Another day, another break that stuck: that makes four wins on the break this year as Pierrick Fedrigo (Bbox Bouyges Telecom) and Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) spent practically the whole stage off the front. Despite some hard work from the chasing pack that's the way it stayed until the finish on the streets of Tarbes, and it was Fedrigo who had enough left in the tank to take the win.
There was plenty of chopping and changing off the front during the early salvos of stage 9 but by the foot of the Col d'Aspin a leading group of four – Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), Pierrick Fedrigo (Bbox Bouyges Telecom) and Leonardo Duque (Cofidis) – had formed. Behind them a chasing group of Dessel (AG2R), Paulinho (Astana), Van den Broeck (Silence), Martinez and Txurruka (Euskaltel), Garate and Ten Dam (Rabobank), Pasamontes (Caisse d'Epargne) and Moncoutie (Cofidis) were on the road a couple of minutes in front of the yellow jersey group.
Duque couldn't quite handle the pace of the other three over the category 1 Aspin, and it was Pellizotti, best placed overall at 55th, a quarter of an hour back from Nocentini, that led over the top and down to Sainte Marie de Campan.
With 70km from the top of the Tourmalet, the last climb, to the finish in Tarbes, it never looked like a stage that would suit a big effort from one of the big names: there was just too much road for the riders to catch up again on the long run in. And so it proved: though the peloton was certainly in bits up to the 2115m col there was only one bit that really mattered, containing all the main names. It was a group big enough to suggest that the top riders weren't really putting the hammer down, and they lost a minute to the leaders on the climb as everyone sat in and conserved their strength. Pellizotti was the man on form: Fedrigo stayed with him but Voigt was dropped leaving two leaders to contest the climb.
Pellizotti and Fedrigo crested the Tourmalet together with nearly five minutes over the yellow jersey and set off on the descent. Garate and a number of others took points off Egoi Martinez, but the spaniard had done enough on the two climbs of the day to confirm himslef as the KoM leader out on the road.
For much of the stage it had seemed like the rest day had come early and not much changed on the descent, as the leading pair were the only two doing any real work. The chasing group sat up and were eventually swallowed by a faster-moving peloton and with 40km to go the advantage of the two leaders was just under four minutes which looked like it wouldn't be quite enough, even though Peillizotti and Fedrigo were working well together.
With Columbia HTC, Caisse d'Epargne and Rabobank taking turns on the front the lead narrowed to two and a half minutes but at at that point the lead stabilised as the two leaders buried themselves to stay in front. All the leaders in the GC were in evidence at the front of the peloton. Dennis Menchov, however, was on water carrying duties, perhaps acceptance from him and his team that his challenge for this year is over.
Caisse d'Epargne, who were doing 80% of the work in the main field, upped the pace again on the run in to Tarbes and the long, flat, wide roads didn't help the two escapees: even with a minute and a half advantage they were well in sight of the chasing peloton. With a minute's gap at 7km it was touch and go for Pellizotti and Fedrigo with the pack strung out behind them trying to reel them in. Andy Schleck was unfortunate to puncture 5km out but two team mates – including early escapee Jens Voigt – stopped with him to pace him back to the field.
Two kilometres from the finish the two leaders still had half a minute: another break was going to stick. Pellizotti went first but Fedrigo stuck with him through the last sharp right hander and had enough to come round the Italian to take another stage win for France. Oscar Freire led the main pack in to take third place ahead of Serguei Ivanov (Katusha) and Peter Velits (Milram).
What does all this mean for the overall standings? Well, not much. There were no changes at all in the GC with all the main protagonists finishing together. Thor Hushovd took a couple of cheeky points on today's stage to extend his lead over Cavendish to 11 points. Egoi Martinez overtakes Christophe Kern to wear the polka dot jersey.
1. FEDRIGO Pierrick BBOX BOUYGUES TELECOM 4h 05' 31"
2. PELLIZOTTI Franco LIQUIGAS 4h 05' 31" + 00' 00"
3. FREIRE Oscar RABOBANK 4h 06' 05" + 00' 34"
4. IVANOV Serguei TEAM KATUSHA 4h 06' 05" + 00' 34"
5. VELITS Peter TEAM MILRAM 4h 06' 05" + 00' 34"
6. ROJAS Jose Joaquin CAISSE D’EPARGNE 4h 06' 05" + 00' 34"
7. VAN AVERMAET Greg SILENCE - LOTTO 4h 06' 05" + 00' 34"
8. LEQUATRE Geoffroy AGRITUBEL 4h 06' 05" + 00' 34"
9. BALLAN Alessandro LAMPRE - N.G.C 4h 06' 05" + 00' 34"
10. ROCHE Nicolas AG2R-LA MONDIALE 4h 06' 05" + 00' 34"
Overall standings in General Classification
1) Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale) 30:18:16
2) Alberto Contador Velasco (Astana) 0:00:06
3) Lance Armstrong (Astana) 0:00:08
4) Levi Leipheimer (Astana) 0:00:39
5) Bradley Wiggins (Garmin - Slipstream) 0:00:46
6) Andreas Klöden (Astana) 0:00:54
7) Tony Martin (Team Columbia - HTC) 0:01:00
8) Christian Vande Velde (Garmin - Slipstream) 0:01:24
9) Andy Schleck (Team Saxo Bank_ 0:01:49
10) Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) 0:01:54
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