Tour de France (st. 16)
Italian from Movistar Team profits from shattered field after echelons to try and break sprint, gets caught into final kilometer in Romans-sur-Isère. Attentive Quintana – supported by 'Benna', Erviti – returns to overall top-ten
The Movistar Team perfectly accomplished on Tuesday's stage 16 of the 2017 Tour de France one of the tasks they had in mind at the depart in Düsseldorf: covering Nairo Quintana on the flat, just like they've been doing for the last two-and-a-half weeks. The 165km journey from Le Puy-en-Velay to Romans-sur-Isère was very intense from the start into the last climbs of the Massif Central, but even harder into the final 15km due to strong crosswinds at the plains of the Rhône river.
Following a short attempt by Trek-Segafredo which didn't last long, Sky took a serious acceleration and left about 30 riders at the front, including Blue veterans Daniele Bennati and Imanol Erviti alongside Nairo Quintana. While the Spaniard continued to take turns at the front to keep his team-mate calm, 'Benna' had some breaths and later launched a big attack with 2km from the end of the race, which only the sprinters, already on full steam with 500m to go, were able to bring back.
The split, which affected both Daniel Martin (QST) and Alberto Contador (TFS), allowed Quintana, who crossed the line in 19th place with the same time as winner Michael Matthews (SUN), return to 10th overall (+6'16") before the two big Alpine stages on Wednesday and Thursday. Stage 18 will bring 183km across the Col d'Ornon (Cat-2), la Croix de Fer (HC) and the consecutive ascents of the Télégraphe (Cat-1) and Galibier (HC), 28km from the finish at Serre Chevalier; a day later, Vars (Cat-1) and Izoard (HC) will bring the TDF's mountains to an end.
Daniele Bennati: "It was really close. It would have been great to finally make sense of the whole team's efforts throughout this Tour. Up to the final 3km, our priority was helping Nairo out, as we've done for the entire race. We rode really well all day, and when the big split was created, we Imanol, Nairo and myself were able to stay at the front.
"At the final 6km I tried to save some energy, because the sprinters' teams were pushing hard and an attack like this one was crossing my mind. I could have tried going into the sprint, but considering the specialists who were into the group, I didn't really stand many chances to win. I tried to catch them by surprise, with a strong attack – I think it was a good one – but to be honest, I didn't really know that there was some uphill terrain into the final kilometer. I lost much speed there and I was caught. It was a matter of instinct: you run into the finish after a slight descent, there was some hesitation to continue pulling at the front by some teams, and I thought it was the right time to make my move.
"I've won 54 races and yet I've never been able to win like that. I came just 200 meters short for such a success at the Vuelta last year. It's difficult to pull off one like that, but I will keep trying."