Thomas Voeckler is the new leader of the Tour de France after a day of huge drama in the . Luis Leon Sanchez of Rabobank won in St Flour, with fellow escapee Sandy Casar of FDJ third and the fourth placed Philippe Gilbert leading the main group home four minutes behind. On a brutal day, a number of riders suffered broken bones, including Astana's Alexandre Vinokourov, who crashed into a ravine and out of his final Tour de France, Omega Pharma-Lotto's Jurgen Van Den Broeck, and Garmin-Cervelo's David Zabriskie.
That wasn't the end of the drama. Team Sky's Juan Antonio Flecha, involved in a five man break, was sent flying by a France TV car but remounted, as did Johnny Hoogerland, catapulted into a barbed wire fence in the same incident, and unusually, both were given the day's combativity prize.
The crash that took out both Vinokourov and Van Den Broeck happened around 100 kilometres from the end of today's 208 kilometre stage from Issoire to St Flour on the descent of the Puy Mary, with riders’ speeds were reported to be reaching between 70 and 80 kilometres an hour.
Initial reports suggested that Vinokourov had been thrown over the barrier after clipping a straw bale put on the corner to help ensure the safety of riders on a corner, with patches of wet on the road surface, drying out after earlier rain, adding to the danger.
With memories still fresh of Wouter Weylandt’s death at the Giro d’Italia in May, there was obvious concern as helicopter pictures showed a number of Astana riders down in the trees at the side of the road.
When he emerged, supported by his team mates and staff, Vinokourov was conscious but unable to stand, and it was later confirmed that he had broken both his pelvis and his femur.
The 37-year-old Vinokourov was confirmed as having broken his femur and pelvis, and it could well be that the Kazakh, who has said he is moving into management with Astana next season, has ridden his last race.
Unlike Astana, the riders from Omega Pharma-Lotto, a team reportedly split byinternal divisions, did not appear to wait around to find out the fate of their two riders involved in the crash.
It was quickly clear from his body language that Van Den Broeck, fifth overall last year, had suffered a fracture, while Frederik Willems appeared to have suffered a similar injury and also abandoned.
The uncertainty in the peloton following that crash allowed a six-man breakaway group that had looked like being slowly reeled in to extend its lead over the peloton.
That group included four past stage winners – Team Sky’s Juan Antonio Flecha, Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler, Luis Leon Sanchez of Rabobank and FDJ’s Sandy Casar.
The highest placed of those on GC was Voeckler, author of a number of attacks in the closing kilometres of stages during the past week, all of them doomed to failure.
Just 1 minute 29 seconds down on Thor Hushovd at the start of today’s stage, as the breakaway built its lead he found himself virtual maillot jaune on the road.
The last time he rode his way into yellow was during the 2004 Tour, and the popular Frenchman may have taken it as a good omen today that his compatriot Casar had also been in the break that allowed him to take the overall lead seven years ago.
Also present were serial escapee Jonny Hoogerland, looking to get back into the mountains jersey he had lost yesterday to HTC-Highroad’s Tejay Van Garderen, and Quick Step’s Niki Terpstra.
At the head of the main group, a heated discussion was taking place between Fabian Cancellara and his Leopard Trek colleagues on one hand, and green jersey Philippe Gilbert and race leader Thor Hushovd on the other.
In Stage 2 of last year’s race, Cancellara, then in the yellow jersey, had led the peloton in neutralising the race after a number of riders fell on a slippery descent of the Col du Stockeu.
Among those who had crashed and benefited from that go-slow were his own team mates at Saxo Bank and now at Leopard Trek, the Schleck brothers, although Frank would be out of the race for good after breaking his collarbone in another chute on the Paris-Roubaix cobbles the following day.
What wasn’t immediately clear today was whether it was Hushovd and Gilbert or Leopard Trek that were trying to calm things down today, or whether the Luxembourg-based team was trying to take advantage of the chaos by cranking up the speed. No doubt we’ll find out in the post-stage press conference.
Terpstra had been dropped by the time the five remaining escapees were engulfed in what, even by the standards of this stage, was one of the day’s most shocking episodes, 35 kilometres from the finish.
On a narrow but straight stretch of road, a France TV car veered into Flecha’s path as it apparently sought to avoid a tree by the roadside, where braking seemed the safer – indeed, the only – option.
The Team Sky rider was thrown off his bike, which was then hit by Hoogerland. The Dutch rider was catapulted into a barbed wire fence, suffering bad cuts. Sanchez narrowly avoided also being caught up in the incident.
In its immediate aftermath he, Voeckler and Casar seemed unsure what to do, but as it swiftly became apparent that Flecha and Hoogerland were going to struggle to make it back, the trio rode off up the road, working well together to maintain their lead and contest the stage win.
Behind them, Gilbert rode out ahead of the peloton unopposed to pick up a further 11 points at the day’s intermediate sprint, 30 kilometres from the end, and was also the first of the chasing bunch to cross the finish line in Saint Flour.
With Van Den Broeck out of the race, Omega Pharma-Lotto are now certain to focus on the green jersey as their target for the race, and already it seems as though the world number one is beginning to build an unassailable lead.
Earlier in the stage, defending champion Alberto Contador once again found himself on the deck, with some suggesting on Twitter that video footage showed he had been given a shove by Katusha’s Vladimir Karpets, although to us the evidence apears inconclusive.
Other riders abandoning the race today included Euskaltel’s Amets Txurruka who suffered a broken collarbone in a crash early on, as well as Pavel Brutt of Katusha and Wouter Poels of Vacansoleil.
Last time Voeckler got yellow during the 2004 Tour, he managed to stay in the jersey for ten days. With the Pyrenees and Alps still to come, that's unlikely to happen this year, although the way the first week of the 98th edition of the Tour de France has gone, anything seems possible.
Tour de France Stage 9 Result 1 SANCHEZ Luis-Leon RABOBANK 5h 27' 09" 2 VOECKLER Thomas EUROPCAR + 00' 05" 3 CASAR Sandy FDJ + 00' 13" 4 GILBERT Philippe OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO + 03' 59" 5 VELITS Peter HTC - HIGHROAD 6 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING 7 SCHLECK Andy LEOPARD-TREK 8 MARTIN Tony HTC - HIGHROAD 9 SCHLECK Frank LEOPARD-TREK 10 CUNEGO Damiano LAMPRE - ISD 11 TAARAMAE Rein COFIDIS 12 CONTADOR Alberto SAXO BANK SUNGARD 13 DANIELSON Tom GARMIN - CERVELO 14 SANCHEZ Samuel EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI 15 PERAUD Jean-Christophe AG2R LA MONDIALE 16 DE WEERT Kevin QUICK STEP 17 ROCHE Nicolas AG2R LA MONDIALE + 04' 07" 18 LEIPHEIMER Levi RADIOSHACK 19 RUIJGH Rob VACANSOLEIL-DCM 20 JEANNESSON Arnold FDJ Tour de France Overall Standings after Stage 9 1 VOECKLER Thomas EUROPCAR 38h 35' 11" 2 SANCHEZ Luis-Leon RABOBANK + 01' 49" 3 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING + 02' 26" 4 SCHLECK Frank LEOPARD-TREK + 02' 29" 5 SCHLECK Andy LEOPARD-TREK + 02' 37" 6 MARTIN Tony HTC - HIGHROAD + 02' 38" 7 VELITS Peter HTC - HIGHROAD + 02' 38" 8 KLÖDEN Andréas RADIOSHACK + 02' 43" 9 GILBERT Philippe OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO + 02' 55" 10 FUGLSANG Jakob LEOPARD-TREK + 03' 08" 11 BASSO Ivan LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 03' 36" 12 CUNEGO Damiano LAMPRE - ISD + 03' 37" 13 ROCHE Nicolas AG2R LA MONDIALE + 03' 45" 14 DE WEERT Kevin QUICK STEP + 03' 47" 15 GESINK Robert RABOBANK + 04' 01" 16 CONTADOR Alberto SAXO BANK SUNGARD + 04' 07" 17 DANIELSON Tom GARMIN - CERVELO + 04' 22" 18 TAARAMAE Rein COFIDIS + 04' 52" 19 VANDE VELDE Christian GARMIN - CERVELO + 04' 53" 20 SANCHEZ Samuel EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 05' 01"
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.