- Associated Press - Sunday, July 7, 2013

BAGNERES-DE-BIGORRE, France — Irishman Dan Martin beat Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang at the line to win Sunday’s ninth stage of the Tour de France, and race favorite Chris Froome withstood early attacks to defend the yellow jersey on another hard day of climbing in the Pyrenees.

Garmin-Sharp rider Martin and Fuglsang were alone to fight for the stage win, and Martin surged past with about 150 meters to go. It was the first Tour stage win for Martin, who is the nephew of 1987 Tour champion Stephen Roche and a cousin of fellow cyclist Nicolas Roche.

“I was confident in the final stretch because I know I have some speed,” the 26-year-old Martin said. “I knew I had to be ahead in the last two corners and, when I saw that I was, I knew I could win.”

Martin praised the effort by Astana rider Fuglsang.

“I was very lucky to have Jakob with me because he was super strong and we shared the work,” Martin said. “We really wanted to destroy the race … Luckily I had the legs to finish the job.”

Froome had launched a devastating attack in the final climb to win Saturday’s eighth stage and move nearly two minutes ahead of two-time Tour champion Alberto Contador in the overall standings and four minutes clear of 2010 champion Andy Schleck.

Froome preserved a comfortable lead over his rivals after the 168.5-kilometer (105-mile) trek from Saint-Girons to Bagneres-de-Bigorre in southwestern France took the peloton over four category 1 climbs.

The Briton’s closest challenger is Spaniard Alejandro Valverde, who is 1:25 behind in second place. Contador is sixth overall and trails by 1:51.

Froome, Contador and Schleck rolled in 20 seconds behind Martin, whose win moved him up to eighth overall, 2:28 behind.

Colombian climber Nairo Quintana tried four attacks on the final climb but Froome responded to them.

But the fact there were none of his teammates around to help Froome will give the other teams encouragement that the seemingly unbeatable Sky team may have weaknesses. Perhaps tired from their efforts on Saturday, the other Sky riders fell back early on and Froome was left to fend for himself.

“That was one of the hardest days I’ve ever had on a bike,” Froome said. “I’m really happy with how I came through today.”

The British rider went straight to an anti-doping control after the race.

It is the first Tour since Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace after he was stripped of his seven Tour titles from 1999-2005 for serial doping.

Froome said after his win on Saturday that he was “100 percent” clean and was asked on French television after Sunday’s stage if he has ever taken a performance enhancing product.

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