Tour de France (st. 18)
Quintana profits from fantastic Movistar teamwork en route to Alpe-d’Huez, leaves GC leader Froome (SKY) behind to climb up to 3rd overall
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Six days after the unfortunate mechanical incident that kicked Alejandro Valverde out of the 2nd position of the race, Movistar Team has got back into the 2013 Tour de France podium atop one of the most legendary summits in cycling. Nairo Quintana is now in 3rd place overall after making the strongest performance of all race favourites on stage 18, a 172-kilometer trek from Gap to Alpe d’Huez including six rated climbs. The Colombian always rode into the front positions of a bunch ridden by Sky, in pursuit of a nine-man early breakaway that featured Andrey Amador.
The Costa Rican wasn’t able to follow the pace by Moser (CAN), Van Garderen (BMC) and eventual stage winner Riblon (ALM) into the first of two climbs towards the finish, but distributed his energy well and waited for his team-mates, the main group formed by just about 30 riders with Rubén Plaza and Jonathan Castroviejo picking up the pace through the Col de Sarenne (Cat-2). Joined by Amador, the three Blues led an impressively fast approach to the last Alpe d’Huez climb, where a first move from Alejandro Valverde was countered by race leader Chris Froome (SKY).
With Mollema and Ten Dam (BEL) dropped from the foot of the ascent, plus Contador and Kreuziger (TST) left behind midway, Quintana was the first one to respond to a second acceleration from Froome. Followed by Joaquim Rodríguez (KAT), the leaders stayed together before the final 5k, when Froome was dropped to eventually lost 1.06 at the finish. Nairo finished his effort in style, putting some seconds on Rodríguez to cross the line in 4th -with Valverde in 8th, just behind Froome.- The time won over the Saxo duo takes Quintana right into 3rd -just 21 seconds down on Contador- with two infamous Alpine stages ahead.
Friday, July 19 will be the day for the Queen stage in this year’s Tour: 205km between Bourg d’Oisans and Le Grand-Bornand, with the HC climbs of Madeleine and Glandon in the opening phase, followed by Tamié (Cat-2), L’Épine (Cat-1) and Croix-Fry (Cat-1) in the second part of the route.
REACTION / Nairo Quintana: “It was a fantastic stage for me. I gained some places in the overall and the day was really great for all the team. The race was suprt fast from the start and everyone was suffering a lot – at the end, with those climbs to the Alpe d’Huez, everything had to pay for all the efforts. I had really good legs in the finale and we talked about making the race hard. I want to thank all my team-mates: they always do an excellent work, spectacular – there’s not better way to pay them back than performing as I did today. We knew the stage was gone and our goal was climbing up into the overall – keeping our place or even gaining some if possible. I didn’t see when Froome raised his hand. I went away with Joaquín Rodriguez and it was sort a one-in-one between ourselves for the GC, because Froome is really ahead of the competition. Fortunately, I could get into the podium, buy my rivals are strong and we have to stay attentive, because attacks can appear wherever.
“It’s going to be a really hard stage tomorrow. I hope to feel as strong as today and conserve my podium place. The two mountain stages left will be decisive – it’s not over yet, but I’m calm after having such a strong team with me. I’m also confident because I’m still feeling well halfway through the third week, but there are many moments of real struggling into the race, and you end up pedalling more with your mind than with your legs. Shouldn’t I have a bad day, I’m almost certain to win the white jersey, and now the podium has become a goal because we’re into it, but it will be hard with these rivals.”