Tour de France (st. 8)
Fast, demanding first Jura stage in the Tour 2017 sees Quintana (9th in GC), all major contenders finish together. Calmejane (DEN) claims solo victory
Almost 42kph average for a day with three categorized climbs -one of them Cat-1, the Combe Laisia-Les Molunes, just 11km from the end- and countless little slopes, at more than 30ºC for the whole day. That line alone was already tiring and descriptive for the immense suffering the riders of the 2017 Tour de France had to go through on day eight – despite all of the demands not creating gaps in the GC. Nairo Quintana and the Movistar Team reached the finish line of the Station des Rousses (187.5km on today's programme) with the main contenders after plenty of attacks over the first 70km created a massive, 50-rider breakaway, including three of the Blues: Jonathan Castroviejo, Andrey Amador and Jasha Sütterlin.
Andrey and 'Castro' were able to get to the foot of the last ascent (25km from the end) just before the group of favourites, where Herrada and Betancur kept his leader well covered and followed the late moves before the line by the likes of Daniel Martin (QST). Chasing one of those attacks helped Carlos come across the line in 11th place, best Movistar finisher of a stage where Quintana conserved his 9th place overall – 54" behind Chris Froome (SKY) – and continued to progress with his form before a crucial day in this year's 'Grande Boucle'.
Sunday will bring a monstruous 182km trek from Nantua to Chambéry, including three small ascents right from the start (Neyrolles -Cat.2-, Bérentin -Cat.3- and Franclens -Cat-3-) plus three HC climbs in the end: La Biche, Grand Colombier and the fearsome Mont du Chat, crested 26km from the end.
Nairo Quintana: "Everything's going well so far. I'm feeling more used to the racing pace in this Tour with every stage I finish. Let's hope our legs continue to feel strong, especially tomorrow. It will be quite a tough test on Sunday. Our predictions before the stage were right; we had to suffer yet we were confident about not losing any time today and having some good feelings back, and we followed that plan to perfection. Tomorrow's stage is one to really take on our rivals' condition and see if we can liven things up. Depending on how they're doing, we will plan on some move or refocus our strategy."
Eusebio Unzué: "We got through the day in a satisfactory well for our interests. It's true that everyone who looks at the race as a fan might think there's only huge wear and tear when big gaps are created in the GC, but even if we didn't see them happening today, it was a really grueling stage. The fact that we finished five minutes ahead of the fastest schedule gives a clear view on that. Plus, we must take the weather conditions into account: there was not a single breeze of air into the valleys, and they became real ovens.
"We had spent a whole week under the control of the sprinters' teams, and that has made for many riders hungry and pretty much full of energy before the first real big mountains. It was also the first real chance for the breakaways, so everyone wanted to be part of them, and it came down to that 50-rider group, making the race incredibly fast. We kept an eye on what could have happened later on and sent three of our lads to the front in Jasha, Castro and Andrey. The fact that Alejandro's not here anymore changes our strategy and forces us to work with anticipation, launching riders to the front to avoid any troubles if something happens.
"In the eve of such a stage as tomorrow's, one with almost 5,000 meters of vertical gain and extreme slopes, I'm sure that today's efforts will make for some big gaps on Sunday. In our case, it seems like Nairo is getting better and better. He's one who requires such tough stages to make his strategy work, and these tough tests will let us know if he's at 100% or is lacking something. From what we've heard and seen from him, he seems to be doing well at the moment."