Colombian loses 21" to Froome (SKY) as Briton takes lead back in Tour de France after entering first split in Côte de Saint-Pierre finish; Movistar Team captain plays safe at hectic finish, remains 8th overall (+2'22")
The first of two days into the Massif Central in the 2017 Tour de France again produced some late fireworks. The attrition of the two previous stages in the Pyrenees, the winds and the huge pace of the bunch into the closing phase of the 181km journey from Blagnac to Rodez -with two Cat-3 ascents; a non-categorized climbs with 4km at 5%; and the 600m, 10% finish atop the Côte de Saint-Pierre-, created some slight splits inside the bunch, which affected Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) as well as some of the major contenders.
Despite good work from Herrada, Bennati and Amador guarding Quintana into the ups-and-downs towards the line, Nairo was forced to fight against rouleurs and sprinters at the last kilometer -one of them, Australian Michael Matthews (SUN), taking the day's win- and only managed to finish 23rd, 21" away from the first big group. At the front, Chris Froome (SKY) became the new race leader by putting almost half a minute on Fabio Aru (AST), who finished behind Quintana. At the overall standings, Nairo remains in 8th spot, 2'22" down, while Froome, Aru (+19"), Bardet (ALM, +23") and Urán (CDT, +29") are even closer than ever.
Sunday will offer another lumpy route towards Le Puy-en-Velay, with 190km full of little climbs; a Cat-1 ascent, Naves d'Aubrac (9km, 6,5% avg.) almost right from the start; and the Col de Peyra Taillade (Cat-1; 8.3km at 7.4%) just 31km from the end of the race. All those factors will be combined with the extra spice characteristic of a stage prior to the final rest day of the 'Grande Boucle'.
Nairo Quintana: "It was a fast stage, and after the wear and tear from yesterday we were finishing at a steep climb which didn't really suit my abilities. It was also difficult to get to the foot in a good place, because you must keep an eye on any crashes and avoid risks against tall, strong riders whose goal is chasing the stage win. You think more about your own safety and seek for further chances on the upcoming days. I though they weren't going to make that many splits, but that's OK – sometimes it's better to remain in one piece that chasing those risky 20 seconds. Let's see how we can get them back tomorrow and whether our legs continue do well. We must keep trying. We're more eager after yesterday's result and the team really trusts me to make it up."