Here are five things to know as the Tour de France enters its ninth stage on Sunday:
1. FLUSTERING FROOME? Pre-race favorite Chris Froome lived up to his billing by winning the Tour's entry to the mountains in Stage 8, and seizing the leader's yellow jersey. Now rival squads will look for ways to knock the 28-year-old Briton and his potent Team Sky off their game. Manager Eusebio Unzue of Spanish team Movistar — whose leader Alejandro Valverde is in third place overall — said, "We have to admit Chris is the strongest. Now, we hope to make his team work so that if in the Alps, they have bad or complicated days, we can go on the attack."
2. DEJA VU: Andrew Talansky, who was within 21/2 minutes of Froome and is the top American rider at 12th overall, said he realized at the end that this was the second time he had raced to a stage finish in ski station Ax 3 Domaines. "I've done this finish in an under-23 race, so that's kind of cool. Just realized that as I crossed the line," he said. The 24-year-old Miami native said he got a morale boost from his performance Saturday, saying it was good to know he was "kicking around with the guys in the front group and I can hang on." And with his relatively youthful legs, he's thinking he might have another card to play before the race ends July 21 in Paris — possibly in the Alps. "I'd imagine that I may get less fatigue than some other guys in the third week," he said.
3. COLOMBIAN COURAGE: Talansky trails only one person in the chase for the white jersey given to the Tour's best young rider: Colombian climbing specialist Nairo Quintana. The 23-year-old with Movistar took that shirt and earned honors as the most combative rider by heading the pack over the Col des Pailheres, the day's first and harder ascent — until Froome dusted him on the final climb. Colombia has a reputation for providing strong climbers, notably Luis "Lucho" Herrera, who took home the polka-dot jersey given to the Tour's best mountain man in 1985 and 1987.
4. RAPID RESPONSE: A top sponsor for RadioShack Leopard Trek says veteran Frank Schleck of Luxembourg shouldn't be surprised that the team is severing ties with him. Leopard SA said this week that it will split with Schleck, who finished third overall on the 2011 Tour, once his ban for doping expires. At last year's race, the 33-year-old Schleck tested positive for a controlled diuretic and was handed a one-year ban. His younger brother and teammate Andy Schleck, the 2010 Tour winner who is competing this year, lashed out Friday at the decision. In a statement Saturday, Leopard further clarified its stance, saying "Frank Schleck nor his counselors can be surprised over the decision taken by Leopard" — citing several meetings with him in recent months. "The decision that has been conveyed to Frank Schleck corresponds perfectly to the atmosphere of these meetings."
5. PIGGING OUT? After nine days of riding and another tortuously hard day of climbing in the Pyrenees, riders could be hungry enough to eat a whole pig Sunday night. If so, they'll be in a good place: Bagneres-de-Bigorre in southwestern France. The town is well-known for its ham that comes from the black Noir de Bigorre pig — which is native to the Pyrenees mountains and has been bred since Roman times, according to an industry association. Sunday's Stage 9 is the latter of two days in the mountains between France and Spain, and takes riders over 105 miles from Saint-Girons to Bagneres-de-Bigorre, before Monday's first Tour rest day.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times