x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Dan Martin hits the heights for Garmin at Tour de France

Chris Froome retains yellow jersey as challenging Pyrenees take their toll on the riders.

Dan Martin of Ireland leads the way for his Garmin-Sharp team during Stage 9. Doug Pensinger / Getty Images
Dan Martin of Ireland leads the way for his Garmin-Sharp team during Stage 9. Doug Pensinger / Getty Images

BAGNERES-DE-BIGORRE, France // Irishman Dan Martin beat Denmark's Jakob Fuglsang at the line to win Sunday's ninth stage of the Tour de France, and race favourite Chris Froome withstood early attacks to defend the yellow jersey on another hard day of climbing in the Pyrenees.

Garmin-Sharp rider Martin and Fuglsang were alone to contest the stage win, and Martin surged past with about 150 metres to go. It was the first Tour stage win for Martin, who is the nephew of 1987 Tour champion Stephen Roche and a cousin of fellow cyclist Nicolas Roche.

"I was confident in the final stretch because I know I have some speed," said Martin, 26. "I knew I had to be ahead in the last two corners and, when I saw that I was, I knew I could win."

Froome had launched a devastating attack in the final climb to win Saturday's Stage 8 and move nearly two minutes ahead of two-time Tour champion Alberto Contador in the overall standings and four minutes clear of 2010 champion Andy Schleck.

Froome preserved a comfortable lead over his rivals after the 168.5-kilometre trek from Saint-Girons to Bagneres-de-Bigorre in southwestern France took the peloton over four category 1 climbs. The Briton's closest challenger is Spaniard Alejandro Valverde, who is 1:25 behind in second place. Contador is sixth overall and trails by 1:51.

Colombian climber Nairo Quintana tried four attacks on the final climb but Froome responded to them easily.

But the fact there were none of his teammates around to help Froome will give the other teams encouragement that the seemingly unbeatable Sky team may have weaknesses. Perhaps tired from their efforts on Saturday, the other Sky riders fell back early on and Froome was left to fend for himself. He showed he could do this fairly easily, once again underlining his status as clear favourite.

Martin and Fuglsang broke free with around 35km remaining and were too far ahead to be caught on the long descent to the finish in southwestern France.

Tomorrow is a rest day, followed by a flat stage for sprinters on Tuesday. Froome will be among the favourites to win Wednesday's time trial on Stage 11.

With temperatures once again well above 30° Celsius, Froome found himself isolated on the day's first category 1 ascent up to Col de Mente. The 2011 Tour champion Cadel Evans fell 40 seconds behind the yellow jersey group.

A breakaway group featuring Ryder Hesjedal, Tom Danielson and Pierre Rolland forged ahead.

Froome's chasing group included Contador, flanked by his Saxo-Tinkoff teammates, while Quintana sat on Froome's wheel.

Once they got over Col de Mente, Valverde attacked on the descent and chased after the breakaway group, prompting Froome to go after him while, behind them, Evans was making up some ground.

The second tough climb was the day's longest – about 13km up the famed Col de Peyresourde – and a new breakaway took the initiative.

Hesjedal, last year's Giro d'Italia winner, and climbing specialist Rolland were still there, joined by Frenchman Romain Bardet and Belgians Bart De Clercq, Thomas de Gendt and Jan Bakelants.

They were about 40 seconds ahead of Froome's group at the top of Peyresourde. Quintana's Movistar teammates drove hard at the front of the 20-man yellow jersey group as they slugged their way toward the third climb in the blazing sun.

Australian Simon Clarke joined the leaders as the seven-man breakaway started to up the tempo and then broke away on his own up the Col de Val Louron-Azet – a 7.4km ascent with an 8.3 per cent gradient.

Clarke was 1:10 ahead of Froome's group when he completed it and sped down a sharp descent to the day's last climb – 10km at 7.5 per cent up La Hourquette d'Ancizan. Clarke was soon joined by Rolland, Bardet and De Clercq.

Froome, meanwhile, tucked in behind four Movistar riders – with Quintana riding his wheel – for the last few kilometres until the last climb.

By now, the 36-year-old Australian Evans had joined the 30-odd riders in the yellow jersey group, which included Schleck from Luxembourg.

The French president Francois Hollande was among spectators – protected from the heat in Tour director Christian Prudhomme's car.

There has hardly been a drop of rain so far on this year's race, which started from the island of Corsica, hopped over to Nice on the French Riviera and then snaked down to the southern coastal cities of Marseille and Montpellier.

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