Tour de France (st. 7)
Movistar Team keeps Nairo Quintana safe into Col d'Aspin as Pinot (FDJ) cracks; Blues to head towards Bagnères-de-Luchon with Nairo in 7th, Valverde in 4th
The prelude to a high voltage weekend in the Tour de France acted as measurement of the main GC references. At least, that’s what Nairo Quintana was expecting at the start of stage seven (162.5km between L’Isle-Jourdain and the Lac de Payolle). Far from showing their cards again in one of the most famous Pyrenean ascents, the Col d’Aspin (Cat-1; 12km at 6.5%), both the Movistar Team and Sky preferred to play it defensive on the second mountain stage of the race.
The squad directed on French soil by José Luis Arrieta and Chente García Acosta was present into the massive, 29-man breakaway formed after a whooping 49.4kph were covered on the first hour of racing. Gorka Izagirre was at the two main moves before it consolidated, including a 12-rider attempt including Green Jersey contenders Peter Sagan (TNK) and Mark Cavendish (DDD). As the escape saw its advantage grow to more than five minutes, the ever-dependable Imanol Erviti took the front to keep things uncomfortable for the rivals. Keeping the front pace under check, and keeping the favourites into alert behind. Race leader Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), part of the front group, followed a move before the climb by Vincenzo Nibali (AST) and kept his big gap in the overall standings against the main contenders, a list which might be missing Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) for all after his attack ended up taking him off the back into the Aspin.
Stephen Cummings (DDD), together with Impey (IAM), Navarro (COF) and Nibali (AST) at the foot of the Aspin, jumped for glory in Payolle as the likes of Nairo, Froome (SKY) and Contador (TNK) kept vigilant towards each other, saving their energies for Saturday’s beautiful festival of climbs. The Tourmalet (HC), Hourquette d’Ancizan (Cat-2), Col de Val Louron (Cat-1) and Peyresourde (Cat-1) will set for a nice scene for attacks before a fast descent takes the Tour into Bagnères-de-Luchon. An incident also made the headlines in today’s finale: the inflatable arch sustaining the ‘flamme route’ fell just in front of the Movistar Team’s leaders. Fortunately, all GC times were taken with 3km remaining; no further changes followed.
Alejandro Valverde (audio): “The arch collapsed as we headed into the final kilometer – someone might have wanted the race to end a bit earlier! (laughs) Seriously, it’s all right for us. It was a slightly more calm day, but the wear and tear of the tough previous stages is starting to pay off. It was also a strange race today: no one was thinking that such a big escape would form. In the end, it sticked. We will see what we can do tomorrow.”
Nairo Quintana (video): “It was a faster race than we expected. The Col d’Aspin was also climbed at high speed than we thought and there weren’t many energies left for a big attack within the GC contenders – we all just could avoid the escapees keeping a massive gap and hope for a better chance tomorrow.”
Chente García Acosta (video): “The collapsing of the ‘flamme rouge’ was a race incident, something you can come across into a race, and the race jury considered it as such – Radio Tour quickly informed us that times would be taken into account at the 3km to go-mark. Let’s hope Yates, the one most affected by the crash, isn’t really badly hurt. Tomorrow’s stage is a traditional one in the Pyrenees, with those famous, chained climbs; we will surely see more clearly what’s gonna happen in the race.”