Basque climber from Movistar Team bags great 4th place in Pra-Loup, first mountain-top finish in Dauphiné, as Valverde struggles, conceeds 1’50” to day's winner Bardet (ALM). Beñat now 2nd overall
Great form acquired during the recent Giro d'Italia launched Beñat Intxausti (Movistar Team) towards a great carrying-on in the Critérium du Dauphiné, whose first big mountain stage on Thursday led the riders through five ascents (161km) towards the ski station of Pra Loup (Cat-2), via the Col d'Allos (Cat-1).
The Basque rider took a fine fourth spot after being the only man willing to respond a late attack by Chris Froome (SKY), always in pursuit of Romain Bardet (ALM) after the Frenchman opened a big gap with a move into the technical, narrow descent of the penulaimte ascent. Bardet reached the finish with almost 40" over his nearest rivals.
Four of the Movistar Team riders -Intxausti himself, Alejandro Valverde, Jonathan Castroviejo and José Herrada- started the last climb together after hard pacing from SKY reduced the group of GC contenders to about 30 strong. With ‘Castro’ and Herrada dropped after completing their duties -started by Dowsett and Sutherland before the last two ascents-, Valverde struggled to keep the front of the group and eventually dropped back with 3km from the end.
Beñat, in turn, was overtaken in his effort by Tejay van Garderen (BMC), new race leader, yet still jumps into 2nd place overall -17" back- with three other mountain stages to go. Friday will bring the Col du Rousset (Cat-1) with 51km from the uphill finish of Villard-de-Lans (Cat-3), prelude to the six rated climbs of Saturday's Queen stage.
REACTION / Beñat Intxausti: “I went to this race after the Giro, looking forward to profit from the good form I had at the end. It was harder for me to get by body going on day one, but once you focus on the racing itself and forget about previous efforts, it’s like any other one. Since we did physically well all over the Giro, it’s been a bit easier. I’m getting stronger day by day and I hope to keep it going until Sunday.
“Sky set a strong pace already from the Allos climb, a very demanding ascent with its summit over 2,200m and impressive rhythm. The downhill where Bardet went also required some skills, wasn’t easy at all. Sky drilled back from the foot of Pra Loup, pushing with three, four riders before Froome attacked. I tried to follow him and pushed with all I had. Before the start, we had already talked with the team about Alejandro and myself sharing leading duties, and Bala came to me during the Allos climb to tell me he wasn’t really strong. He got back to me in Pra Loup to tell me he wasn’t feeling great and I took advantage from our good position in the GC, following the TTT, which we now have to conserve.
“We got really well through this first hard day and we’ll spend everything that’s left into the tank in the three stages left. Tomorrow’s finishing climb is not as long as today’s: Villard-de-Lans is shorter and steeper, and we’ll have to react otherwise. Still, we’re really confident, the team is responding well, I’ve got full support from them and having Alejandro by my side is a massive boost. We’ll try to keep this second place, but should first be available, we’ll fight for it.”