Stage 9 packed five demanding climbs which shook up the overall standings.
A profile like saw teeth, more than 3000 vertical meters, and a tricky 4km-long gravel roads sector – Sunday’s 94.4km leg in Andorra had plenty to offer; as if these ingredients weren’t enough, driving rain and hail summoned in the last hour by the mysterious and fantastic creatures populating the Pyrenean folklore flipped the stage on its head and turned it into a hard man’s race.
Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s James Knox responded present, surviving the peloton’s early tussle and chaos that ensued, climbing with a select group on the emblematic mountains of Andorra and putting in a brilliant ride, one of his most impressive of the season. On a dantesque day that took its toll on the bunch as few other races did this season, the 24-year-old Cumbrian showed consistency and huge determination and stayed with the best until the torturous Alto de Engolasters, where he lost contact.
In the last kilometers of the stage, Knox – a top 10 finisher this season at the UAE Tour and the Tour de Pologne – climbed at his own pace, overcoming the inclement weather and muddy dirt roads, and making sure he wouldn’t go into the red on the ferocious Alto els Cortals d’Encamp, a first-category climb topping out at 2095 meters. This brave effort vaulted him seven places in the general classification, which is due to suffer new changes in two days’ time, when an ITT is scheduled in Pau.
“It was a tough day. I felt awful at the start, a bit stiff from the crash I had the other day, but then on the second climb I was surprised to see there weren’t many guys left over the top and we were picking riders from the breakaway. I followed for as long as I could and gave it my best”, James explained at the team bus. “The accelerations of the top climbers were a bit too much and I lost ground, but I came back once or twice, but then I lost contact for good. It wasn’t fun with that conditions and it goes down easily as one of my toughest ever days on the bike. On the plus side, I’m happy with the legs and I’m hoping for more in the next two weeks.”
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