Valverde gets into overall Tour podium after first mountain stage: Blues lead Teams' classification after big duel with Sky thanks to spectacular attack from Quintana (8th) in Pailhères, Colombian now in white jersey
It was an enormours effort from all Movistar Team leaders in the first big mountain stage of the 2013 Tour de France. The telephone squad put three of their riders within the top contenders atop Ax 3 Domaines, the finish of a demanding stage eight with 205km under suffocating heat and two huge climbs: the Col de Pailhères (HC; 15 km, 8% average), the highest ascent of this year’s race, and the 7km finishing uphill, which Eusebio Unzué’s squad reached at the front after an exceptional performance from Nairo Quintana.
The 23-year-old Colombian attack with 7km from the top of the climb, overtaking several riders until chasing down the lone survivor of the day’s original break, Christophe Riblon (ALM), and reaching the summit of Pailhères solo, with more than a minute over a reduced bunch losing elements fast, while still featuring Valverde, Rui Costa, Rubén Plaza and Andrey Amador, the latter two dropped with just a couple of kilometers before the banner on top. The work from the Sky team reduced Nairo’s advantage to barely thirty seconds, which he kept alive in the opening phase of the Ax 3 Domaines climb, ultimately brought back after the attack from Chris Froome -day’s winner, new race leader- and Richie Porte -2nd at the finish.-
Rui Costa paid the efforts after an extreme pace from the foot of the final ascent, but distributed well his energy through the climb to finish in 12th spot, just over two minutes behind the leaders. Ahead of him, Nairo was still able to take 9th and jump into the lead of the Young Riders’ classification (8th overall), while Valverde, the best from all favourites behind the Sky duo, just 17 seconds off Porte and 1’08” after Froome, which takes him into the 3rd spot overall. The Movistar colours jumped twice onto the day’s podium with Quintana -also awarded the day’s Combativity prize- and lead the Teams’ classification for the first time in this year’s race.
Sunday will mark the second, last Pyrenean stage: 169km between Saint-Girons and Bagnères-de-Bigorre with the ascents of Portet d’Aspet (Cat-2), Menté (Cat-1), Peyresourde (Cat-1), Val Louron (Cat-1) and the Hourquette d’Ancizan (Cat-1), just 30k from the finish.
Alejandro Valverde: “When Froome went away, I chose to ride on my own pace – I knew it was better for me. I was already at 190bpm before the attack, so that meant I had energy to keep going, because it wasn’t easy to keep that effort for a long time. I told Nairo to attack into the Pailhères because I saw him doing well and knew that he would make the Sky work harder – he proved to be really strong. There’s still a long way to go in the Tour and we’re close, so we can’t rule out anything. There’s still a lot to be won or lost.
Tomorrow’s stage will be different to today’s, because it’s not a mountain-top finish – while being a really hard day, it finished at the bottom of the valley after the last port. The important thing from this very moment is recovering and tackling tomorrow’s stage at 100%. Froome is superior at this moment, really difficult to beat, but the Tour is a long race. I’m happy to be sitting in 3rd place, into the provisional podium, with such strong riders behind.”
Nairo Quintana: “I’m satisfied with my stage. We had planned this morning to attack in Pailhères so I could help Alejandro out and disrupt Sky’s work at the front, and despite I didn’t have energy enough in the finale and they rode really strong, things were well with respect to that. I came into the race with no racing form, but I could gain it into the first stages and now I feel in perfect condition. The legs today were really good. I proved myself today I can ride with the top contenders in the mountains and hope to give it another try in this Tour de France.
Wearing the white jersey is a really beautiful thing. Even though I didn’t want to concede it initially, it was something I wanted to achieve, and now I hope to keep it all the way to Paris. Already since I was a child, I wanted to be at the Tour, and being able to shine makes me feel full of pride and joy. The support and messages from my family, my girlfriend, my friends and everyone in Colombia have helped me much, and this stage is dedicated to them.”