Tour de France (st. 18)
Hard TT in Megève approaches Nairo Quintana (10th) to overall podium, now 21" behind Adam Yates (OBE) –Ion finished 7th, 7" ahead of the Colombian-; Froome (SKY) takes win and strengthens overall lead, now 3'52" ahead
After losing a second team-mate on yesterday’s cruel Emosson stage, where he struggled badly into the final two kilometers, it seemed like Thursday’s tough ITT between Sallanches and Megève (17km) would be even harder for Nairo Quintana and Movistar Team. The Colombian, as previously done by team-mates Alejandro Valverde and Ion Izagirre, took a gamble by riding the Canyon Speedmax TT bike, looking to lose as little time as possible into the opening 4k, where his main rivals flew over the course. Nairo bounced back after the third and final intermediate point, 13.5km in, to finish 10th in Megève, even though he confirmed after crossing the line he’s far from his best performance.
Ion Izagirre completed a notable performance after winning the long TT in the Tour de Suisse and National Champs, claiming a coveted 7th spot at just 1’03” from the day’s success. In turn, Valverde conceded one place in the overall, now 8th at 29” from Fabio Aru (AST), yet combined with Nairo and Ion’s time, Movistar strengthens its team GC lead with 3’23” over Sky. The British squad’s leader Chris Froome took another giant step forward with his stage win, leaving Bauke Mollema (TFS) at 3’52” in second place.
Friday will bring the third-to-last stage of the race, 146km between Albertville and Saint-Gervais / Mont Blanc which include the cols of Bisanne (HC), Forclaz (Cat-1) and the mountain-top finish in Le Bettex (Cat-1, 9.8 kilometers at 8%). A penultimate chance for the Blues to find their feelings back and close in on the Paris podium.
Nairo Quintana: “I wasn’t expecting to be feeling this way. It’s not fatigued how I feel, but my body doesn’t respond properly either. It might be some sort of allergy around which has hit me furing the last few days – my legs don’t simply get as much oxygen as I need. I hope that rain falls during the next days, so I can feel better and hope for the podium. Despite not finding that great form, at the moment it doesn’t look like a bad place to be in, fourth and ready to fight for the TDF podium. Let’s see how by body responds towards Saturday – if this allergy limiting myself goes out, I might respond as I normally do. Thanks to all Colombians for their support, messages and tweets: they’ve always been there in all times, good and bad.”
Alejandro Valverde: “I felt myself pretty well, even though at the end of the day, it wasn’t a fight for me since I’m not going for the overall classification – we’re into another fight, to help Nairo with his podium ambitions and also pursue the team GC. I kept saving some energy until the end: obviously strong, fast, but not till the point of ending up struggling if I overcooked myself. Regarding the race itself, I repeat we’ve tried to attack, yet Froome’s squad is really strong. There are still two demanding stages left and we’ll fight to finish as best as possible. Winning the Tour has become all but impossible, but a podium could be in the cards. I’m feeling well, looking forward to the Olympics. A stage win here? I don’t think it will be possible – breakaways require to have lost some time, which I haven’t done.”