Heat, huge starting pace and demanding climbs of Aspin & Tourmalet mark second Pyrenees stage; Quintana and Valverde keep 3rd and 4th overall in Tour de France
Though it took almost 80km to form the day's early breakaway, the exigente of stage eleven in the 2015 Tour de France was 'reduced' to high temperatures and a tremendous route over the cols of Aspin (Cat-1), Tourmalet (HC) and the softer, final climb of Caurerets (Cat-3), which did not witness big chances in the first ten places of the GC.
The control by race leader Chris Froome's Sky team kept the group under control, despite a brief move by Astana halfway through the second ascent which left it reduced to about twenty riders –including three of the Movistar Team: Castroviejo, Valverde and Nairo Quintana-. The short field completed together, with some final suffering by Nibali (AST) and late attacks from Mollema (TFR) and Gallopin (LTS), the final 45km of racing, while Rafal Majka (TCS) took the break to fruition with a solo success.
Quintana remains in 3rd overall and on top of the young riders' competition, 3'09" behind Froome, while Alejandro Valverde, who took two seconds into the finishing sprint, stays in 4th at 3'59". The telephone squad will tackle one of the toughest days in this year's Grande Boucle tomorrow, arguably the Queen stage over 195km and the ascents of Portet d'Aspet (Cat-2), la Core (Cat-1), Lers (Cat-1) and another mountain-top finish in Plateau de Beille (HC).
Nairo Quintana: "It was a day of heat, too much for my liking. The pace was high all day, there were lots of attacks from the very start and some riders not dangerous for the GC went apart after a long while. With the speed we were keeping and with no chance to try anything, from that point on, our intention was a bit of 'getting through the day', waiting for what we can really do into the following stages. The wear and tear is really hitting the bunch with all that we went through so far in this race. I had good legs and that's important; let's hope to keep them day by day. Attacking tomorrow? It might be possible, we'll see how the race goes, keep Chris under control and, should I find the legs for that, why not trying. Depending on how the rivals are doing, we might try as well and take the team forward. Yesterday's stage was more important for me, but tomorrow's is also demanding. We hope to feel well and have the team doing things right tomorrow."
José Herrada: “There were a lot of attacks from us at the beginning, all teams trying to get people into the escape, but Sky didn't want to let us any of our team go away. Still, we tried to make things harder behind the break and fought to keep our chances alive until 60km in – people were really 'sinking', many riders losing contact. Afterwards, Astana set a pace that didn't allow for much to happen. [Asked about fear within the favourites to try anything after yesterday] It's not a matter of fear; rather than that, they showed again to be strong. They were keeping the front all day, there weren't either many domestiques to prepare attacks from the favourites' group and we also weren't in the best condition to try and move the race. For the time being, we're in Paris podium position; now, we must keep making the race harder, try to take Van Garderen out of contention and, later on – I don't know whether it'll be tomorrow or maybe in the Alps – try to mess things up into the Sky train.”
Eusebio Unzué: “A scenario like yesterday's was predictable – though you couldn't think at all about the gaps we saw, a major shakeup in the GC – and today's outcome was also into the plan. Probably, a harder finish would have encouraged someone else to try something different in the Tourmalet, but a descent like that one, 20-ish kilometers, and a light ascent at the end made harder for anyone to try, especially considering what's in store tomorrow, a beast of a stage. Sky had to work a bit more today; let's see whether the race takes their toll on them and we can find a chance to attack. There's no doubt that tomorrow's route will be another big test for everyone and will change the expectations on many riders. Surely Froome won't lose a chance to put more time on his GC rivals – we'll try to keep his pace."