BRIOUDE, France (AFP) – South African Daryl Impey won stage nine of the Tour de France last Sunday, leaving local fans to settle for Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe keeping hold of the yellow jersey on Bastille Day.
Mitchelton-Scott rider 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 pack eventually trailing in 16 minutes adrift.
Defending champion Geraint Thomas and the other overall title contenders finished together in a low-key ending after allowing the 14-man break to open up an uncatchable lead on the 170km run.
“That was a really tough race. I’m so happy to win on July 14,” said Impey.
The 2019 Tour Down Under winner and all-rounder won a Tour de France team time-trial back in 2013, and a few days later took the overall lead to become his nation’s first yellow jersey 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 said.
After a frantic day over seven mountains last Saturday, the stage embarked from the Saint-Etienne football stadium in a festive Bastille Day atmosphere with many fans shouting for local man Romain Bardet as well as Alaphilippe.
Bardet, who is over three minutes adrift, and Australian contender Richie Porte tried a cheeky breakaway on the approach to Brioude, but after a long hesitation Ineos and FDJ reeled them in and that was the end of the hostilities.
“This is a day I’ll never forget,” said the overall leader.
“All those people shouting my name, it really is something and my grandfather was there at the finish line, so it was really special,” added former soldier Alaphilippe, who came into the Tour with no title aspirations.
“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 stage-14 mountain with its lunar landscape.
The race finished in Bardet’s hometown of Brioude, where the title of the local newspaper La Montagne aptly describes the surrounding terrain.
The 7,000 locals and the great number of visitors were getting ready to celebrate Sunday night with a Boney M tribute band, while Michelin Guide three-star tourist attraction, the Basilique Saint-Julien, was plastered with a massive image of Bardet on its walls for the occasion.