Tour de France (st. 11)
Alejandro named ‘Combatif du Jour’ after jumping from GC group with 54km left, staying up-front until opening slopes of final climb. Thomas (SKY) takes stage and yellow, Landa, Quintana lose time to now sit in 7th, 9th overall.
Alejandro Valverde played his cards with the bravery which has always defined his recent career to try and put the Movistar Team into advantage during stage 11 of the Tour de France -158km from Albertville to La Rosière (Cat-1) with four big climbs, including Bisanne and Pré (HC)-.
With Bennati and Amador as launchpad, ‘Bala’ attacked during the second climb, 54km before the finish, from a GC group always including team-mates Mikel Landa and Nairo Quintana. The Spaniard built a 2′ gap over the peloton at the top, already joined by a sensational Marc Soler, who had made part of the early break (nearly 50 riders) and became crucial to keep Alejandro’s chances alive against strong opposition from Sky and Bahrain-Merida.
A move into the descent by Tom Dumoulin (SUN) neutralized Valverde’s effort, the Murcia native reached down later on by a GC group where Geraint Thomas (SKY) opened fire in La Rosière and Froome (SKY) soon seconded the Welshman. Quintana -59″ behind Thomas, day’s winner and new yellow jersey- and Mikel Landa, whose back injuries after his crash on Sunday made drop back even further (+1’46”), both lost time at the finish against the Sky duo and Dumoulin.
Landa (now 7th overall), Quintana (9th) and Valverde -11th; named Most Active rider of the day- will fight tomorrow to again be in the mix at a spectacular Alps closer (175km), over the cols of La Madeleine (HC), Lacets de Montvernier (Cat-2), Croix de Fer (HC) and the legendary Alpe d’Huez (HC).
Alejandro Valverde: “My legs didn’t really feel bad. We played the cards we had to play, doing what we had planned. We gave it our all, and that’s the most important thing to me. Nairo and Mikel tried to stay as close to the main contenders as they could, and our team-mates were excellent, with Imanol, Bennati, Amador and a really superb Marc Soler. We were the team who took the biggest efforts to try something different. Hats off to Sky – they were superior today and it’s our turn to keep trying tomorrow, as well as for the remainder of the Tour. There’s plenty still to come in the race, and we’ll be tackling the hardest stage in the Alps tomorrow. The Alpe d’Huez finish brings us many good memories. We’ll continue to do our best to shine in this race.”
Nairo Quintana: “We tried to play a bit, but to be honest, we didn’t feel like we expected to in the finale. It was a fast race all day, tough pace for us, and we lost some seconds which I hope won’t compromise our goal to fight for the race.”
Mikel Landa: “The day was simply too hard for me. My back started hurting at the first climb, and up La Rosière, I just couldn’t follow the pace. We will check with our doctors how I’m doing and value on which steps we must take. We had to try some moves, and surely Valverde’s attack hurt some people in the bunch. Now we have to examine the current race situation, rest up a bit and see how we feel tomorrow. This final climb wasn’t the best for us Nairo or myself, either – it suited better ‘power climbers’ like Geraint Thomas. A huge Alpe d’Huez climb will be awaiting for us tomorrow, a brutal stage really – we’ll have to keep trying and make a hard race for the rest.”
Marc Soler: “I found quite better legs today – it was a difficult day for me yesterday and couldn’t reach to where I expected, but my body felt stronger today. I could make it into the break and at the Col du Pré, just like we had planned at the strategy meeting – trying to have one of our leaders jumping from behind – I waited for Alejandro and covered him as much as I could, trying to keep a high pace so he could get to the foot of the last climb with some sort of margin over the group. Sadly, the Sky proved to be really strong today. Let’s think just about tomorrow – hopefully we can keep fighting.”
Pictures (c): BettiniPhoto.net