Degenkolb masters cobblestones as Porte crashes out of Tour
ROUBAIX, France (AP) — Richie Porte sat on the pavement grasping his right shoulder and grimacing in pain. A fan helped Chris Froome get going after he tumbled onto grass lining the road. Romain Bardet recovered from three punctured tires.
And they were only the highest-profile riders to face mishaps in the action-packed cobblestoned Stage 9 of the Tour de France on Sunday.
Every cyclist who reached the finish was covered in dust — many with their jerseys torn to shreds from crashes.
Spanish rider Gorka Izaguirre had the unusual experience of his rear wheel buckling to the point that it looked like something out of a scrap heap.
John Degenkolb won a three-man sprint to take victory in a memorable stage, while overall contender Porte crashed out of the race.
Yellow-jersey holder Greg Van Avermaet crossed second and increased his overall lead to 43 seconds ahead of Geraint Thomas, a teammate of Froome's at Sky. Yves Lampaert of Quick-Step finished third.
"It was a pretty hectic day," Van Avermaet said after the dust settled.
Added Thomas, "It was just hard all day from kilometer zero. You've got to be in the right position but you also need the luck because it's easy to puncture or get caught up in something."
Froome, the four-time champion, crossed in the main pack, 27 seconds behind, overcoming a crash with 45 kilometers (28 miles) to go that saw him go over the top of teammate Gianni Moscon.
"I'm relieved to get through today and looking forward to getting into the mountains now where the real race for GC (general classification) will start," Froome said.
Froome moved up to eighth overall, 1:42 behind Van Avermaet, who is not a threat in the mountains.
Porte, the BMC team leader, crashed out of the Tour 10 kilometers into the 156.5-kilometer (97-mile) leg — before any of the 15 cobblestone sections. He was later diagnosed with a fractured right clavicle.
Porte also crashed out of last year's Tour in the ninth stage, on a mountain descent.
"It won't be easy for him to get back in his mind," teammate Van Avermaet said. "The good thing is that his crash is not as bad as last year so he will recover faster."
Rigoberto Uran, last year's runner-up, and Mikel Landa, one of three leaders of the Movistar team, also each crashed and lost time.
Bardet, the French hope who finished on the podium the last two years, finished only seven seconds behind the main pack despite having to be paced back to the peloton three times.
Among the favorites in the overall standings apart from Froome: Alejandro Valverde is fifth (1:31 behind); Rafal Majka sixth (1:32); Jakob Fuglsang seventh (1:33); Adam Yates ninth (1:42); Landa 10th (1:42); Vincenzo Nibali 12th (1:48); Tom Dumoulin 15th (2:03); and Bardet 17th (2:32).
It was the first career victory at the Tour for Degenkolb, who rides for the Trek-Segafredo team. The German rider won the Paris-Roubaix single-day classic, which covers much of the same course, in 2015.
Degenkolb was the victim of a serious training accident in January 2016 when a car drove into oncoming traffic. Then he crashed in Paris-Roubaix this year and injured his knee.
"You start doubting if you can still do it," Degenkolb said. "That is the hardest part to don't lose the trust in yourself and that you can still be up there. I am so happy that my wife and my family gave me the strength to do this to give it 100 percent and work hard. It is amazing."
Degenkolb became the third rider to win both Paris-Roubaix and a cobbled stage at the Tour after Roger De Vlaeminck and Bernard Hinault. His average speed over the stage was 45.9 kph overall and 39.8 kph on the cobbles.
The route starting in Arras contained the highest number of cobblestone sections since the 1980 Tour, with nearly 22 kilometers altogether.
While it wasn't rainy and muddy like in April for the Paris-Roubaix race, the heat and sun made it dry and dusty.
Others who crashed included: Dylan Groenewegen, the Dutch rider who won the previous two stages; Froome's Sky teammates Egan Bernal and Michal Kwiatkowski; American hope Tejay van Garderen and Italian sprinter Sonny Colbrelli.
After the first rest day Monday, the Tour resumes in the Alps on Tuesday with a 158.5-kilometer (98.5-mile) leg from Annecy to Le Grand-Bornand featuring four serious climbs.
Associated Press writer Joseph Wilson contributed.
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