Martin battles to stage success
GERMAN rider Tony Martin broke ahead early and comfortably held on to win the hilly ninth stage of the Tour de France yesterday, while Frenchman Tony Gallopin took the yellow jersey from overnight leader Vincenzo Nibali of Italy.
The 29-year-old Martin, a three-time world time trial champion, broke away with specialist climber Italian Alessandro De Marchi.
"The objective was to win the stage. There was a chance to do it and I felt good, my legs felt good," he said. "I knew it would be one of my rare chances to win a stage."
The 105.4-mile stage from Gerardmer to Mulhouse - in the Vosges mountain range near the German border - featured six mostly moderate uphill treks that posed Martin little problem, even though he is not a reputed climber.
"When the stage started to climb I realized I was stronger and started to attack and then things went well," he said. "We're close to Germany and that was an extra incentive."
Gallopin, of the Lotto Belisol team, finished several minutes behind but did well enough to erase his deficit of more than three minutes to Nibali.
"It's with great pride that I will ride on the national holiday day (Bastille Day today) in the yellow jersey," the 26-year-old Gallopin said. "It's a little bit scary, but I will enjoy the day."
Gallopin leads Nibali by one minute, 34 seconds.
The last Frenchman to wear the yellow jersey was Thomas Voeckler in 2011. He also wore it in 2004 - the year disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong won the sixth of his seven Tour crowns, before later being stripped of all of his titles for doping.
Shortly before the day's most difficult climb - a Category 1 ascent up Le Markstein - Martin broke away about 37 miles from the end. Gallopin's chasing group was about two minutes behind them and Nibali more than six minutes adrift.
Martin was no threat to Nibali's yellow jersey, but the 26-year-old Gallopin was.
Nibali was losing more and more ground, and urged his Astana team-mates to step up the pace as they reached the last of climbs - a short, but sharp climb up Grand Ballon. But they had left themselves far too much to do.
Martin continued to surge ahead, with a favorable wind behind him making for a quick descent down to the finish for his third career stage win.
Ireland's Nicolas Roche came 117th on the stage, and drops from 34th to 38th overall.