Winner Anacona takes 3rd in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne during second Alpine stage in Tour de France, with no GC chances after Alejandro Valverde -still in 3rd overall- recovers from small time loss through Glandon summit. Nairo Quintana remains in 2nd spot
Yet another breakaway, a 29-man attempt including two of the Movistar Team Riders -Jonathan Castroviejo, 8th over Pra Loup yesterday and featuring again at the front today as well as helping out the leaders; and Winner Anacona, superb into the climbs yet ultimately 3rd, against a superior Romain Bardet (ALM) and a late attack from Pierre Rolland (EUC)-, took the honours on stage 18 of the 2015 Tour de France. Today's 186.5km journey, with seven rated climbs including the Glandon (HC) and the Lacets de Montvernier (Cat-2) before Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne's finish, saw Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde extending their presence into the provisional GC podium one more day as 2nd and 3rd overall.
Two short-lived moves from the Spaniard and the Colombian and bigger attacks from Nibali (AST) and Contador (TCS) caused Valverde, always helping out Nairo, to briefly drop back before the summit of the Glandon. 'Bala' used his downhill abilities to bridge back and stay into GC podium positions before the two Blue references tackle the showdown of the Grande Boucle on Friday and Saturday, into short routes with long, steep climbs. Stage 19, only 138km, will feature the Chaussy (Cat-1) right from the start; Croix de Fer (HC) and Mollard (Cat-2) together near the end; and the long La Toussuire (Cat-1) as mountain-top finish.
Eusebio Unzué: “It was an extremely difficult today, full of ups and downs and covered at full speed from the very start. When Nibali attacked into the final kilometer of the Col du Glandon and took like 50, 60 meters' advantage, we told Alejandro to close the gap, which he did, yet he ended up struggling a bit. Fortunately, he took some air, recovered and, as he knew he was almost at the summit, he kept in mind he would make up the gap.
"Bardet really upped the ante with another descent in Dauphiné and did the same today, excellent into the downhill and keeping the margins into the final climb. It's awful that Winner couldn't take it, since he was really strong and in good position to contest the win – we also kept him as a safety bet in case either Nairo or Alejandro needed his services behind, but it wasn't needed. Apart from that, Froome didn't make any mistakes today, just as during the rest of the Tour, where he hasn't cracked nor committed errors into the descents. He's always controlled his rivals well, and we can only hope that the wear and tear of these stages pays a bigger impact on him during the weekend and we profit from that – yet, he's a well-deserved GC leader.”
Alejandro Valverde: “I had to close a couple of gaps and was suffering from a bit of flatus, so I had to reduce my speed for a bit and take some air – I knew I would be back into the group after the downhill. I crested really close to them, about 10" down, got back into the group and everyone could see that everything was alright afterwards, it didn't go further. It was a really demanding day and we got through it safely; there are two really important still left, short stages yet enormously demanding, and I hope to recover well. We came here to fight for victory with Nairo and if I make the GC podium, it will be fantastic, but I have a clear role and goal and I'll follow it until the end.”
Nairo Quintana: “Alejandro suffered sort of a small crisis there and we had to ride more cautiously so we could get him back into the group and recovered. We hope tomorrow's stage will be a good one for us; mountains remaining in this Tour are different and we had to remain a bit more calm today, because no real differences could be made at the finish considering the final profile. It's really important for me to have Alejandro close – he always helps me out, closing the gaps and with everything. We'll play our cards differently tomorrow."