Tour de France (st. 13) / Pologne (st. 4)
Nice TT by Alejandro Valverde takes him only 18" down on team leader Nairo Quintana after hard Giro for him; Colombian struggles against the win, yet recovers in finale. Brilliant 3rd for Nelson Oliveira as Dumoulin (TGA) crushes opposition; Ion Izagirre 8th
Chris Froome (SKY) hit hard and took a huge step forward in his 2016 Tour de France winning aspirations by finishing second in the longest TT of the race. Friday’s 37.5km route between Bourg-Saint-Andéol and La Caverne-Pont-d’Arc included gusty winds, two heavy uphill stretches -the opening 7km and the run-in to the finish- and dangerous downhill sections. In such a scene, the Movistar Team got through the day with all energy they could bring to the fore, even shining with three of their members: Nelson Oliveira, Ion Izagirre -8th, in his first TT in nat-champ colours- and Alejandro Valverde.
Oliveira led the classification for more than two hours after an impressive effort. He built his 51’46” time at the end over a fantastic first stint -he was 3rd of all riders after 7km, only behind stage winner Dumoulin (TGA) and Richie Porte (BMC), after 7km-, and held big rivals like Martin (EQS), Cancellara (TFS), Coppel (IAM) and Dennis (BMC) through the rest of the course before Dumoulin clocked the best time.
In turn, Valverde, the man always helping out Nairo Quintana, coming into this TDF with no pressure following his Giro podium finish, bested the likes of Van Garderen, Porte (BMC) and Adam Yates (OBE), among other top-ten contenders. The man from Murcia crossed the line just 54” short of Bauke Mollema (TFS), whose brilliant TT took him into 2nd overall. ‘Bala’ was 15th in the day and now sits fifth overall (+3’17”), even virtually riding to fourth in sections of the TT, ahead of his team leader Nairo Quintana.
The Colombian now ranks 4th, 2’59” behind Froome, after he trailed considerably in the opening phase. Even though he compensated that with a strong final climb, Nairo lost two minutes to the yellow jersey and 20” to Alejandro, the Blues’ GC duo now on the verge of podium -Nairo is 14” off Yates’ pace, Valverde at 32”- with five mountain stages to go.
Saturday will bring a break or maybe the last or penultimate bunch sprint before Paris, as the route is arguably the least hard of what's left until the end of the race: 208.5km with no big climbs, finishing at the Parc des Oiseaux in Villars-les-Dombes.
Alejandro Valverde: “We did as much as we could today. I think I fared well today; obviously, it was nowhere near to Dumoulin’s fantastic performance, but I kept the same line of the main GC contenders but Froome and Mollema. We’re still committed to the work we were supposed to do in this Tour de France. I feel satisfied: I showed again that I’ve improved in the TTs and got used to the new Canyon pretty easily – there’s nothing I can complain about today, just hope for Nairo to finish this off well.”
Nairo Quintana: “I gave everything that was inside me. Wind was blowing so hard in the beginning that it seemed logical that, with my weight and body form, I would be losing more time against the other GC guys. In the finale, my legs responded better and I got back some time. I kept jush pushing on full steam, all the time, but it was just that I responded better into the second half of the TT; the gusts really hit me in the beginning. I’m trailing by quite a bit in the overall, but I hope that my legs get better. There’s still a lot of mountains to come and I hope I can recover some.”
Tour de Pologne: Tatr Mountains coming up
Way up north, away from the TT fight in the Tour de France, the Movistar Team directed by Jaimerena & Laguía had another 200km+ journey in the Tour de Pologne -218 kilometers, to be precise, between Nowy Sącz and Rzeszów/Podkarpackie-. The route, however, was more spicy as five little climbs were included before the final circuit. It was only a prelude of what will come on Saturday, with seven Cat-1 climbs before the finish in Zakopane, where Dayer Quintana, Fernández, Castroviejo, Visconti or even Andrey Amador could be in the mix.
Far from putting the GC into jeopardy, today’s hills only played their part in giving out the KOM points for the day’s break -De Marchi (BMC), Keukeleire (OBE), Stachowiak (VAT), Marycz (CCC), Rekita (PL), Boev (GAZ) y Tonelli (BAR)-, caught as they entered the finish for the first time. Spaniard Rubén Fernández kept his top Movistar Team placing overall after the fourth sprint in as many days: Fernando Gaviria (EQS) won his second stage, leaving second-overall Kwiatkowski (SKY) at 20”.