Tour rediscovered its spirit
Doping back in Tour de France headlines
Millar: close but no cigar in Super-Besse [stage six]
Super-Besse shows form of main contenders [stage six]
Millar to go for yellow [stage six]
Team Columbia’s reaction to Cavendish’s win [stage five]
Cavendish talks about his Tour stage win
Tour comment: Why Evans should be happy [stage four]
Millar: Still aiming for Tour yellow jersey [stage 4]
Who is Romain Feillu?
Cavendish disappointed with stage two result
Millar too close to Tour yellow jersey
Stage 2 preview: A sprint finish for Cavendish?
Millar happy after gains precious seconds in Plumelec
Valverde delighted with opening Tour stage win
Comment: Is Valverde’s win a good thing for the Tour?

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: PHOTOS

Stage eight
Stage seven
Stage six
Stage five
Stage four
Stage three
Stage two
Stage one

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: BLOGS

Life at the Tour part three
Life at the Tour part two
Life at the Tour part one

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: GUIDE

Tour de France 2008 homepage>>
News and features>>
All the riders (start list, list of abandons)>>
Day by day summary>>
Route & stages>>
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About the Tour>>