Colombian from Movistar Team completes excellent comeback stage after long-range attack from Col d'Agnes (60km from end); beaten by Barguil (SUN) for the stage, takes back nearly 2 minutes in the GC (remains 8th) to sit now 2'07" back
Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) started turning things around, both physically and mentally, to what had been a bitter 2017 Tour de France for the telephone squad and got Eusebio Unzué's squad back into good feelings in a day of big spectacle. The final Pyrenees stage -101km from Saint-Girons to Foix with three Cat-1 ascents: Latrape, Agnes and the Mur de Péguère- did not disappoint, with four talented riders, including the 'Cóndor', leaving the peloton behind and making the GC way more open than before.
Launched by Carlos Betancur, also in his best form so far in the 'Grande Boucle', Quintana jumped away from the favourites' group into the Agnes climb, 63km from the end, pursuing Mikel Landa (SKY) and Contador (TFS) who were holding a 40-second advantage. The gap did not change much during neither the ascent -which Nairo covered with strong, solo relays-, the descent -where he found help from Warren Barguil (SUN) and came meters short to bridging back- nor the whole climb of Péguère, where a strong finish by Barguil reduced the 45" gap they saw growing on its slopes. The four riders were thus together to fight for the stage win.
With no cooperation inside the reduced group of favourites, the gap never went down the two minutes the quartet had before the descent. Quintana's advantage at the finish ended up being 1'48", Barguil beating him for the day's honours. All of that, combined with the six-second bonus for Nairo (2nd) and Landa's presence at the front, makes for a closer GC: Aru -race leader-, Froome, Bardet, Urán, Landa, Martin, Yates and Quintana (8th) now sit just 2'07" apart, with all of the Alps and the TT showdown in Marseille still to come.
The Tour will head into the Massif Central on Saturday, a 181.5km ride from Blagnac to Rodez ending with the steep Côte de Saint-Pierre (570m, 9,6% gradient), which will force all contenders to keep an eye on each other again.
Nairo Quintana: "As long as we have anything left into the tank, as long as I felt good, I'll always keep trying doing my best. I just hope to find this legs for another day in this race. I'm back there with the top guys, I'm not losing confidence and I hope we can do like this for a couple of days, so we can go for it. We've always fought with heart and soul, we've always been up there. You just don't lose your touch from one day to another. If you've got the skills, they show up at some point. We want to keep leaving our impression in this Tour."