Australia’s Ben O’Connor soloes to victory on stage nine of the Tour de France as Tadej Pogacar extends his overall race lead.
O’Connor broke clear of Colombia’s Sergio Higuita 17km from the summit of the final climb to the line in Tignes.
The debutant briefly looked on course to take the yellow jersey, until Pogacar underlined his class with a late attack.
The defending champion now leads O’Connor by two minutes and one second.
Rigoberto Uran is the next closest challenger, five minutes and 18 seconds adrift while Belgian rider, Wout van Aert, who had started the day second overall, dropped out of contention after conceding more than 25 minutes to Pogacar.
Britain’s Mark Cavendish retained his lead in the green jersey competition after finishing inside the cut off time, 35 minutes and 49 seconds behind O’Connor.
Seven riders, including French sprinter Arnuad Demare, failed to finish inside the allotted cut-off time of 37 minutes and 21 seconds behind the stage winner, with several others abandoning the race on the road. Olympic champion Greg van Avermaet made the cut with only seconds to spare.
Earlier on Sunday, Primoz Roglic, the 2020 runner-up and one of the pre-race favourites, pulled out of the race, saying it made no “sense to continue”, having struggled since a crash on stage three.
Mathieu van der Poel, who had led the race until Saturday after winning stage two, also withdrew.
However, Britain’s Geraint Thomas, who is still recovering from a heavy crash in which he dislocated his shoulder, delivered an encouraging performance to finish 19th after also suggesting that his future participation was in doubt.
No preparation, no problem
Prior to racing getting under way, O’Connor said he had not done a recce of the finish which took the peloton 2,000m above sea level for the first time in the race.
The AG2R Citroen rider, 25, jokingly said had had only been to Tignes “for skiing” but by the time he reached the winter sport resort, there was little evidence of him being underprepared.
He spent most of the day in the company of Colombian climbers Higuita and Nairo Quintana, accelerating away from the former brilliantly to finish more than five minutes ahead of Mattia Cattaneo in second, with Sonny Colbrelli in third.
“It was always the dream,” said O’Connor, who also won a stage at the 2020 Giro d’Italia.
“Just to be here is the first dream. This is testament to everyone who’s put faith in me over the years, my fiancee, my parents, my best mates back in Australia. It’s been a wild ride, it’s mind blowing.
“I mean, it’s what you dream of. It’s so much joy. I’ve managed to control myself now. I’m just loving every single moment.”
Monday is a rest day for the riders before stage 10 on Tuesday, when the race travels 190.7km from Albertville to Valence.
Stage nine results
1. Ben O’Connor (Aus/AG2R Citroen) 4hrs 26mins 43secs
2. Mattia Cattaneo (Ita/Deceuninck-Quick-Step) +5mins 07secs
3. Sonny Colbrelli (Ita/Bahrain-Victorious) +5mins 34secs
4. Guillaume Martin (Fra/Cofidis) +5mins 36secs
5. Franck Bonnamour (B&B Hotels) +6mins 02secs
6. Tadej Pogacar (Slo/UAE Team Emirates) Same time
7. Richard Carapaz (Ecu/Ineos Grenadiers) 6mins 34secs
8. Jonas Vingegaard (Den/Jumbo Visma) Same time
9. Enric Mas (Spa/Movistar)
10. Rigoberto Uran (EF Education-Nippo)
General classification after stage nine
1. Tadej Pogacar (Slo/UAE Team Emirates) 34hrs 11mins 10secs
2. Ben O’Connor (Aus/AG2R Citroen) +2mins 01secs
3. Rigoberto Uran (Col/EF Education Nippo 5mins 18secs
4. Jonas Vingegaard (Den/Jumbo Visma) +5mins 32secs
5. Richard Carapaz (Ecu/Ineos Grenadiers) +5mins 33secs
6. Enric Mas (Spa/Movistar) +5mins 47secs
7. Wilco Kelderman (Ned/Bora-Hansgrohe) +5mins 58secs
8. Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz/Astana) +6mins 12secs
9. Guillaume Martin (Fra/Cofidis) +7mins 02secs
10. David Gaudu (Fra/Groupama-FDJ) +7mins 22secs