Nine stages, eight different winners, and enough action on today’s stage to keep us going for the rest of the season and into the next. What a treat stage 9 of the Tour de France was, and while I’m more than mildly concerned about how to even BEGIN to summarise what happened, I’m also delighted to be able to do so as it means that something actually HAPPENED. Well, EVERYTHING happened.

Yes, it’s been a 0-60 kind of Tour de France so far, where half the stages have been at 0 and the other half at 60 and there really hasn’t been much in between. Thankfully, the sprint stages, while producing little in the way of mid-stage action (not really what they're known for, let's be fair), have given us some worthy, history-making winners, and the other stages – well, they’ve been mostly French. Bardet, Vauquelin and now Anthony Turgis have done it for the home nation, for the smaller teams, and the other two stages were won by the top two riders on GC – all in all, a pretty nice balance for the first week of a Grand Tour. Shall we at least make the effort to summarise the day? OK fine. Here goes…

The day began 199km ago, in what feels like another decade, that’s how much action transpired. The breakaway started out as a five-man group – which included Israel-Premier Tech’s Derek Gee (that’s important). You could feel the desperation of Lotto-Dstny’s Arnaud de Lie to be a part of the action, as he tried and tried again to be a part of the move that would finally get away – it really would have been his kind of stage too, but attacks came and went and the pace was frenetic, and his efforts proved too much, too soon, in the end.

The GC teams hid themselves away and let it play out with bigger things on their minds, only coming to the fore when it was time to position their leaders ahead of the day’s first gravel challenge. As the chemins blanc began, the visual elements of the race came into play, with the white dust kicking up in the wake of the camera motos and creating a cloud around the riders, and the spectacle was only heightened by the steep gradients and narrows turnings into the entrance of the first couple of sectors which caused a still sizeable bunch to grind to a halt further down the ranks as the abrupt change in pace had a ripple effect and some riders were forced to dismount and run on one of the sectors. The words 'chaos' and 'carnage' were thrown around and while it was chaotic at times, a more accurate word to describe yesterday's action was relentless. Pure, relentless ebb and flow of action and reaction. A frenetic, dusty dance of man, machine and circumstance, in a truly unique arena. It was bloody brilliant.

By the time we’d had a couple of sectors a new break had formed, some of which would go all the way to the finish, and some of which would fall by the wayside, and with Tom Pidcock and Ben Healy chasing across, there was a sense that this had enough talent within it see a stage winner, well, depending on how the GC group played it.

Speaking of the GC group, they had a rollercoaster day of powering into position for the gravel sectors and backing off again in between so the gaps were reeled in only to stretch back out, as the narrative of Tadej Pogačar’s UAE Team going all out versus Visma-Lease A Bike working on positioning and defence was set up as the main antagonism of the day. There was a young Belgian who didn’t want to the day to be all about those two teams, though.

When Remco Evenepoel attacked on an uphill gravel section with 80km still to go, it had less ‘race-winning move’ about it than simply ‘look what I can do!’ And truly, it was a joy to see him spread his wings on a surface which in the past has haunted him, and just give it a fair crack of the whip. Of course, Tadej Pogačar has never been one to turn down an invitation to race, particular on a surface he loves, so he tracked down the Belgian’s attack, dutifully followed by Jonas Vingegaard, who had to keep tabs on these boisterous kids. He refused to work with the pair which caused Evenepoel some annoyance, though Pogačar has been here before with Vingegaard and was more pragmatic, choosing to try again later on in the stage – at which point he was marked out by Matteo Jorgenson, a huge turn from the American dragging Jonas back to the race leader and nullifying his attempts once again.

Anyone accusing Jonas of being boring by not joining in the attackity fun with the yellow and white jerseys are missing the bigger picture. There’s little need for Jonas to expend unnecessary energy, on a surface that suits Pogačar more, to go ahead and isolate himself from his far more gravel-savvy teammates who had his back all day, simply for the potential gain of putting extra time into Roglič, who with the best will in the world, looks as if he will probably struggle head-to-head with Jonas anyway, once the race moves onto the Dane’s favoured terrain, the high mountains. Defence was absolutely the best form of attack for Visma today, and the team played a blinder, all pulling their weight and with Wout van Aert reprising his role of zombie king (I'm dead, oh wait, no I'm not) and reanimating to give more of himself for his leader despite not being at his own personal best. Let’s not forget, Jonas spent a large proportion of the day on the bike of his teammate Jan Tratnik, avoiding the bike-swap slapstick drama of the 2022 cobbled stage in the process – he wasn’t even on his own machine. GC-wise that’s all there was to say, as Roglič and Evenepoel made it through unscathed despite having very little team support and everything stayed exactly as it was in terms of time and position. (A quick note on Aleksandr Vlasov whose nasty crash was one of only two down sides of the day, his team's lack of concussion checks being the other).

As for the race for the stage, it was anything but resolved. With a dangerous chase group that included world champion Mathieu van der Poel – in his white skinsuit – beginning to make in-roads into the gap that separated them from the leaders, looking at one another and playing cat and mouse could have been the group’s undoing, so they began to attack one another instead. It was Lidl-Trek's Jasper Stuyven’s late attack which stuck for a while, and the Belgian chocolatier, who hadn’t won a race since Milano-Sanremo 2021, was pulling all the pain faces as he drove on in search of glory. But Derek Gee - yes, he was still there, and had been part of every successful move all day - and Ben Healy took turns to eat away at Stuyven’s advantage and they caught and passed him just under the flamme rouge. From there it was a straight up drag race between a bunch of guys who aren’t really sprinters, and though Alex Aranburu would probably have been favoured for having the fastest legs, it was Anthony Turgis of TotalEnergies who overturned Tom Pidcock and Derek Gee - who came third despite his sustained efforts - to take the win.

Another French win, another underdog win – the first in seven years for TotalEnergies, and a continuation of the fairytale for the home supporters. I could say ten times as much about this stage but I’ll save my energy – like Jonas, I’m in defence mode, as I too have to get through three whole weeks of this!

FEATURE: In defence of gravel: why mixed surface racing belongs in a Grand Tour

Richard Plugge and Patrick Lefevre don’t like gravel. The team bosses of Visma-Lease A Bike and Soudal-QuickStep also aren’t fans of cobbles. In fact you could say they are prejudiced against any road surface that isn’t tarmac. And while they are not alone in their criticism of the inclusion of such stages in Grand Tour racing, they were very much on the losing side of the debate today, as we witnessed what I would argue is the outstanding day of racing so far this season. Were there incidents that perhaps would have been avoided if the riders had been on tarmac all day? Well, yes. Did any of them impact the GC race in any meaningful way? Not in the slightest, in the end. Was that purely good fortune, or because the teams prepared adequately ahead of time and executed their plans on the day? Probably a bit of both. But I still maintain that they have a place in a Grand Tour, and here's why.

No, no-one wants a race decided because of a puncture, but I no longer think that the weight of that argument stands up against the reasons ‘FOR’ the inclusion of such stages as part of a Grand Tour. Roads are not created equal, and just as there are narrow ones and wide ones, hilly ones and flat ones, there are some that are covered in gravel, and some that comprise cobblestones, and when both of these exist in plentiful supply in the country in which the race takes place, and are part of the fabric of the pro racing scene in that country (hello Paris-Roubaix, Paris-Tours, Tro Bro Leon and plenty more) then it stands to reason that a tour of said country should include a variety of those roads, assuming they are deemed safe enough to be ridden on by a peloton on road bikes.

Of course, seeing someone’s race decided by a puncture on a rough road surface becomes statistically a more likely outcome when you include these stages, but by that token you could argue that they shouldn’t race through towns because road furniture creates hazards. Eliminating risk is vital when it creates real danger for riders but to eliminate it simply in an effort to avoid unnecessary time losses seems counterintuitive and a bit cynical. Surely the whole point of winning an overall classification at a Grand Tour includes managing risk? Effectively utilising team members on every type of parcours, and balancing out the skills within your team to make sure that you cover all those bases. Just as mountains and time trials are a part of a Grand Tour, I would argue that successfully managing the environmental conditions be they weather, urban landscapes or road surfaces is also a big part of the path to victory - if it wasn't then it wouldn't be a team sport at all, but simply every man for himself.

And at the end of the day, to grow what is let’s face it, still a niche sport by comparison to most of the other sports popularly broadcast globally, we need an audience. And what greater draw for an audience than a stage like today’s? The way it looked, the way it was raced, the unpredictability and excitement, and the lack of crashes on the whole (Vlasov excepted) – this kind of stage has to be safer than a flat sprint stage that lurches at breakneck speed through small towns with traffic calming measures around every turn? And in terms of entertainment, it’s almost guaranteed. Here’s Daniel Lloyd on this point:

If I were the race organiser I’d lean even more heavily into this type of stage and ensure that there would be at least one ‘mixed surface’ stage per Grand Tour as a minimum – teams will covet a victory on this kind of stage, different types of rider will get to show their mettle, and you’re almost guaranteed to be talking about it long into the next long, soporific transition stage. Simply put: vive les chemins blanc!

Compiled and designed by Anna McEwen

Stage 10: Orléans - Saint-Amand-Montrond

About tomorrow...

1-1-1 Things of the Tour de France

by Mathieu Fraisse

one food, one fact and one local rider, for every place on edition 111 of Le Tour

1 food: Cotignac d'Orléans 

It's basically a hardened jelly made from quince. That's it, that's the recipe. Quite simple but it has been depicted in French literature many times.

Famous French poets and writers such as Olivier de Serres or Honoré de Balzac have been referring to this Orléans' delight in their works.

To taste it you have two options: break the jelly in small parts or lick it straight from the box, up to you!

1 rider: Julian Alaphilippe 

It's not everyday a Tour de France stage finish is located in a two-time world champion's hometown!

Julian Alaphilippe was born in Saint-Amand-Montrond in 1992 but only lived here until he was six, moving a bit further south after that to near Montlucon where he began his cycling career. The start of a pretty decent career to say the least.

Julian is missed by everyone on this Tour de France judging by his recent form and the shape of this Tour's first week but fair play to QuickStep for not making him a Remco domestique and taming the beast!

1 fact: Orléans by bike

Each year, in mid-May, Orléans holds a bike tour of the town called the Vélotour. 

During this visit you can bike inside the town's most famous sights: Orléans’ theatre, bishop’s gardens or the fire station to name a few.

Since 2008, more and more cycling lovers have gathered to visit the town. This year there were more than 5000 bikers all around the city!

In the end, it’s pretty logical that a town who loves cycling so much became a Tour de France start city.


Stage profile from official Tour website

Look, it's been a long day, and we're all in need of a rest day, and I mean, look at it?! It's going to be a sprint all day long, all year long, unless somehow some crosswinds materialise and blow the race apart. So over to the team for their predictions.

WBR team Predictions:

Peter - Rest day has happened so riders should be reasonably fresh and it shouldn’t affect many riders with regards to GC - and seeing as this is the Wish Fulfilment Tour (TM), I’d like to see Bryan Coquard get a long hoped-for stage win

Sam - Jasper will come second

Mathieu - Arnaud de Lie

Anna - A small break forms and is kept within reaching distance by the sprinters teams, and a bunch sprint looks inevitable.

But a heard of wild goats storm the road, slowing the peloton and Guillaume Martin gets a monumental victory for Cofidis, snatching a victory with just seconds to spare.

Or something close to that.

Stine: Jonas Abrahamsen in the breakaway until he realises that there are no KOM points. He continues just for the hell of it

Before you go...

Rest day riddles

by Sam Mould

A couple of puzzles to keep you busy on a day with no racing action... First up some anagrams, and then a face-melting conundrum to decipher.

Thank you for coming along on this mad ride with us for the first nine stages of this year's Tour de France. Enjoy a well-earned rest tomorrow and then we'll see you back here on Tuesday for more of the same. Deal? Deal!

Bon soir, mes amis.

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