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9 July 2017 - 17:07

Crashes headline epic stage nine

"It is secondary to say what is hurting me the most; simply the legs have not been as I would have liked and that's all."

It's the Tour de France and every year there's at least one epic stage to grab headlines. 

Sunday's stage nine may have claimed that rank, at least thus far, for this year's race.

While Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Richie Porte (BMC) endured the worst of numerous crashes during the 181-kilometer race, landing in the hospital and ending their Tours, Alberto Contador also found himself on the tarmac twice. 

It's not how Trek-Segafredo envisioned the day when they set out to ride arguably the hardest stage of this year's Tour; with a 'take no prisoners' plan, they threw everything they had into the race.

Sending both Jarlinson Pantano and Bauke Mollema into the day's breakaway gave the team more cards to play, but when Contador crashed on a descent, and then later again on an uphill, the tables – at least the team's GC ambitions –  began to turn.  

Although Contador was not seriously hurt and managed his way back into the rivals group both times, his optimism took a blow. When later his legs did not respond as he had hoped for in today's important race, his morale plunged.

On the last climb, Contador struggled, and he was unable to hold the pace of the rivals group. By the finish, he arrived with an extremely fatigued Mollema – who had given a valiant effort in the breakaway and again in the finale for Contador – and lost over four minutes and dropped out of the top 10 GC. 

"Today has not been a good day," said Contador, perhaps the biggest understatement of the day. "Majka fell right in front of me, and I could not avoid him. At that moment, I felt a little powerless, but I tried to recover until Nairo (Quintana) hooked with my bike and I was again thrown to the ground. Although, that in the end, was not as bad. 

The truth is that I awoke well this morning, and was starting the stage with very good sensations.

"In fact, we went into the break with Bauke and Jarlinson thinking about a possible attack, since yesterday I was restraining myself not to attack, but in the end, it turned out the opposite. 

"It is secondary to say what is hurting me the most; simply the legs have not been as I would have liked and that's all. Mollema was a great help today. Now we have to think first of all about where I stand, and then, based on that, rethink the race."

While Contador was not having good luck behind, Mollema was granted the green light to continue riding hard out front; meanwhile, the hors catégorie climbs and descents were taking a severe toll. 

"It was a very tough day, the climbs were very steep," explained Mollema. "I went away right from the first attack, and I had to keep going full gas until the end to work for Alberto. We only had two minutes at the bottom of the last climb, so then you know it will be hard to race for the stage victory, so I just rode my own tempo, but all in hoping that I could survive the climb and do my work for Alberto afterward. 

"I am happy I could go over the top of the last climb with him and that we could work together well on that last part to the finish. I tried to help him on the climb and descent and flat part to the finish, but it was very tough. I suffered a lot. 

"Honestly the descents today were too much. The roads were very bumpy, with very tricky corners. The weather made it more dangerous as well: semi-wet roads with some showers. But even on dry roads, you are asking for crashes on these roads."

Contador fell hard in his first crash, suffering injuries to his left elbow and left knee. He also suffered abrasions on his left wrist and chest, as well as taking a blow to his right calf by his big chainring. Contador was treated on the bus by the team's physician and could take the flight to the rest day hotel with his teammates.

"It was not the day we hoped for at all," summed up an emotional director Steven de Jongh. "Up to now we stayed out of trouble, out of crashes, and today already we had two crashes in the first part of the stage with John (Degenkolb) and Alberto. So we were not very lucky.

"First Majka crashed in front of Alberto, and he falls at 70km/h, he comes back, and then Quintana falls into him. So yeah, it was two times for Alberto – pure bad luck. Alberto's morale is not high right now, but okay, tomorrow we will look at the stages where we can still do something, and we will make a plan for the rest of the Tour.

"Knowing Alberto, we will still chase GC, and we will find a day where maybe it's possible to do a surprise. But tomorrow we will think about this, and make a plan." 


Tour de France

Chris Froome
Team Sky
Rigoberto Uran
Romain Bardet
AG2R La Mondiale