“It’s the seventh time I’m riding the Tour de France and have been in a number of breakaways,” said Impey. “To finally nail it today is a dream come true. I really don’t have any words.”
The South African champion had been part of an early breakaway which split after a series of attacks in the final stages of the race, and ended up going clear with 15 kilometers remaining. The Mitchelton-Scott rider came around the Belgian in the final 100 meters to win his first Tour de France Stage. Jan Tratnik (Bahrain-Merida) was the first home from a small chase group to take third, 10 seconds behind.
16 minutes later, the peloton cruised across the line, with all the GC riders among them. After a sedate day all day, the bunch was briefly disrupted by an attack 15 kilometers from the line by local rider Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), with George Bennet (Jumbo-Visma) and Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) following. However, the threat was soon brought to control by Team Ineos and Deceuninck-Quick-Step, and from there, the bunch was content to roll in easy.
With no changes in the overall placings, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) retains his yellow jersey.
Though the 170.5-kilometer stage was less relentlessly up and down than Saturday’s stage 8, it was barely ever flat, and included three categorized climbs, with the last 4km ascent, the Cote de Saint-Just, peaking out with just 15km to go. From there, it was a descent to the line in Brioude – Romain Bardet’s birthplace.
It took a while for a breakaway to settle, during which time Alessandro De Marchi (CCC Team) crashed and was taken away in an ambulance, just a day after he joined Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) in the Belgian’s epic breakaway. He was later reported as fully conscious.
A 15-man breakaway eventually formed, with Ineos and Groupama-FDJ the only GC teams who failed to post a rider to the front. The group contained several strong riders and fast-finishers well-suited to the terrain, including Impey, Benoot, Tratnik, Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Oliver Naesen (AG2R-La Mondiale), and Ivan Garcia Cortina (Bahrain-Merida)
The group soon forged a 10-minute lead, which they still held with 50km to go. Deceuninck-Quick-Step did the majority of the work in the peloton, controlling the race for yellow jersey Alaphilippe. They looked relatively content to leave the breakaway to contest the stage win after a tough day of racing on Saturday.
Knowing they were safe from the peloton, riders began attacking each other, and on 45km to go, Lukas Postlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) the first to make a move stick, splitting the group in two with his acceleration. The Austrian gained 40 seconds as the break failed to unite in the chase.
It wasn’t until the approach to the final climb, the Cote de Saint-Just, that a unified chase group formed, with Impey, Stuyven, Naesen, Marc Soler (Movistar), Nicholas Roche (Sunweb), and the pair from Bahrain-Merida pegging Postlberger back.
Roche and Benoot sparked the decisive action on the climb, initially going clear before being joined by Tratnik. Impey was initially dropped on the ascent, but rode steadily as the leaders attacked each other, enabling him to gain contact over the summit.
Benoot, mindful of the sprint power of Impey and Roche, attacked several times on the final stretches toward the finish, and only Impey was able to stay with him. The pair went clear of Tratnik and Roche, and with 2km to go, had 17 seconds over the five-strong chase group.
Impey led the pair around the final bend with 50om to go, and Benoot launched his sprint first, allowing the vastly more experienced Impey to jump on his wheel and come around him for the win.
“I’ve been imagining that emotion on the finish line for a long time, so it’s fantastic to win at this level,” said Impey. “The last Tour de France stage victory for South Africa I think was Robbie Hunter in 2007. It’s been a long time between drinks – to win on Bastille Day, that’s fantastic. That’s a magic memory.”
Stage 10, Monday, is a stage likely to end in a bunch sprint, and so Alaphilippe may hold his yellow jersey until Tuesday’s rest day.
Results will be available once stage has completed.