Movistar Team leader claims fine top-10 finish in first GC battle of this year's Itzulia; Landa (SKY) in the lead after early attack on final climb. Lobato 4th in Circuit de la Sarthe opening day
Still progressing following the virus that affected him after the Volta a Catalunya, yet always willing to offer his best level, Nairo Quintana took a top-ten finish into the first hilltop finish of the Vuelta al País Vasco. The 'wall' of Garrastatxu (2.7km at nearly 12% average gradient) witnessed the victory of local hero Mikel Landa (SKY) after changing weather hit the peloton on day two and made the GC favourites' reactions unpredictable.
Well supported by Sutherland, Herrada, Anacona and Visconti until the final 10km, as well Nairo as Dani Moreno started off the climb into the 50-rider front group. While the Spaniard struggled to get in good position before the demanding slopes -he finishes in 29th place at 58 seconds; Visconti was 26th, at 43"-, the Colombian always kept the front, and even responded to an acceleration by Rui Costa (LAM), who went on the pursuit of Landa and Dutchman Wilco Kelderman (TLJ). Nairo would end up losing some ground as the ramps became gentler into the closing 300 meters.
Quintana, 8th over the line at 15" from the day's winner -"It was a difficult climb for me, but we didn't lose a lot of time", the 'Cóndor of Boyacá' said right after crossing the line-, will try to keep improving his condition over the week as he looks forward to the decisive, final two stages in Arrate. Before that, two demanding days of racing still await – the longest and most predictable one being Wednesday's stage 3, a 193km journey towards Lesaka that includes three Category-2 ascents -Aritxulegi, Agiña and La Piedad- in its finale.
La Sarthe: Fournier holds off dormant peloton
Over in France, the Movistar Team started its participation in the Circuit de la Sarthe (2.HC) chasing hard into a field that let go a two-man break on stage one – so much that they almost cost them the whole race. 21-year-old Marc Fournier (FDJ) ammassed a 2'15" advantage at the finish of Château-du-Loir -with Juanjo Lobato in 4th place at the group sprint- as him and Germany's Grischa Janorschke (ROT) took a massive 17-minute gap without any early opposition from the peloton.
Despite Jorge Arcas, Dayer Quintana and the Blues' main sprinter making all they could, together with Direct Energie, IAM and Cofidis, to reduce the margin, chances for the man from Trebujena were neglected in the opening day of the French race, which should bring a more traditional bunch arrival on Wednesday morning. Tomorrow's 'double sector' in Angers will include a crucial 6.8km time trial in the afternoon.