Primož Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) moved into the overall lead of the Tour de France 2020 after finishing second on stage nine behind Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).
The pair were part of a quartet, along with Mikel Landa (Bahrain-McLaren) and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), to go clear from the other GC contenders on the final climb of the Col de Marie Blanque, which they summited around 18km from the finish. Only Marc Hirschi (Sunweb), who had been out front for almost 90km, remained in front of them with less than 20 seconds in hand.
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That group eventually caught the lone leader with just under 2km to go, with Hirschi able to regroup to try and contest the final sprint for the line. He sat on the rear of the four GC contenders, who would try and get to the line first for bonus seconds as well as the stage victory, eventually launching his sprint inside 200m to go.
The Swiss went toe-to-toe with Roglič initially, but it was Pogačar who came from behind and was able to hold his speed as Hirschi began to fade.
In the end Pogačar was able to celebrate across the line as Roglič claimed second, with Hirschi having to take a consolatory third place for all his effort on the final day in the Pyrenees.
Yellow jersey Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) was dropped on the final climb of the Col de Marie Blanque and eventually finished just under a minute behind, dropping to eighth place overall at 1-02. Roglič now leads the race by 21 seconds over Egan Bernal in second.
How it happened
Stage seven of the 2020 Tour de France saw the riders face the second consecutive day in the Pyrenees, with five categorised climbs to take on over the 153km route from Pau to Laruns, including two category one ascents.
Unlike Saturday’s stage eight, there was less willingness to allow a large break up the road to take the stage victory, with the first 60km dominated by constant attacking as groups tried to form and slip away.
Eventually, after a frantic start, a group of Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe), Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic), Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates), Sébastien Reichenbach (Groupama-FDJ) escaped along with Marc Hirschi, who then took off on his own with 89km to go. David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), Daniel Martínez (EF Pro Cycling) and Jonathan Castroviejo (Ineos Grenadiers) were able to bridge from the peloton up to the second group, who only had a very narrow advantage.
Hirschi though pushed on up the first category one climb of the Col de la Hourcère, with the peloton behind already extremely small as struggling riders were shelled out the back of the bunch.
The breakaway group of riders behind Hirschi chased on but couldn’t stop the 22-year-old extending out the advantage, with the Jumbo-Visma led peloton only 20 seconds behind the second group.
Hirschi gradually eked that gap out to over four minutes, with a lot of riders able to return to the peloton as the race navigated the valley roads between climbs with just over 50km to go. That pace also saw the chasers brought back to peloton, with Hirschi the only breakaway rider remaining. He crested the category four Col d’Ichère with 4-10 in hand, but looked to be beginning to tire.
Through the next valley road to the foot of the brutal Col de Marie Blanque, Hirschi’s gap had dropped to 3-30 as Jumbo-Visma continued to press on at the front of the peloton.
Halfway through the 7km climb his advantage had dropped to around 2-30, while behind the peloton began to rapidly shrink as riders once again struggled to hold the pace. The final 3km of the Marie Blanque is by far the hardest however, pitching to over 10 per cent average to the top. With Hirschi struggling and the GC contenders beginning to accelerate, the gap was starting to slide significantly.
Further down the climb, Tadej Pogačar was the first GC contender to make a move, attacking with just under 3km to top of the climb, and 21km to go to the finish. That move and the pursuit by Tom Dumoulin for Primoz Roglič saw Adam Yates dropped, with only Mikel Landa and Egan Bernal able to immediately follow Roglič up to Pogačar’s wheel.
Hirschi’s gap had now come down to under a minute to the Roglič group with a 1km to go to the summit, with Pogačar continuing to try and push the pace up the climb, struggling to shake any of his rivals.
Hirschi was able to crest the climb by himself, but his marginal gap was cut down to 16 seconds even further as Pogačar and Roglič pushed over the summit to get the remaining time bonuses.
Yates meanwhile trailed by around 50 seconds to Roglič, with the yellow jersey looking like it was slipping from his grasp
Still, it was onwards for Hirschi, who pushed on down the descent in a vain hope of staying away from Pogačar, Roglič, Bernal, and Landa. He even managed to extend his gap back to 20 seconds with 10km to go thanks to some impressive descending.
By the time he hit the flat road towards the finish with 7km remaining, his gap had extended again to 27 seconds, but the effort was clearly taking its toll. With under 4km to go, the group behind could see him up the road and it looked like his day was almost done.
The chasers eventually caught up with Hirschi inside the final 2km, with the Sunweb man latching onto the back of the quartet as they powered on.
Roglič led them into the final few hundred metres, with Hirschi launching his final sprint from the rear of the group with just under 200m to go. Roglič responded on the left of the road, but it was a flying Pogačar who came from behind Hirschi on the right side of the road to beat everyone to the line and claim his maiden Tour de France stage win.
The 2020 Tour takes its first rest day on Monday, with the riders then face a 168.5km flat stage from Île d’Oléron to Île de Ré on Tuesday’s stage 10.
Tour de France 2020, stage nine: Pau to Laruns (153km)
1. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, in 3-55-17
2. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma
3. Marc Hirschi (Sui) Sunweb
4. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos Grenadiers
5. Mikel Landa (Esp) Bahrain-McLaren, all at same time
6. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo, at 11s
7. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis
8. Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale
9. Richie Porte (Aus) Trek-Segafredo
10. Rigoberto Urán (Col) EF Pro Cycling, all at same time
15. Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 54 seconds
General classification after stage nine
1. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, in 38-40-01
2. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at 21 seconds
3. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis, at 28 seconds
4. Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale, at 30 seconds
5. Nairo Quintana (Col) Arkéa-Samsic, at 32 seconds
6. Rigoberto Urán (Col) EF Pro Cycling, at same time
7. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at 44 seconds
8. Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 1-02
9. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana, at 1-15
10. Mikel Landa (Esp) Bahrain-McLaren, at 1-42