Humidity and intense cold strike Movistar Team leader, 5th in Catalunya's queen stage and now three seconds off GC podium. Plaza leads long, early breakaway
Although the day started with sunny skies in Alp, things turned to the worse during the Queen stage of the 2014 Volta a Catalunya. The weather became Nairo Quintana’s enemy, the flu contracted in the Giro d’Italia recon still affecting him after several days and making things even more difficult with humidity of the snow that fell over the Pyrenees on Thursday. The 166km trek to the top of Vallter 2000 (HC), including the passages through Tosses (Cat-1), Canes (Cat-2), Oix (Cat-1) and Rocabruna (Cat-1), saw a courageous Rubén Plaza in the break. The Ibi-based rider released pressure from his team-mates in an attempt alongside De Gendt (OPQ), Médérel (EUC) and Clement (BEL).
Following several attacks and counter-attacks in the penultimate climb, with Tinkoff-Saxo quickly reeling the quartet back from four minutes to barely 50 seconds at Rocabruna’s summit, Plaza went solo with 9k remaining. The Spaniard was later caught, already into the steepest part of the climb from Setcases, by the favourites’ group, Quintana well protected until the finale. A move by Chris Froome (SKY) split the group with 2k left; the Brit was responded by Contador (TCS), Rodríguez (KAT) and Nairo, who was able to follow the two Spaniards into another attempt before the last kilometer. However, the lack of understanding between the three made Bardet (ALM) and van Garderen (BMC) bridge the gap and drop them. The American took the day’s honours, as well as four seconds over Quintana, now off the podium (5th) by just three seconds.
“It was a very difficult day, the snow made it so difficult to me”, said Nairo to news site Biciciclismo.com right after finishing the stage. “It was a rather fast climb, with many attacks; there was much strategy between the GC guys and the American rider eventually won. We stayed pretty much together and that makes me calm. I’m still suffering from that flu, but the Giro preparations are good so far. The important thing in this race was checking how my team-mates were doing; we could prove we’re one of the strongest blocks in the race and I’m really happy with that.”
The Volta will now head into faster roads with its longest stage on Friday: 218km between Llanars and Valls, the hometown of the late Xavi Tondo, with the Alt de Lilla (Cat-2) and its tricky descent as the main difficult, ten kilometers from the finish.