Alejandro Valverde jumps onto 3rd overall after hectic racing in first Alpine stage, with attacks, crashes and GC-related abandons, as Nairo Quintana tries late attacks, stays within Froome's control
The 161km stage seventeen in the 2015 Tour de France, first of four in the Alps towards the Cat-2 Pra Loup climb including four other rated ascents, brought Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) onto the overall podium, now ranked 3rd after a very eventful ride from the start.
Numerous splits into the favourites' group led into an attack by Nairo Quintana with almost 130km remaining, quickly neutralized a bunch which later let go a 28-man breakaway with three of the Blues: Castroviejo -8th across the line, with Simon Geschke (TGA) victorious-, José Herrada and Gorka Izagirre -plus Adriano Malori, who jumped away later on-. While Tejay van Garderen (BMC, 3rd overall) abandoned due to sickness, the main bunch broke into pieces through the Colle-Saint-Michel (Cat-2) after an attack by Contador (TCS), quickly brought back by Valverde.
The pace by Trek and especially Astana into the peloton during the Col d'Allos shrank the group to only five elements: Nibali, Froome (SKY), Contador, Valverde and Quintana, who briefly attacked near the summit. At the descent, led out by Nibali and Valverde, a crash by Contador and Alejandro's subsequent effort, ultimately helped out by Gorka and José into Pra Loup, kept the pace high and produced a series of accelerations from the Blues' leaders, the latter leaving Nairo and Froome alone, face to face, with a handful of seconds over Valverde across the line.
Quintana remains 3'10" behind the yellow jersey and leading the Young riders' competition as second overall, while Valverde now sits in 3rd spot, 4'09" down, with a 2'25" margin over Thomas (SKY, 4th) and 2'31" ahead of Contador (TCS), now in 5th place. In turn, the Movistar Team conserves almost 17' over MTN-Qhubeka in the lead of teams' classification with three Alpine stages to go, the longest to come on Thursday. 186.5km are on the race programme, with no less than seven categorized cols and the Glandon (HC) set to produce big drama en route to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.
Nairo Quintana: “I felt really well today. I recovered fine and did not struggle after the rest day. We fared pretty well, as well myself as my team-mates – with the pace we rode through the Allos climb, I didn't realized until the end of the climb that we were only four of five at the front. That's where I tried to attack, just like I did in the finale, though I didn't get a gap. We didn't have an intention of trying to turn things around today as there are days where the mountains are more demanding, and we think we'll be able to try harder later on. Tomorrow's stage will be complicated; the one on Friday, finishing at La Toussuire, is a route that suits me well -full of ups and downs, with serious climbs, a hard route with long ascents-; and Alpe d'Huez is a long climb whose slopes are really good for me. There's still room for battle. We also entered the podium with Alejandro Valverde, who has a nice chance to snatch a place into the top-3, and kept the lead in the teams' classification, so today's overview must be pretty good for us."
Alejandro Valverde: "Safe on the GC podium? I don't really know if it's granted yet. It's true that there are only three days left in this Tour before Paris, but there's still much left to cover. It's also true that I'm feeling really well, working hard for my team-mate Nairo and trying everything to create some gaps, but Froome is really strong and it's hard to beat him. When Contador crashes I was ahead of him and couldn't see the incident, but I was told afterwards. Alberto is a really fighting and dangerous rider -what can you say from him-, someone you can never leave a gap to and he was really close to me on the GC. It was awful to see Van Garderen leaving the race, too – I want to send him all my support, I know how it feels – the Tour and cycling are as hard as this. I was left out of the podium last year, fourth after the final TT following a tough final week, and know the bad side of this race. All in all, we're still there and, as many have seen, we keep trying to take the yellow jersey."