Tour de France (st. 19)
Quintana climbs onto 3rd overall with just two days before end of Tour de France in Paris: sits 19" ahead of Adam Yates (OBE) after immense Alejandro Valverde (3rd) delivers big support for Colombian into final climb. Nairo still within reach of today's Le Bettex winner Bardet (ALM), at 16" from the Movistar Team's leader
Against all odds and under a storm which surprised the riders into the finale of stage 19 in the Tour de France (Albertville – Saint-Gervais / Mont Blanc – Le Bettex, 146km), Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) jumped onto third overall following providential help by Alejandro Valverde. The Spaniard, 3rd across the line today, guided the squad’s leader while leaving behind two of the riders ahead of Nairo in the eve, Bauke Mollema (TFS) –crashed– and Adam Yates (OBE) –struggling–, which did not make it into the front group at the crucial momento. A brandnew chance appeared, and the Movistar Team profited.
The ambitious turquoise train from Astana pushed hard all the way through until the final ascent of Le Bettex (1ª). At the Montée de Bissane (HC) -12.4km at 8.2%-, the Kazakh team’s pace put Yates into trouble. Difficulties would not end there for the favourites, as a brief, strong spell of rain into the descent covered the peloton and caused several crashes, Richie Porte (BMC) being the first down.
After the Tasmanian, Bauka Mollema (TFS) –down to 10th after the day– took another tumble few kilometers before the foot of Bettex, with even the race leader, Chris Froome (SKY), crashing together with Nibali (AST) few minutes later. The yellow jersey kept his act together, even on team-mate Geraint Thomas’ bike, to concede just few seconds across the finish.
The Blues, conscious about Yates’ troubles to keep the pace of the GC group, put thirty valuable seconds on the young Briton and took Nairo into 3rd overall, behind day’s winner Bardet (ALM, 2º) and Froome. Saturday will be their last chance to progress: 146.5km between Megève and Morzine, with the Joux Plane (HC) -11.6km at 8.5%- as decider following two Cat-1 ascents in La Colombière -11.7km, 5.8%- and La Ramaz -13.9km at 7.1%-.
Nairo Quintana: “It’s almost an act of God, a miracle to be here at the finish today. I was feeling really bad – what is happening into my body is difficult to explain right now. We’ve fought a whole lot from the very start. I struggled a lot, and my team-mates helped me out immensely, they were phenomenal. Thanks to them, I’m still here, on my bike. I feel tired, my body doesn’t work right, my legs don’t work properly. When I finish the stage, it’s like normal for me, but my body just doesn’t do things right. More than condition, I profited from my class today. Class never leaves you. At some point of the race, I even thought about withdrawing.”
Alejandro Valverde: “It wasn’t just a hard day: it was complete carnage, even more than previous stages. Before Froome and Mollema crashed, the race was already full on – Astana was pushing before those incidents and continued, which is normal. We couldn’t ride faster today. Froome had those problems, yet he’s still the strongest in this race and recovered. To be honest, I saw the stage win so close – however, that attack by Bardet into the descent was courageous, hats off to him because the downhill was full of danger today. Tomorrow’s stage might be one for alliances between squads – Astana played it well today. I’m enjoying this race, even considering the suffering a Tour de France puts on us. I’m enjoying every single minute of this – it’s a wonderful feeling to be able to fight so strong after a hard Giro d’Italia. I rode more calm on yesterday’s TT, not going on full steam, and it really paid off today. We’ve still got some energies, yet the stage win seems out of reach for me, as I’m still close in the overall standings.”