Surging Martin climbs 'the wall' to earn stage victory

Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome

Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome

The 231km trawl, the longest of the race, through the Mayenne and Sarthe to Chartres, was enlivened only by the peloton speeding into the cathedral city for an inevitable sprint finish, won by the Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen (Lotto NL-Jumbo) from Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe).

It was a first stage win of this Tour for the LottoNL-Jumbo rider and the second of his career after victory on the final stage in Paris previous year.

There were greater losses further back, with AG2R La Mondiale's Romain Bardet hit by problems on the short two-kilometre climb and Team Sunweb's Tom Dumoulin also distanced after suffering a mechanical problem with six kilometres left. Today the legs were good and everything was OK, " Groenewegen said.

Dumoulin, the time trial world champion and 2017 Giro d'Italia victor, was slowed by a tire puncture at the foot of the final ascent and lost 53 seconds.

"My first thoughts are that I hope my wife hasn't gone into labour", smiled Martin as he caught his breath.

While this was bad news for the rider himself, his team and France's hopes of a first win since 1985, it was a boon to Bardet's rivals, as a Tour de France victor generally relies on the support of a full team.

Bardet was already trailing Froome, and after losing 28 seconds is now 1:45 off the leader's pace after he broke his back wheel and had to change bikes with Tony Gallopin.

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"Then I had to chase and that effort was fatal".

"I'm not sure the riders knew how to take advantage of it, the stage really could have been much more interesting", he said of the course some were describing as riddled with traps. "Your team-mates can help you a bit but a lot of the time you'll find yourself on your own and need to do it yourself".

Martin won the stage by one second from Frenchman Pierre Latour (AG2R-La Mondiale) and 3s on a group of 13 riders that included Valverde (3rd) Yates (6th), Thomas (9th), Porte (11th), Quintana (13th), Nibali (14th) and Fuglsang (15th); as well as Porte's Belgian teammate and overall race leader, Greg Van Avermaet (12th) who kept the yellow jersey.

Martin dedicated his win to his new team, who he joined from Quick Step after overtures from Sky and BMC in the close season.

"I'll have to get through the Alps and see how I am, see how Froomey is and go from there".

A group of around 40 riders including Froome opened up a gap of over a minute, but Martin and the rest hustled back.

Friday's flat 231-kilometer leg from Fougeres to Chartes is the longest stage of this Tour.

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