On what could be a monumental day for German sport with the World Cup Final tonight,Tony Martin of Omega Pharma-Quick Step has won Stage 9 of the Tour de France in Mulhouse. The Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider dropped fellow escapee Alessandro De Marchi of Cannondale with nearly 60 kilometres from the finish and using his descending and time trialling skills to take a stunning solo win. Meanwhile, Lotto-Belisol’s Tony Gallopin, a member of a big chasing group, has become the new race leader as Vincenzo Nibali’s Astana team decided to cede it to someone who will not be a threat in the high mountains of the Alps and Pyrenees.
On Stage 6 of last year’s Vuelta, Martin was caught in the final metres after attacking alone from the start of the 175km route, but there was no bringing him back today as he maintained the margin he had held coming over the last climb down the 18 kilometre descent and then the three time world time trial champion used his strength in that discipline to tackle a similar distance on flatter terrain to the finish.
For his efforts, Martin not only got Omega Pharma-Quick Step's second stage win of the Tour, but also leads the mountain classification by one point and took the day's combativity prize.
Fabian Cancellara of Trek Factory Racing led a chasing group over the line from BMC’s Greg van Avermaet some 2 minutes 45 behind Martin, with Gallopin bringing up the rear, congratulated by compatriot Pierre Rollando of Europcar as he rolled over the line.
The main group, including Nibali, rolled over more than 5 minutes later and with Bastille Day tomorrow, Gallopin becomes the first Frenchman since Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler in 2011 to wear the race leader’s yellow jersey.
Six categorised climbs punctuated the profile of today’s 170 kilometre stage from Gérardmer, the last but one of them the first Category 1 ascent of this year’s race, Le Markstein.
Martin and Cannondale’s Alessandro De Marchi had managed to get away from the peloton on the first climb, but with 59 kilometres remaining, the former upped his cadence and pulled away from the Italian.
By then, rain was falling on the peloton, and the Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider crested the last categorised climb, the Grand Ballon, with 43 kilometres left, nearly 3 minutes ahead of his closest pursuers.
Ahead of the summit, De Marchi caught by a chasing group that had originally comprised 28 riders and was now about 20-strong, including Cancellara, Rolland and Katusha’s Joaquin Rodriguez.
The latter is well out of contention for the overall and today making his aspirations for the rest of the race clear by sprinting for mountains points.
The best-placed rider on the General Classification was Gallopin, who started 3 minutes 27 seconds down on Nibali.
That gave Astana, who have worked hard for Nibali over the past week after he took the yellow jersey in Sheffield, the opportunity to pass it on to someone who won’t be a rival come the end of the race, and with it the responsibility to defend the jersey.
With The Kazakh team left alone today to set the pace at the front of the main group, they crossed the summit of the Grand Ballon five minutes behind the group containing Gallopin and let the margin remain out there, happy to let the race lead go, at least temporarily.
Ahead of Tuesday’s rest day, tomorrow’s Stage 10 sees the final day in the Vosges, with a summit finish at La Planche des Belles Filles.
On the race’s only previous visit in 2012, Chris Froome won his maiden Tour stage and Sir Bradley Wiggins took the yellow jersey that he would keep all the way to Paris on a day when Team Sky set a tempo on the climb that made it impossible for rivals to attack.
Whether a depleted squad, missing not just Froome but Xavier Zandio, can do the same for Richie Porte tomorrow is open to question, with Nibali’s Astana and especially Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo looking stronger at the moment.
As for the small matter of that football match in Rio de Janeiro tonight, the last time Germany faced Argentina in a World Cup Final, one of the country's riders - Olaf Ludwig - won a stage of the Tour de France, and the national team went on to win the football match in Rome.
Tony Martin on his first Tour road stage victory
It's not better to win this way than a time trial but it's special. I already tried to do it at the Tour de France but I only came second at the Mont Ventoux [in 2009]. The difference between winning a time trial and a normal stage like today is that I had more time to enjoy it today.
With three minutes' lead, I knew I had the race in my hand. It was an incredible feeling. In time trials, I often have to wait for a long time to know if I had won or not. The Tour de France organisers had scheduled only one time trial this year, so I invented a second one.
We all knew that a breakaway could work today. When we were together with Alessandro De Marchi, I told him he could take the mountain points. Then I was aware that 28 guys were thirty seconds behind us. I decided that it didn't matter what would happen, I'd better go full gas. I knew there would be a point at which they would give up.
50 or 60km of time trialling wasn't going to be a problem for me. I never had a lack of power. It was hard to ride solo but I never got out of my comfort zone. I have an excellent condition now. I'm really proud of what I achieved.
We were close to the German border and I could hear so many German fans shouting my name on the road sides. It's been a great day. It's amazing that after only nine stages, five have been won by Germans but there are two more weeks to go and I hope for the best to come for German cycling.
It's also going really well for our team. We've lost Mark Cavendish on day 1 but we never lost the morale. We've always remained active in the race and showed how strong we are as a team.
New race leader, Tony Gallopin
I've made it! I was thinking about taking the yellow jersey since the cobbled stage, nevertheless, what I feel is indescribable. When I was a kid, I couldn't dream of taking the yellow jersey because I was getting dropped at all the races I took part in. Today, I knew there might be an opportunity, so I didn't want to miss the breakaway.
I jumped in all the attacks. It has lasted for forty kilometres but I made it. Then I've had to fight all the way to make sure that the gap was big enough. I haven't wanted to believe it was going to happen until I crossed the line.
Tomorrow I'll ride in yellow on the occasion of France's national day. It's unbelievable. It's more than formidable. But it won't be the easiest stage for defending the lead. Favourites will undergo their first real big test and I only have one and half minute lead. I'll do all I can to keep the jersey. I'd love to have it for more than one day.
Astana team manager Alexandre Vinokourov
We saw that Gallopin was in that group but we were not going to kill our team to keep the jersey. The most important thing was to save energy for tomorrow's stage.
Tomorrow will be another great finale between Vincenzo and Alberto at La Planche des Belles Filles. This yellow jersey was a present for France.
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.