John Degenkolb's Big Comeback on the Grueling Roubaix Cobbles
Written off as an overall race winner after a serious accident, John Degenkolb's comeback on the cobbles of Roubaix at the Tour is legendary
Today's Paris-Roubaix style stage was pure drama, carnage and anguish from start to finish. It was ridden with crashes that affected most of the GC riders apart from Greg Van Avermaet.
The start saw Omar Fraile (Astana), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Patrick Tolhoek (LottoNL-Jumbo), Jérôme Cousin and Damien Gaudin (Direct Energie) establish the breakaway.
In less than 10 kms of racing a huge crash in the nervous peloton saw Richie Porte abandon the Tour with a suspected fractured collarbone, the second consecutive year in a row he's exited the race. Jose Rojas from Movistar joined him also injured.
Tom Dumoulin had punctured but got back to the peloton quickly.
Chad Haga (Sunweb), Olivier Le Gac (Groupama-FDJ), Reinhardt Janse van Rensburg (Dimension), Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) and Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) went on to chase the leading five riders. They joined the leading group and the 10 man breakaway had a gap of 2'30'' over the peloton after just over 25km of racing.
After the first of 15 cobbled sections, Romain Bardet punctured and took a wheel from teammate Alexis Vuillermoz. More problems for Bardet and Pierre Latour and Silvan Dillier dropping behind to pace him back.
With 90 km to go, the nine leaders in the breakaway had a lead 3m 45s ahead of the peloton.
With around 80 km to go Dylan Groenewegen, winner of the last two stages, crashed, his forks on his bike snapped after crashing with Sunweb's Laurens ten Dam.
The crashes kept on coming, with 78 kms ot go Astana's Michael Valgren who fell earlier was seen at the the back of his jersey torn to shreds.
Egan Bernal crashed on a dusty dry corner, but got back up and away quickly. It was at this stage Team Sky moved up to the front of the peloton - to stay out of trouble.
A big a spill in the peloton saw plenty of riders down, including Jakob Fuglsang who was tangled up and delayed. Mark Cavendish was caught up too.
The crash saw the peloton split, with Adam Yates, Vincenzo Nibali and Rigoberto Uran all behind.
With 60 km to go Tejay van Garderen was off the back - the American started the stage third on GC, struggling, he was seen hitting the deck with Cobrelli and suffered a puncture.
Romain Bardet punctured again such was his bad luck. Bardet was a minute behind the Yellow jersey group and desperately fought to get back.
team Sky stayed at the front, however on sector eight Froome and Geraint Thomas crashed, send Van Avermaet of road and through a bush, managing to stay upright. The trio of downed Team Sky riders got back. Philippe Gilbert immediately attacked the yellow jersey group but Sagan, Valverde and Stuyven followed.
The chasing group also contained Dumoulin and Uran. Behind Bardet as fighting to back up, over a minute behind.
With 30 km to go the breakaway was whittled down to just Gaudin and Janse van Rensburg, with a 30 second lead.
Mikel Landa was the next casualty, hitting a pot hole. or a riders wheel in front of him - he landed badly. He got back on but was over a minute behind and started to chase.
Rigoberto Uran was next to crash, the GC contender took a spill and looks to have had an issue with his bike.
With 25 kms to go, a panic stricken Bardet and him teammates managed to get back up to the Yellow jersey group which contained all of the favorites apart from Landa and Uran. Nairo Quintana avoided any problems.
With 22kms to go, Stuyven attacked and caught the two man breakaway which was subsequently reeled in with 19 kms to go.
It was as this point the winning move was made, with Degenkolb, Van Avermaet and Lampaert attacking and opening up a gap. Behind Sagan was left to close the gap and so it increased as Sagan refused to do all the work. Valverde put in brief attack but was shut down by Sagan.
So with 8 km to go Degenkolb, Van Avermaet and Lampaert had a 45 second advantage and got to contest the finale.
Behind Gilbert, Sagan, Stuyven and Jungels attacked the remaning peloton, but had no chance of catching the three up front.
In the run in Degenkolb, the better sprinter of the three was on the front, waiting for Van Avermaet and Lampaert to sprint, as they did Degenkolb sprinted and managed to hold them off crossing the line to take the stage win, along time coming since his training accident a couple of years ago.
He dedicated his win to a former friend who passed away last winter. Degenkolb was overcome with emotion having suffered since his accident, w the press wrote him off as ever being a big contender.
"Pure happiness," answered Degenkolb when asked what was going through his mind when he had won. "I was chasing this victory for so long, and it's really hard to describe. It was a really hard fight the whole day. It's also a victory of the team. We really had a plan to stay out for the trouble all the time and it really worked out really well. It's unbelievable."
"In relation to what has happened in the last two years, this is pretty unbelievable. So many people said he's done, he's over, he will never come back. I am so happy to show all these guys who didn't believe me that I am still there, I am still alive. I think that's also what I took out of this accident: that you have to be happy after such a horrible crash that you are still alive, you're still there. I was fighting my way back, and I am so proud."
The accident, then injuries, sickness, and last year a family friend perishing, only motivated Degenkolb more. On Sunday he accomplished his most significant win of his career.
"This is a very big victory, since a very long time," continued an emotional Degenkolb. "I have been through a lot of things in the past, and it was such a hard time. I want to dedicate this victory to one of my best friends who passed away last winter. This was really something for him because I said no, I am not done. I have to make at least one really big victory him, he was like my second Father."
"It's so great now to be on the highest level again. There's no way to make it more dramatic, more fantastic, than winning a stage like today. It can't get better than this."
Greg Van Avermaet retained the Yellow Jersey ahead of the first rest day as the race heads into the Alps with three consecutive mountain stages starting Tuesday.
The big losers of the were Landa and Uran, Landa managing to hang onto 10th overall. Bardet fought back and was lucky not lose a huge chunk of time.
VIDEO: 2018 Tour de France Stage 9 Summary
2018 Tour de France Stage 9 Top 10
1 John Degenkolb (Ger) Trek-Segafredo 3:24:26
2 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team
3 Yves Lampaert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors
4 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors 0:00:19
5 Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
6 Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo
7 Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors
8 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal 0:00:27
9 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data
10 Timothy Dupont (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert
2018 Tour de France GC after Stage 9
1 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team 36:07:17
2 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky 0:00:43
3 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors 0:00:44
4 Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors 0:00:50
5 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:31
6 Rafal Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe 0:01:32
7 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team 0:01:33
8 Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky 0:01:42
9 Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott
10 Mikel Landa (Spa) Movistar Team