BAGNERES-DE-BIGORRE, France (AP) — Irishman Dan Martin beat Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang at the line to win Sunday’s ninth stage of the Tour de France, and race favorite 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 fight for the stage win, and Martin surged past with about 150 meters 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,” the 26-year-old Martin said. “I knew I had to be ahead in the last two corners and, when I saw that I was, I knew I could win.”
Martin praised the effort by Astana rider Fuglsang.
“I was very lucky to have Jakob with me because he was super strong and we shared the work,” Martin said. “We really wanted to destroy the race … Luckily I had the legs to finish the job.”
Froome had launched a devastating attack in the final climb to win Saturday’s eighth stage 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-kilometer (105-mile) 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.
Froome, Contador and Schleck rolled in 20 seconds behind Martin, whose win moved him up to eighth overall, 2:28 behind.
Colombian climber Nairo Quintana tried four attacks on the final climb but Froome responded to them.
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.
“That was one of the hardest days I’ve ever had on a bike,” Froome said. “I’m really happy with how I came through today.”
The British rider went straight to an anti-doping control after the race.
It is the first Tour since Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace after he was stripped of his seven Tour titles from 1999-2005 for serial doping.
Froome said after his win on Saturday that he was “100 percent” clean and was asked on French television after Sunday’s stage if he has ever taken a performance enhancing product.
“No,” Froome said. “I trained for many months to arrive here in this form.”
Martin and Fuglsang broke free with around 21 miles remaining and were too far ahead to be caught on the long descent to the finish in southwestern France.
Monday is a rest day, followed by a flat stage for sprinters on Tuesday. Froome will be among the favorites to win Wednesday’s time trial on stage 11.
With temperatures once again well above 90 degrees, 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 Alberto Contador, flanked by his Saxo-Tinkoff teammates, while Quintana sat behind Froome.
Once they got over Col de Mente, Valverde attacked on the descent and chased after the breakaway group, prompting Froome to go streak after him.
The second tough climb was the day’s longest — about 8 miles 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 chugged 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 4.5-mile ascent.
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 — 6 miles at 7.5 percent up La Hourquette d’Ancizan.
Froome, meanwhile, tucked in behind four Movistar riders — with Quintana riding his wheel — for the last few kilometers until the last climb, where the breakaway riders were caught up.
French President Francois Hollande was among spectators — protected from the heat in Tour director Christian Prudhomme’s car.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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