This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
It was a day of Tony Awards on the Tour de France’s second day in the Vosges. Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) reprised a familiar role in a new setting to solo to victory in Mulhouse at the end of stage 9, while Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol) ensured that he will wear the yellow jersey on Bastille Day after finishing in the chasing group.
The main players in the fight for final overall victory, meanwhile, called something of a truce, with the Astana team of Vincenzo Nibali leading the peloton home 7:45 down on Martin and seemingly happy to concede yellow to Gallopin, at least temporarily.
Martin went clear in the company of Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) on the descent of the first climb, the Col de la Schlucht, and then dropped the Italian on the principal difficulty of the day, the category 1 Markstein, with some 59 kilometres remaining.
The German spent nearly 150 kilometres off the front all told, on an exacting day that featured no fewer than six categorised climbs, yet he still managed to ride at a startling average speed of 40.1kph and finish 2:45 clear of Gallopin’s sizable chasing group, which had closed to a little over a minute before his attack on the Markstein.
“I knew there were 28 guys around 30 seconds down and if they chased us down, it would have been hard because there would have been counter-attacks,” said Martin. “I didn’t want to play those silly games so I went full gas.”
Tony Gallopin had little time for such games, either. The Frenchman started the day 3:27 off the overall lead and sensed his opportunity when an attack from Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) on the Col du Wettstein saw the large chase group form 40 kilometres into the stage.
The 28-man group proved somewhat unwieldy and difficult to manage, but Gallopin had strongmen like Fabian Cancellara (Trek) and Tiago Machado (NetApp-Endura) on board, as well as an important ally of circumstance in Pierre Rolland. One of four Europcar riders in the group, Rolland was able to peg back five minutes on Nibali, Contador et al to move up to 8th place overall and breathe life back into his bid for a podium place.
Gallopin moved into the virtual overall lead with 70 kilometres remaining and to no discernible reaction from the yellow jersey group. When the cohesion in his group stalled on the long drop into Mulhouse, Gallopin moved to the front to force the pace, but in truth, there was little need. A brief probe from Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) apart, the overall contenders held fire and Astana seemed happy to concede the yellow jersey to Gallopin.
“It’s indescribable,” Gallopin said after donning the maillot jaune. “It was easier said than done to get into the break today, and I only just managed it. I’d thought about taking yellow for the past few days but I still didn’t think it was possible.”
It was a poignant day, too, for the Gallopin family, and in particular, Tony’s uncle Alain, a directeur sportif at Trek Factory Racing. He was the soigneur to the late Laurent Fignon when he claimed victory into Mulhouse in 1992 with a daring solo move not at all dissimilar to Tony Martin’s.
“It’s an emotional day for our family,” Alain Gallopin said. “I shed a few tears to think that Tony has taken yellow in Mulhouse, in the very place where Laurent won his last big race. It’s too much.”
Such a rolling parcours was always likely to favour an early break, and there was no shortage of willing attackers as the peloton hit the climb of the Col de la Schuchlt immediately on leaving Gérardmer. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) led over the summit, but his early forcing went otherwise unrewarded, and instead, it was Martin and De Marchi who slipped away on the descent.
The pair instantly struck up a solid working rapport, with Martin happy to give the mountains points to De Marchi, who claimed the polka dot jersey at the Critérium du Dauphiné last month. The Italian duly led over the Wettstein, the Côte des Cinq Chateaux and the Côte de Gueberschwir, before Martin opted for a unilateral review of their arrangement on the slopes of the Col de Markstein.
Martin’s rationale was sound. The 28-man chasing group that had formed under Joaquim Rodriguez’s impetus on the Wettstein had ebbed and flowed for over 60 kilometres, but was now beginning to find some cohesion thanks largely to Europcar’s forcing, as Cyril Gautier, Alexandre Pichot, Perrig Quémeneur and Kevin Reza all worked in Rolland’s service.
At the foot of the Markstein, the Gallopin and Rolland group trailed Martin and De Marchi by a little under two minutes, while the Astana-led peloton trailed at 6:25. Meanwhile, a large group of riders dropped on the first climb were already almost quarter of an hour back on the leaders.
“It was a tricky stage and it was really hard from the beginning,” Belkin’s Bauke Mollema said, explaining the relative détente among the general classification contenders in the finale, adding wryly: “You shouldn’t let a guy like Tony ride, because you don’t see him back.”
That certainly was the case for the Gallopin-led chasing group, who couldn’t match the German’s pace on the way up the Wettstein and Grand Ballon, let alone on the long drop that followed. Martin, of course, was cruelly denied victory at last year’s Vuelta a España in Caceres when his 175km solo break was swept up in the finishing straight, but in spite of – once again – Cancellara leading the chase in the finale, there was no chance of a repeat here.
With five kilometres remaining, Martin was already accepting the congratulations of his directeur sportif Davide Bramati from the team car, and he duly captured a maiden road stage win at the Tour to add to his time trial victories from 2011 and 2013. “Most of the time in time trials, I’m an early starter and I have to wait for confirmation that I’ve won, so there’s a big difference between winning the time trial and a stage like this,” Martin said. “The feeling in the last 5 kilometres was incredible. I was still putting out 400 or 500 watts because I didn’t feel pain anymore.”
Gallopin did not celebrate until he crossed the line safely in the chasing group, which had been led home by Cancellara and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), but he was led away towards the podium long before Nibali and the peloton had crossed the line. In the overall standings, Gallopin is 1:34 up on the Italian, while Machado moves up to third, at 2:40.
“Tomorrow is going to be huge,” Gallopin said of Monday’s summit finish at La Planche des Belles Filles. “It’ll be a very hard stage for me but a very proud day for me, too. And I’ve got nothing to lose.”