Blazin' Saddles

Tour de Farce: A Tale of Two Tonys

Blazin' Saddles

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Embittered about the absence of an individual time trial until the penultimate day of the race, Tony Martin simply organised his own unofficial race against the clock on Sunday as he soloed to a magnificent win and secured the polka dot jersey in the process.

Yes, one day after French fans witnessed their first win of the Tour as Blel Kadri also took the lead in the king of the mountains competition, Big Tone snatched the famous red spots off Kadri's slender shoulders - and did so at Mulhouse, a stone's throw away from the German border.

But one jersey lost was another gained after Martin's namesake, Tony Gallopin, came home in a chasing group more than five minutes ahead of the peloton to rise unexpectedly into the race lead and snatch Vincenzo Nibali's maillot jaune - making stage nine very much a Tale of Two Tonys.

In one corner, there's the least German-sounding German, Tony Martin, a man whose cycling pain face is pretty much consistent over virtually every type of terrain he gobbles up.

In the other, the sly and unassuming Frenchman Tony Gallopin, a raw talent from a cycling dynasty whose previous inclusion in the old RadioShack team was often seen as a bit of favouritism from the team's DS Alain Gallopin, Tony's uncle.

Well, Alain - currently DS at Trek - was close to tears on Sunday after seeing his nephew secure the yellow jersey on the eve of Bastille Day, France's biggest national holiday (and the reason why the peloton are racing on Monday as opposed to taking their first rest day).

Gallopin's parents were also there - as was his girlfriend Marion, a former French national champion who rides for Lotto-Belisol's women's team (and is carrying out a consultancy role at Eurosport and an ambassadorial role for Mavic during the Tour).

'Two Tonys', incidentally, is the title of the first episode of season five of the Sopranos in which mafia boss Tony Soprano (played by the late James Gandolfini) is reunited with his cousin Tony Blundetto (Steve Buscemi). One Tony doesn't make it till the end of the series...

Before both Martin and Gallopin came to the fore, the stage was sullied by the sight of Kadri doing what most French riders tend to do and accessorising his polka dot jersey with matching shorts and helmet.

Strangely enough, the above tweet didn't appear to be said in jest. Most of us fans are completely flummoxed by the sartorial inelegance of all those spots - even when overriding the monstrosity that is the bottom half of the Ag2R-La Mondiale team kit.

At least Kadri didn't customise his bike and wear spotted shorts and gloves like his fellow countryman Pierre Rolland 12 months earlier. Remember that? How could you forget...

Rolland was one of the riders alongside Gallopin in the chasing group - along with pretty much the entire Europcar team, it seemed. Rolland may have jumped back into the top ten with his ride, but spare a thought for team-mate Kevin Reza, who spent the first half of the stage setting a savage pace both up and downhill for Rolland - only to eventually finish the stage in last place, more than 21 minutes off the pace.

Another Frenchman, Brice Feillu, almost came a cropper on one of the many descents - having to unclip to avoid colliding with fans or careering over a precipice.

Reza and Feillu weren't the only riders experiencing discomfort out there on the most challenging stage of the race thus far. Alessandro De Marchi not only had to somehow keep up with Martin's daredevil descending - he had to do so after apparently having his left hand stung by a bee.

There are some things worth getting stung for - and I imagine standing atop a Tour de France podium while putting on the polka dot jersey is one of them. So De Marchi must have at least felt appeased by that thought. After all, Martin revealed that the pair had reached an agreement: the Italian would help Martin escape from the break and in return Martin would let De Marchi take maximum points over all the summits.

This went to plan for three climbs until Martin attacked on the Cat.1 ascent of Le Markstein. De Marchi crossed in second place but was pipped by Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez for the final point on the last climb of the day - and missing out on that single point meant 'au revoir' to the polka dots.

Still, didn't Das Panzerwagen look good in the jersey initially meant for De Marchi?

It did, of course, set tongues wagging about Martin's expected wardrobe for Monday's slog up towards La Planche des Belles Filles...

Felix Lowe (on Twitter: @Saddleblaze)

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