Nairo Quintana keeps Froome's pace in Arcalís -where Anacona finishes 5th- and climbs onto 4th overall in Tour de France, still 23" back; Alejandro Valverde struggles under hailstorm after brilliant early tactics in La Bonaigua, now ranks 10th at 1’01”
The Movistar Team tried to turn things around after Saturday's blow in Bagnères-de-Luchon and launched one of its two main GC references into early fight on stage nine of the Tour de France (Vielha-Andorra / Ordino-Arcalís, 184.5km). Alejandro Valverde was the courageous face of the telephone squad once again, going after Contador (TNK) -later retired from the race- and Henao (SKY), in search for an enormous, 44-rider escape including four from the Blue team: the Izagirre brothers, Winner Anacona and Jesús Herrada.
Despite Winner, Jesús and 'Bala' making what was the decisive, 20-man move at the summit of La Bonaigua (Cat-1), with one minute over the peloton of GC leader Chris Froome (SKY), and increasing their gap to two minutes after the descent, Alejandro's presence into the field forced his companions to ask for his exit so they could chase the stage win. The two Movistar Team riders remaining in rode bravely into a world-class escape: Winner Anacona came across the line in 5th spot, almost two minutes behind the day's winner Tom Dumoulin (TGA), and Jesús Herrada, committed as usual into the steepest sections, ended up being a luxury witness… of his own leader's arrival to the finish.
As Valverde struggled following his fantastic effort and the dramatic weather change -from heat to hailstorm- into the final climb of Arcalís, finishing 42" behind the lead to trail back to 10th overall (+1'01"), Nairo Quintana glued to every single move by his rivals to come across the line together. That action takes him into fourth in the GC, 23" behind the yellow jersey. Movistar is now in the lead of the TDF's teams' classification and will enjoy, together with the rest of the Grande Boucle's convoy, a well-deserved first rest day on Monday before action resumes over Envalira (Cat-1) and to Revel on Tuesday.
Alejandro Valverde (audio): "It was a really demanding stage. The team behaved well overall; we tried to go after that move with Contador, knowing that we had team-mates at the front, but once Alberto wasn't able to keep up the pace I couldn't be there either, because if I did, the break just wouldn't go forward. All in all, Nairo did his job well, keeping Froome's wheel; my job, in turn, got way harder with the final pace, the rain and the efforts from the day, and I could just go on my own, staying with Kreuziger's group and pushing with all I had until the finish. Froome unbeatable at the moment? So I feel Nairo is, too. There's still a long way to go in this Tour – you must attack when it's your real time. You never know when it comes. Contador's abandon? It was sad; he had already told me he was suffering from fever this morning. All my best wishes to him!"