Tour de France (st. 9)
Valverde (5th overall), Quintana, Landa -crashed with 30km from Roubaix- finish inside main GC group in hardest stage so far in ‘Grande Boucle’, with José Joaquín falling down right after the start -no fractures-.
An extraordinary performance from all Movistar Team riders and perfect strategy execution led to a more-than-satisfactory result for the Eusebio Unzué-led squad in the hardest stage so far in the 2018 Tour de France, over 15 ‘secteurs pavés’ and 21km of cobblestones from Arras to Roubaix (156km).
A crash for José Joaquín Rojas after 9km into the race -a serious blow to his left shoulder not containing any fractures, preliminary examination at the Douai hospital revealed- was the negative rote of a stage where the Telefónica-backed squad overcame all difficulties and always rode together. A sensational combined effort by Erviti, Amador, Bennati and Soler got Nairo Quintana back to the main bunch after some difficulty following sector 12; help Valverde stay calm at the front; and most notably, made up a deficit nearing one minute after a crash by Mikel Landa with 32km to go.
The Spaniard, with many blows and bruises all over his body, finished only 7″ behind the first echelon of favourites, which in turn crossed the line 27″ behind a trio of escapees led home by winner John Degenkolb (TFS). At the GC, a focused, brilliant Valverde over the entire first week now wits in 5th place, 1’31” behind Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and just 48″ and 41″, respectively, off the first main names: Geraint Thomas (SKY) and Bob Jungels (QST). Mikel Landa will get to the first rest day on Monday in 10th place (+1’42”), while Nairo Quintana remains 2’50” behind yellow.
Mikel Landa: “I’m happy, because we got through a very difficult situation. I was drinking some water on an asphalt stretch between cobblestone sectors and rode over a pothole or drain cover. My team-mates were impressive after my accident, and not only pushing there for me but also during the whole stage: taking care of us three, solving that problem – I can’t credit them enough for their incredile job. Let’s hope it’s just scratches, so I can get back to 100% soon. I don’t really know if I’m at 100% right now; the right shoulder hurts a bit, but I think it should be nothing serious.”
Alejandro Valverde: “It’s been an unreal stage. A really, really hard effort, which we got through way better than expected. After so many tough moments, the team was able to also get Mikel into our group, and that makes me so happy, because they’ve shown how great they can be. We made it through, and that’s already success. My legs feel good at the moment, and our terrain to really shine starts on Tuesday.”
Nairo Quintana: “We got through a very difficult stage for us, and rode really focused, the entire team. It was a day when you needed to have very good physical condition and remain well positioned, always into alert. I had some sort of problem at the one of the early sectors and we had to go on the pursuit, but thanks to my team-mates, I could bridge back. After that, I always remained near the front, doing things well, in a very diffcult terrain for us against such talented specialists. I hope to make this gap up in the mountains, because my legs feel great at the moment.”
Enorme equipo!!!!! Muchas gracias 👏👏💪 pic.twitter.com/T07LlJblHK
— Landa Meana (@MikelLandaMeana) July 15, 2018
Picture (c): BettiniPhoto.net