Tour de France (st. 8)
Alejandro Valverde shows great form and takes four-second bonus after Vuillermoz (ALM) and Dan Martin (TCG)'s attacks anticipate the Movistar Team rider's rush. Nairo Quintana into favourites' group before TTT
The first stage victory for the Movistar Team in the 2015 Tour de France was closer than ever on Saturday. Alejandro Valverde took 3rd place in Mûr-de-Bretagne, at the end of a 2km uphill finish (6.9% average gradient), leading a sprint mainly composed of GC contenders which only two attackers anticipated into the last stretch of the ascent: Alexis Vuillermoz (ALM) and Dan Martin (TCG).
The telephone squad worked again relentlessly to keep Nairo Quintana safe until the foot of the last ascent -with Malori, Erviti, Dowsett or Castroviejo always doing an excellent work-, while Cannondale, Tinkoff or Astana -into a late, strong move- neutralized the most dangerous of the two breaks in the stage, with Bak (LTS), Huzarski (BOA) and Golas (EQS) up-front until the final 7km.
The pace and the slopes left the front group -which Vincenzo Nibali (AST) lost sight of, conceding 10"- reduced to about twenty-five riders, including Valverde, now 12th overall thanks to his four-second bonus; Nairo, still in 16th place; and Gorka Izagirre. Sunday will bring a crucial appointment as all teams face an intriguing 28km TTT from Vannes to the Côte de Cadoudal in Plumelec, with three climbs -including the finish- spread across the route.
REACTION / Alejandro Valverde: “I had really good legs and could well have won, but when the three-man group including Vuillermoz attacked, I hesitated for a bit when I would surely have had to go after them. Into the finale, I was one of the wheels to follow, and it was impossible to try any further moves. I'm happy to feel well back again, sometimes you wind and sometimes you don't, but this bittersweet taste is hard to bear. Still, I want to congratulate Vuillermoz; he's spent a lot of races within the top guys lately and truly deserves this win.
"I'm in good shape and I think I could show it today. There's a serious test for all of us tomorrow with the TTT; for our team, the 'real Tour' is starting on Sunday. We went through many difficult days so far, other ones where we had to fight a bit less, but the terrain most suiting us starts now. [Asked about the Movistar Team being favourites for tomorrow] Favourites? I don't know. Let's hope we can finish up there tomorrow. We're really strong at the moment, all the nine of us, and we hope to profit from that form tomorrow."