Strong Blues come to the fore
22 July 2014

Tour de France (st. 16)

Movistar Team shows full potential in first Pyrenees stages, drops Bardet and Van Garderen as Alejandro Valverdre keeps 2nd place overall in TdF

PICTURES | 2014 Tour de France gallery

A demanding more than two weeks raced and the longest stage of the 2014 Tour de France (237km) have brought the whole Movistar Team to the heart of the action in the first stage through the Pyrenees, with the Portet d’Aspet (Cat-2), Ares (Cat-3) and the Port de Balès (HC) before a long descent into Bagnères-de-Luchon, where Michael Rogers (TCS) came victorious after making part of the day’s breakaway.

The attempt, with 21 riders and almost thirteen minutes of advantage on the foot of the last climb, saw Spanish champion Ion Izagirre protecting the Blues’ interest and following the opening attacks in Balès. The Basque allrounder was only dropped as four riders resisted up-front: Rogers, José Serpa (LAM) and Europcar’s Cyril Gautier and Thomas Voeckler. Ion waited for the favourites to complete a splendid Movistar teamwork, started into the final hard slopes: firstly Visconti, then an excellent and recovered Beñat Intxausti, the Blues tore the bunch apart and dropped two main contenders in Tejay Van Garderen (BMC), who lost 3’35” at the finish, and Romain Bardet (ALM), almost 2′ behind Valverde.

A brief struggling by Valverde as Pinot imposed his tremendous pace in the final meters of the climb did not avoid him reaching the finish –after great work from Gadret and Izagirre– alongside Nibali (AST), Pinot (FDJ) and Péraud (ALM). Alejandro stays in 2nd place, with 29″ on Pinot, 1’31” to Péraud, 2’03” over Bardet and 4’48” ahead of Van Garderen, in the eve of the Queen stage of this year’s race. Only 124km are on the programme on Wednesday, yet the route features the Portillon (Cat-1), the Peyresourde (Cat-1), Val Louron (Cat-1) and a summit finish in Saint-Lary (HC).

Alejandro Valverde: 
“We were the ones who did all the pace into the final climb to hurt some of our rivals – that was our plan already since this morning. I think it was a good day for us, because we opened big gaps with threatening riders close in the overall standings. In the final meters of Balès, I chose not to follow the pace Pinot was putting into my group, because I knew he had to reach the summit with some gap over the rest so as not to suffer into the downhill. He set such a rhythm that even Nibali got dropped, but as soon as we started descending, we reached him down and kept the pace high with Gadret and Izagirre, who made a great work. We’re keeping the same goal, which is the podium in Paris, and now it’s all about tomorrow’s stage, which is going to be super hard.”

Ion Izagirre: “It wasn’t to be at the end, we couldn’t contest the stage win, yet we made part of that break, we stayed up-front long enough and the team was sensational in the final climb with Valverde, breaking the bunch into pieces. Some of our rivals for the overall podium lost time and that’s the best reward for my work. The break contained riders like Rogers, which considering his great Giro we knew we had to keep alert to his moves – but my legs didn’t respond well, I wasn’t doing as good as I wanted to. Kiryienka put his classic strong pace in the beginning of the climb and when he overtook me after dropping back, I just couldn’t follow him – I was struggling. After reaching the summit I was told that the group was really split, some leaders like Bardet or Van Garderen losing time, and one kilometer into the downhill I stropped to help Valverde out in the final run to the finish.”