Française des Jeux's Sandy Casar won the ninth stage of the 97th Tour de France from Morzine-Avoriaz to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, but his victory was not without some anxious moments as a show of strength by the top two contenders almost ruined the 31-year old Frenchman's day.
A group of 10 including current mountains and points jersey leaders, Jerome Pineau (Quick Step) and Thor Hushovd (Cervelo Test Team), Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank), Cyril Gautier (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne), José Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d'Epargne), Christophe Moreau (Caisse d'Epargne), Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Anthony Charteau (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), Johannes Frohlinger (Milram), formed the day's initial selection early during the 204.5km stage. The group was later joined by Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese Vini) to make it a dirty dozen.
But with difficult passes of the Col de la Colombière, Col des Aravis, Col des Saises, and Col de la Madeleine still remaining along the route, the group eventually whittled down to the fabulous five of Casar, Caisse d'Epargne teammates León Sánchez and Moreau, Cunego, and Charteau.
The quintet worked well together and nearly make it to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne alone to contest for the day's placing, but vicious attacks by Andy Schleck (Team Saxo Bank), Samuel Sanchez (Euskatel-Euskadi) and Alberto Contador (Astana), not only relegated other would be contenders farther behind, but also enabled the trio to bridge the gap to the leaders.
The Olympic champion, Sanchez, was the first to make contact. He would help drive the break and put Moreau into serious difficulty, leaving the Frenchman in no-man's land. But with Contador and Schleck closing fast behind, Moreau found new life and company to help shepherd him to the finish line.
In the closing meters, the quintet surprisingly grew into an octet before Casar, Leon Sanchez, and Cunego finally restored some order and took the top three placings.
Stage 9 Results
1. Sandy Casar (Fra) Française des Jeux
2. Luis León Sánchez Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
3. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini
For all of his aggression in the high mountains, Schleck displaced a pained Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), who gamely dealt with a fractured left elbow, atop the General Classification.
General Classification After Stage 9
1. Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank
2. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana - 0:00:41
3. Samuel Sánchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi - 0:02:45
4. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank - 0:02:58
5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto - 0:03:31
6. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Team Radioshack - 0:03:59
7. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank - 0:04:22
8. Luis León Sánchez Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne - 0:04:41
9. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha - 0:05:08
10. Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo - 0:05:09
Despite being in a tie with Jerome Pineau for the mountains competition, Anthony Charteau will wear the maillot pois-a-rouges on Stage 10.
Jersey Leaders After Stage 9
maillot jaune - Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank
maillot vert - Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team
maillot à pois rouges - Anthony Charteau (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom
maillot blanc - Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank
Next: Stage 10 -Chambéry to Gap (179km)
A medium mountain stage could once again favor a breakaway or even bring out the sprinters. Follow our LIVE Tour de France coverage on LIVESTRONG.com.
Photo: Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty Images