The peloton was already shattered out on the wet roads of southwest France. Less than 40 kilometers into stage 9 of the Tour de France, they were speeding towards the first major climb of the day in the Col de la Hourcère. On the lower slopes, 22-year-old Marc Hirschi (Team Sunweb) attacked solo and quickly built up a multi-minute gap over the group of mostly GC favorites. If it wasn’t for two certain Slovenians, Hirschi’s 90km solo breakaway would have been the story of the day.
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All the major heads of state showed their force at the front – Team Jumbo-Visma, Ineos Grenadiers, and Groupama-FDJ all put riders up the road in the opening hours of the stage, but only Hirschi was able to solidify a significant gap. The Swiss rider still held a three-minute advantage heading into the final climb of the day, the Col de Marie Blanque. On the 10-percent-plus slopes, it was hard to tell who was going well as everyone seemed to be crawling at 11kph. But soon, it was Tadej Pogačar (UAE–Team Emirates), Primož Roglič (Team Jumbo–Visma), Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), and Mikel Landa (Bahrain–McLaren) who managed to pull themselves clear.
After bombing the descent down into Laruns, Hirschi’s solo move came to an end with less than 2km to go. But he was still in with a shout as the five-some readied for the final sprint. Hirschi led out, but in the last hundred meters, Pogačar hit the front with a full head of steam and belted out with emotion as he crossed the line to win his first-ever Tour de France stage.
Given the stage profile and incoming rest day, the opening hour of stage 9 was anything but easy. Everyone knew that the breakaway could have a good chance of succeeding, and the entire race could end on Monday after the Tour de France bubble gets tested for COVID-19.
Pogačar averaged well over 4w/kg and nearly 47kph for the first 55km of the stage, as countless breakaway attempts were made in the chaos under the clouds.
Pogačar – KM0 to Col de la Hourcère:
Average Power: 281w (4.3w/kg)
Normalized Power: 322w (4.9w/kg)
Average Speed: 46.8kph (29.1mph)
Team Jumbo-Visma took control at the front of the peloton on the Col de la Hourcère, the first major climb of the day at 11.8km and an average of 8.3 percent. Despite the furious pace set by powerhouses like Robert Gesink (Team Jumbo-Visma) and Wout Van Aert (Team Jumbo-Visma), all the favorites remained as the stage approached its halfway point.
Pogačar – Col de la Hourcère:
Average Power: 394w (6w/kg)
Following the crest of the Col de la Soudet, Pogačar and the rest of the favorites enjoyed a long descent down into the valley, with more than 40 minutes to recover until the next climb of the day.
Pogačar – descent off the Col de la Soudet:
Average Power: 173w (2.6w/kg)
Average Speed: 49.8kph (30.9mph)
Max Speed: 91.7kph (57mph)
Next up was the Cat 3 Col d’Ichère – at 4.5km and only 6.1 percent, this would normally be a climb that half the sprinters could get over. But with the Col de Marie Blanque looming and the yellow jersey on the line, the leading group flew up the Col d’Ichère at over 24kph.
Pogačar – Col d’Ichère:
Average Power: 380w (5.8w/kg)
With less than 10km of respite before the steep slopes of the Marie Blanque, Team Jumbo-Visma continued to line it out, first with Gesink, then Van Aert, and then American Sepp Kuss who led onto the steepest slopes. While the Col de Marie Blanque begins gradually, at around 4km to go the gradient kicks up to a sustained 10-11 percent all the way to the summit. It was on these ultra-steep grades that Pogačar made his move, attacking at over 600w.
Pogačar – Col de Marie Blanque:
Average Power: 420w (6.4w/kg)
Peak 10min Power: 441w (6.7w/kg)
Peak 5min Power: 473w (7.2w/kg)
Roglič answered Pogačar’s first attack, as did Bernal and Landa. Maillot jaune Adam Yates began to drift back, along with Miguel Ángel López (Astana Pro Team) and surprisingly Nairo Quintana (Team Arkéa–Samsic) who had looked so strong following the attacks just 24 hours ago. Pogačar continued to punch well above 500w, and sustaining nearly 7w/kg as the leaders neared the summit. With five and three bonus seconds on offer at the KOM banner, Pogačar and Roglič sprinted to the top. In a heart-in-mouth moment of reflexive bike-handling skills, Pogačar overlapped wheels with Roglič while looking over his shoulder and nearly crashed straight into the polka dot barriers. The Slovenian duo continued on with a quick apology and pat on the back, and just that, we were back to racing.
Pogačar – attacking for bonus seconds on the Col de Marie Blanque:
Average Power: 851w (12.9w/kg)
Not to be outdone by Pogačar’s incredible bike-handling, Hirschi – who had been in a solo breakaway for over 80km now – actually extended his gap to the four GC favorites behind on the descent of the Col de Marie Blanque. Pogačar, Roglič, Bernal, and Landa pulled as hard as they could, trying to gain time on the GC rivals they had dropped on the climb, but Hirschi’s fearless supertuck and unique bike-computer-grabbing technique saw him holding a 30-second advantage through 8km to go.
Pogačar – final 20km of stage 9:
Average Power: 336w (5.1w/kg)
Normalized Power: 400w (6.1w/kg)
Average Speed: 54.6kph (33.9mph)
As strong as Hirschi was, he couldn’t quite hold off the chase group of four and was caught within sight of the 1km to go banner. Roglič pulled into the final few hundred meters where Hirschi opened up the sprint, Pogačar hopped on the Swiss rider’s wheel, and in a matter of moments, they were alongside. Pogačar came around Hirschi and had a clear lead with 50 meters to go. The 22-year-old Slovenian never looked back, crossing the line to win his first Tour de France stage, and showing the world for the second day in a row, that he may well be the strongest rider in this year’s Tour de France.
Pogačar – winning sprint:
Average Power: 1196w (18.3w/kg)
Pogačar – Tour de France stage 9:
Average Power: 301w (4.5w/kg)
Normalized Power: 351w (5.4w/kg)
Peak 5min Power: 473w (7.2w/kg)
Peak 20min Power: 429w (6.5w/kg)