BAGNERES-DE-BIGORRE, France Italy's Riccardo Ricco showed his strength in the mountains Sunday by winning the ninth stage of the Tour de France while Luxembourg's Kim Kirchen kept the yellow jersey as riders entered the Pyrenees.
Ricco captured a stage for the second time in cycling's premier race, finishing more than one minute ahead of Kirchen and the main pack.
Ricco, who rides for the Saunier Duval team, burst from the pack on the final ascent with about 19 miles left in the 139-mile route from Toulouse to Bagneres-de-Bigorre. He made his move when several rivals in the pack appeared vulnerable.
"It was totally improvised," he said. "I went all out to the finish. ... I was really fast today."
Ricco also won Thursday's sixth stage in the smaller Massif Central range.
"Let's say that this is really my turf, my domain," Ricco said.
He finished ahead of two AG2R riders. Russia's Vladimir Efimkin was 1 minute, 4 seconds behind and France's Cyril Dessel was 1:17 back.
The stage took the 170 riders along seven climbs, and Ricco's speed was clear in two especially demanding ones the 8-mile Peyresourde pass and slightly shorter Aspin pass.
Kirchen was happy to stick with his main rivals and keep the overall lead for a fourth straight day in the three-week race that ends July 27 in Paris.
The Team Columbia rider leads Australia's Cadel Evans by six seconds. Christian Vande Velde of the United States rose to third in the standings, 44 seconds behind Kirchen.
Stefan Schumacher, a German who won Tuesday's individual time trial, lost ground on the last climb and fell to fourth overall, 56 seconds back. Among other expected contenders, Denis Menchov of Russia is fifth, 1:03 behind, and Spain's Alejandro Valverde is sixth, 1:12 back.
Evans crashed about halfway into the stage, apparently while negotiating a downhill curve. He bloodied his left elbow, thigh and knee. He rode alongside the car of Tour doctor Gerard Porte, who cleaned the injuries and appeared to apply a bandage near the rider's left shoulder.
Evans finished in the main pack of contenders just behind Dessel, also 1:17 back. Afterward, Evans said he was fine but wanted to be checked further.
A second day in the Pyrenees awaits riders Monday. The 97-mile course from Pau to the Hautacam ski resort features two climbs so hard they defy classification in cycling's ranking system.