MULHOUSE, France — German rider Tony Martin broke ahead early and comfortably held on to win the hilly ninth stage of the Tour de France on Sunday, while Frenchman Tony Gallopin took the yellow jersey from overnight leader Vincenzo Nibali of Italy.
The 29-year-old Martin, a three-time world time trial champion, broke away with specialist climber Alessandro De Marchi of Italy.
“The objective was to win the stage. There was a chance to do it and I felt good, my legs felt good,” he said. “I knew it would be one of my rare chances to win a stage.”
The 105.4-mile stage from Gerardmer to Mulhouse – in the Vosges mountain range near the German border – featured six mostly moderate uphill treks that posed Martin little problem, even though he is not a reputed climber.
“When the stage started to climb I realized I was stronger and started to attack and then things went well,” he said. “We’re close to Germany and that was an extra incentive.”
It was a good day for France with Gallopin set to defend the yellow jersey on Monday – Bastille Day – and for Germany, where most attention was on the national team’s World Cup final against Argentina in Brazil later on Sunday.
Martin plans to have his feet up in front of the television to follow the match.
“Of course I will watch it,” said Martin, who had a winning time of 4 hours, 10 minutes. “Let’s say Germany will win – that’s for sure. I’m a good omen. Let’s say 3-0.”
Gallopin, of the Lotto Belisol team, finished several minutes behind but did well enough to erase his deficit of more than three minutes to Nibali.
“It’s with great pride that I will ride on the national holiday day in the yellow jersey,” the 26-year-old Gallopin said. “It’s a little bit scary, but I will enjoy the day.”
Gallopin leads Nibali by 1 minute, 34 seconds.
The last Frenchman to wear the yellow jersey was Thomas Voeckler in 2011. He also wore it in 2004 – the year disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong won the sixth of his seven Tour crowns, before later being stripped of all of his titles for doping.
Shortly before the day’s most difficult climb – a Category 1 ascent up Le Markstein – Martin broke away about 37 miles from the end. Gallopin’s chasing group was about two minutes behind them and Nibali more than six minutes adrift.
Martin was no threat to Nibali’s yellow jersey, but the 26-year-old Gallopin was.
Nibali was losing more and more ground, and urged his Astana teammates to step up the pace as they reached the last of climbs – a short, but sharp climb up Grand Ballon. But they had left themselves far too much to do.
Martin, who narrowly beat Tour champion Chris Froome in last year’s time trial, continued to surge ahead, with a favorable wind behind him making for a quick descent down to the finish for his third career stage win.