South African Daryl Impey on Sunday won stage nine of the Tour de France, leaving local fans to settle for Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe keeping hold of the maillot jaune on Bastille Day.
Impey, wearing his national champion jersey, was part of a mass breakaway that quickly opened a 10-minute gap and extended it throughout the race with the peloton eventually trailing in 16 minutes after Impey had beaten Belgian Tiesj Benoot to the line.
Defending champion Geraint Thomas and the other overall title contenders finished together in a low-key finale to the 170km rolling run.
“That was a really tough race. I’m so happy to win on July 14,” said a broadly smiling Impey, who crossed the line with both arms aloft, releasing a huge victory cry.
The 2019 Tour Down Under champion and all-rounder won a Tour de France team time trial in 2013 and a few days later took the overall lead to become his nation’s first maillot jaune holder.
“This is my greatest ever victory, just as good as wearing the yellow jersey, nothing can top this,” he said. “It was a tough, solid day.”
Impey is a teammate of the British Yates twins, with Adam angling for the overall title this year.
“There’s no way I was getting involved in a breakaway today, but I expected a select bunch sprint,” team leader Adam Yates said.
After a frantic day over seven mountains on Saturday, the stage embarked from Saint-Etienne’s soccer stadium in a festive Bastille Day atmosphere, with many fans shouting for local man Romain Bardet as well as Alaphilippe.
Bardet and Australian contender Richie Porte tried a cheeky breakaway on the approach to the town of Brioude, but after brief deliberation Team Ineos and FDJ upped the tempo and reeled them in.
“Obviously, we had to be aware of [Bardet’s attack],” Thomas said after the race. “He’s quite far down on GC [general classification: 3 minutes, 20 seconds], but Bennett and Richie Porte were there. All three of them you don’t want to give them any time back if you don’t have to.”
Alaphilippe was also relieved.
“This is a day I’ll never forget,” he said.
“All those people shouting my name, it really is something, and my grandfather was there at the finish line, so it was really special,” the former soldier added. “The toughest is still to come, even if it’s been hard so far. I’m not dreaming of a Tour win, I’m dreaming of keeping the yellow jersey as long as I can. I think I can limit the damage on the [stage 13] time trial. Not win, but hold my own.”
“But if it turns into a mass brawl between the big guys on the Tourmalet I think I might really suffer,” he said of the fearsome Pyreneean mountain scheduled for stage 14.
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