Quick-Step Floors concludes the first week of the race with three stage wins, the green jersey and a rider in the top 10 overall.
Stage 9 of the Tour de France will always have a special place in collective memory, but not for the right reasons, such as a showdown between the yellow jersey contenders or a long-range attack, but for being one of the most brutal and unforgiving in the Grande Boucle history, with dozens of riders hitting the ground, be it on the descents or climbs, and no less than 12 of them being forced to wave goodbye to the race, after abandoning as an aftermath of the incidents or due to the time cut.
Dan Martin and Matteo Trentin were the Quick-Step Floors riders to go down, in separate moments of the race, but with important consequences at the end of the day which was affected by on and off rain. The Italian couldn't escape a crash that took to the tarmac Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe), Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) with more than 100 kilometers to go, and despite being able to continue and finish the stage in Chambéry after a brave effort, he had to leave the race, because he concluded the day outside the time limit.
"I was behind Thomas and when he crashed, I couldn't avoid it. I hit my right hip again and found it very difficult to pedal. Until the end of the stage, it was all about suffering, but I gave it my all. Unfortunately, I didn't arrive in time and it makes me very sad to leave the team", a battered and disappointed Matteo said at the finish of the stage which featured Czech Champion Zdenek Stybar in the breakaway.
The breathless stage was only 181.5 kilometers in length, but was packed with seven classified climbs, three of which were Hors Catégorie – Col de la Biche, Grand Colombier and Mont du Chat – for a total of 4700 meters of vertical gain. The three monster ascents led to countless selections, but despite the fierce tempo on the double-digit gradients and the subsequent attacks on the tricky descents, Dan Martin was at all times in control, keeping his composure even when he was briefly distanced on the day's final climb.
But in a turn of unfortunate events, disaster struck on the final downhill of the stage, when Richie Porte (BMC) lost control of the bike on a corner and crashed hard, taking Dan with him. The Irishman had to wait for a new wheel and once he received it from the neutral service he started chasing the yellow jersey group, but another crash dented his hopes of making the catch by the end of this utterly chaotic stage.
Despite this second blow, the 30-year-old didn't give up and after a getting a new bike from the Quick-Step Floors car, he joined a group that included Mikel Landa (Team Sky) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), which he drove at a furious pace on the flat section leading to Chambéry, and remarkably finished only 1:15 down on winner Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac), in ninth place, after riding his heart out and showcasing his trademark never-say-die attitude.
"I was lucky when Geraint crashed, because his bike touched my handlebars, but my luck ran out at the end and couldn't avoid Richie on the descent. It was slippery under the trees, he lost his back wheel on that corner, went on the grass and crashed hard. There was nowhere to go for me. It was a bummer to go down again because I couldn't break after getting a front wheel from the neutral service. On the plus side, I immediately joined a group and was soon flying over the descent. Gave everything there, rode with the other guys like it was a team time trial and tried to salvage as much as I could", explained Dan after his amazing all-out effort, which sees him go into the second week of the Tour de France in sixth overall.
It was an extremely tough and exhausting day also for the sprinters, but helped by his fantastic teammates, Marcel Kittel made it safely to the finish line and held onto the green jersey. The powerful German, who so far at this Tour de France has racked up three stage victories, has 52 points over the next rider in the classification.
Photo credit: © Tim De Waele