Stage 9 of the Tour de France took riders into Andorra and it was Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) who took the stage spoils from a large breakaway. Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) finished 2nd and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) took 3rd on the stage.
For Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka, the stage did not get off to a great start as Mark Renshaw had to abandon the race due to illness picked up overnight. Renshaw was instrumental in our opening week success, delivering Mark Cavendish to his 3 stage victories. Our Australian took the start but after less than 5km of racing it was clear that Renshaw could not continue.
The stage went on though and our African Team wanted to be part of the action despite the sad news. Daniel Teklehaimanot was one of the first riders of the day to attack as the race went up the first of 5 categorised climbs for the day. A number of counter attacks followed while Team Sky also kept a consistently high tempo going in the peloton. Eventually it was 20 riders who were allowed clear and Natnael Berhane was representing Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka in the move.
With so much climbing throughout the day, it was a nervous stage for Cavendish and our African Team with the time cut being a constant threat. After the first big climb, Cavendish and Bernhard Eisel were 2 minutes behind the rest of the race and so apart from Berhane in the break and Serge Pawuwels in the yellow jersey group, the rest of our riders went back to help pace Cavendish and Eisel back to the pack. It was a strong show of teamwork which proved successful.
As the race made its way into Andorra for the final 50km and where the final 3 climbs of the stage awaited, Berhane was still present in the lead group, Pauwels was riding well in the 35 rider yellow jersey group and a large grupetto of more than 70 riders had formed containing the rest of our African Team. With a number of strong climbers in the break, they were able to maintain enough of an advantage by the time the final climb to Andorre Arcalis began, ensuring they would decide the stage.
Dumoulin went away just as the rain started to fall and his attack could not be matched. Berhane slowly started to fade on the final climb and was eventually caught by the select yellow jersey group with 3km to go. It was still a good showing by our Eritrean, and one from which he would have gained much experience. The grupetto came in a little over 30 minutes down on Dumoulin and Cavendish was able to retain the lead in the Green Jersey points competition as we head into the first rest day of this year’s Tour de France.
Natnael Berhane – Rider
From the start many riders wanted to be in the break. We were 35 riders at first, Contador and Valverde were there as well and the peloton didn’t want them to go away. Finally, they dropped back to the peloton and we started to pull harder on the front to get a gap. In the final the attacks started and I tried to follow as much as I could because I was hoping to make a top 10 result. I couldn’t do it today but I hope to have a good rest now so that I can try again to get a good result.