©BORA-hansgrohe / Stiehl Photography

Today’s stage had been earmarked as one of the hardest of this year’s edition of the Tour de France, but few could imagine just how much of an impact it would have. Rafał Majka had his eye on improving his standings in the GC race, and Pawel Poljanski had joined the day’s break in order to provide him with support in the finale, but a crash put an end to his chances on the day. Not the only rider to crash, the day would see some of the other GC contenders withdraw from the race. BORA-hansgrohe’s Emanuel Buchmann stepped up to fight in the GC race, but in spite of a brave effort, the German rider was tired from his time in the break on yesterday’s stage, finishing the day down on his rivals.

Few riders were going to be looking forward to today’s stage. A profile with just one Hors Catégorie climb is going to be hard enough, but stage 9 saw riders tackle three such climbs alongside four other categorised climbs, making a total of seven. Climbing from the start, the toughest of the day was the day’s final climb – the Mont du Chat – climbing for 8.7km at an average gradient of 10.3%. The fourth category climb that came before this looked like a mound in comparison. For the GC riders, this would be their chance to really make an impact; for everyone else, it was going to be a matter of digging deep and dreaming of the first rest day tomorrow.

After a few kilometres a break formed. Today, the GC contenders would be looking to place riders in the breakaway as a strategic move with the possibility of bridging across to them later in the day, and this was the case for Pawel Poljanksi, who would be riding for Rafał Majka, who joined this large group. Around 50km in, the race would start climbing the Col de la Biche, which quickly led into the Grand Colombier – two Hors Catégorie climbs back to back, but on the descent of the Col de la Biche, Rafał crashed on the damp, newly-resurfaced roads. It was a hard crash, and while the Polish rider got back on his bike to re-join the race, it was clear that he was in pain. Emanuel Buchmann stopped to help his team captain, but knowing he still had a chance in the GC race, Rafa waved him on.

The remainder of the day was hard going for everyone. The climbs were difficult, but the descents were also treacherous – particularly on the Mont du Chat, where one of the GC contenders, BMC’s Porte, was taken out of the race after an awful crash. The aim today would be just to get through safely to race another day. At the foot of the Mont du Chat, a small group of GC rivals fought it out amongst themselves on the flat run in to the finish, as it was just a matter of waiting to see how the time gaps developed and the condition of the riders as they crossed the line.

Coming into the finish in 24th position and 7:13 after the stage winner, Emanuel Buchman looked back on a difficult day, physically and mentally. “I wasn’t in my best form today. I was feeling tired and I think my effort yesterday took its tool. After Rafa crashed, I stopped by his side and waited to see what we would do for the rest of the race. Once I got back on my bike, the GC group had already built a considerable gap ahead, so I spent a lot of energy working my way back up to them. I was able to reach them from the bottom of the Grand Colombier, but at the Mont du Chat I felt I wouldn’t be able to keep with them and rode at my own pace. That resulted in a loss of time on the GC contenders and I’m now about nine minutes in arrears. With my GC chances over, I will now try in the big mountain stages when a big group goes away.”

BORA-hansgrohe’s Head Sports Director, Enrico Poitschke, would be considering the team’s options as more information about Rafał became available. “It seems that this is definitely not our Tour de France as we suffered another day of bad luck. Unfortunately, Rafa crashed on the descent of the Col de la Biche on the wet and slippery road. After Rafa’s crash, Emanuel Buchmann was our rider that would try his GC chances, but this didn’t play out as we would have liked. We still have to see how Rafa feels and how much he was affected by the crash before taking any decisions on our plan for the rest of the Tour.”

Rafa will undergo further medical examinations at the hospital and the team will take a decision after making an assessment of his condition.

It’s a well-deserved rest day tomorrow after today’s draining stage. While the team will be working hard to recover, they’ll be pleased to see a fairly flat stage is waiting for them on Tuesday. The 178km route has two categorised climbs, but these fourth category hills will be easy compared to today.