MULHOUSE, France – German rider Tony Martin showed he has climbing skills to go with his speed by easily winning the hilly ninth stage of the Tour de France on Sunday, while Frenchman Tony Gallopin took the yellow jersey from Vincenzo Nibali of Italy.
The 29-year-old German, a three-time world time trial champion, broke away with specialist climber Alessandro De Marchi of Italy and eventually won by nearly three minutes.
“The objective was to win the stage. There was a chance to do it and I felt good, my legs felt good,” Martin said. “I knew it would be one of my rare chances to win a stage.”
The 105.4-mile trek from Gerardmer to Mulhouse – in the mid-sized 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.”
Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara was second and Belgian rider Greg Van Avermaet was third – both 2 minutes, 45 seconds adrift in the chasing pack.
It was a good day for France with Gallopin set to defend the yellow jersey Monday – Bastille Day – and for Germany, set to play football’s showpiece World Cup final against Argentina later.
Martin, who clocked a winning time of 4 hours, 10 minutes, predicted another convincing German win.
“Let’s say Germany will win – that’s for sure,” he said. “I’m a good omen. Let’s say 3-0.”
Gallopin, of the Lotto Belisol team, saw things differently.
“There are two Germans on our team, we’ve made bets,” he said. “I’m betting on Argentina, because Germany knocked us (France) out (in the quarterfinals).”
Gallopin did enough to erase his deficit of more than three minutes to Nibali and leads him by 1:34.
Portuguese rider Tiago Machado is in third place overall, 4:08 back. But, like Gallopin, he is not considered a Tour contender.
“It’s with great pride that I will ride on the national holiday day in the yellow jersey,” the 26-year-old Gallopin said. “It’s a little bit scary, but I will enjoy the day.”
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 seven Tour wins, before later being stripped of all of his titles for doping.
“It was always a dream of wearing the yellow jersey. But there’s a difference between dreams and reality,” Gallopin said. “I think I’ll have trouble sleeping, but I will have to rest properly to be ready for the battle tomorrow.”
Two-time champion Alberto Contador finished safely in the main pack along with Nibali – both were nearly eight minutes adrift of Martin – and is 4:08 back down in ninth place overall.
They will resume their contest in the toughest stage so far – Monday’s 100-mile trek from Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles which features three step Category 1 climbs – before a rest day Tuesday.
“We’ll have to decide whether or not we try to attack or ride defensively,” Contador said. “It was a tough day.”
The Tour has paid tribute to those who died in the First World War – 1914-18 – by riding along the battlefields where millions died.
Sunday’s route took the peloton past the historical landmark where the Bataille du Linge was held in 1915 as some 17,000 French and German soldiers fell in three months of ferocious fighting. Le Linge is a mountainous pass full of groves and thickets, and this helped mask lethal sections of barbed wire protecting tight German defensive lines.
Shortly before the day’s most difficult climb – a Category 1 ascent of 6.7 miles up Le Markstein – Martin broke away and Gallopin’s chasing group was about two minutes behind him and Nibali more than six minutes adrift.
Martin was no threat to Nibali’s yellow jersey, but Gallopin was.
Nibali was losing more and more ground, and urged his Astana teammates 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, who narrowly beat Tour champion Chris Froome in last year’s time trial, continued to surge ahead, with a favorable wind behind him making for a quick descent down to the finish.