By Julien Pretot
BRIOUDE, France (Reuters) – South African Daryl Impey added an individual stage win to his Tour de France happy memories when he prevailed at the end of a long breakaway from St Etienne on Sunday.
The Mitchelton Scott rider, who wore the race’s yellow jersey for a couple of days in 2013, beat Belgian Tiesj Benoot in a two-man sprint after the duo went clear from the day’s breakaway.
Slovenia’s Jan Tratnik took third place, 10 seconds behind as France’s Julian Alaphilippe retained the overall lead after 170.5 kilometers, with the top guns enjoying an easy day on a bumpy stage nine.
“Pretty much, for me, from a Tour de France perspective, a stage win was something really missing. I made quite a few breakaways in the past few years and finally, today, I got the win on Bastille Day. It’s fantastic,” Impey told reporters.
“It’s a dream come true. It’s so difficult to win at this level. I kind of marked this stage. I was kind of lucky to find the right move. We worked all well together.
“I’m glad the legs were there at the end to beat Tiesj Benoot. I haven’t been emotional like that for a long time.”
Frenchman Romain Bardet, a two-time podium finisher who has already lost considerable ground in the general classification, attacked on the Cote de St Just (3.6km at 7.2%), 13km from the finish.
He was followed by Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk and Australian Richie Porte but the trio were easily reined in by defending champion Geraint Thomas’s Ineos team.
Following a hectic finale in Saturday’s eighth stage which saw Frenchman Thibaut Pinot gain almost half a minute on Thomas and the defending champion take a tumble, there were no fireworks on Bastille Day.
A 15-man breakaway, featuring former Tour individual stage winners Tony Martin and Edvald Boasson Hagen, opened a gap of more than 10 minutes but none were a threat to Alaphilippe’s overall lead.
Italian Alessandro De Marchi was taken to a hospital with facial injuries after a nasty crash, his CCC team said.
The three-time Vuelta a Espana stage winner crashed after eight kilometers and was first attended to by the race’s medical staff as he lay face down.
At the front, Benoot and Impey emerged as the strongest men at top of the Cote de St Just and the South African, who snatched the yellow jersey in Nice six years ago when his team won the time trial, was the fastest to the line.
Impey, the first African rider to wear the yellow jersey, is the first South African to win a Tour de France stage since Robbie Hunter 12 years ago.
The main bunch crossed more than 16 minutes later.
Monday’s 10th stage is a 217.5-km ride from St Flour to Albi, where the race will enjoy its first rest day on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Christian Radnedge and Clare Fallon)