Tour de France (st. 18)
Colombian crowns top breakaway in Valloire, gains back more than five minutes on GC contenders to re-enter fight for ‘Grande Boucle’ podium, now 7th overall.
“Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion!” After a race where things didn’t go as he planned, Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) did on Thursday at the 2019 Tour de France what only the greats of sport can do: showing again the level of performance he’s always proven to have, and claiming a big stage victory in the Alps after 207km, nearly 5,000 meters of vertical gain and three big climbs from Embrun to Valloire.
Quintana was part of an early, 23-man breakaway where he was always supported by Carlos Verona and Andrey Amador, the latter taking big turns for his team-mates to chase the gaps in the early slopes of the Lautaret, the slight ascent towards the start of the Col du Galibier (HC). Seven kilometers before the top, 26 from the end, the Boyacá native attacked from the break, finding no real opposition as the likes of Romain Bardet (ALM) and Alexey Lutsenko (AST) quickly lost more and more terrain as they tried to keep close to Quintana. It’s Nairo third career stage win in the Tour -after mountain-top victories in Semnoz (2013) and the Col du Portet (2018)- and an extra chance to go for a good overall result, now 7th -just over two minutes behind the podium- with two mountain stages remaining before Paris.
Behind at the GC group, the efforts by Marc Soler to make the race contenders suffer at the Izoard didn’t have much effect, and despite Julian Alaphilippe’s (DQT) struggle near the top fo the Galibier, all big GC names finished together – but one: Egan Bernal (INS). The Colombian put 32″ over the line on a group containing Mikel Landa -now 8th overall-, while Alejandro Valverde concede 58″ against the yellow jersey to now sit in 10th place.
Friday’s stage 19, the second Alpine journey of this year’s ‘Grande Boucle’, will cover just 126km, yet with five rated climbs that include the Col de l’Iseran (HC) and the final ascent to Tignes (Cat-1), just two kilometers before the end.
Nairo Quintana: “This victory is a proof of the big efforts we’ve made for so many months leading up to this race. We worked so hard, we did things we thought were right, yet the race didn’t go as we had wanted. We kept our head down, kept digging and here’s the result. I knew it could be a good day for me, and we talked with the team about any possible strategy to go for a good result. In the end, we got this stage victory – we also gave it a try with Mikel, picking up the pace behind so he could attack and gain some places back. On an individual side, things went good for me, but above all, this is a victory which proves how good the team has done over the race. They worked really hard during the entire Tour, helped me a lot. It was sad when I lost time in the Tourmalet, but here we are. This goes to my team-mates, my family and my country, which has always been supporting me, at good times and not so good. It’s always a big emotion to be able to win such a great stage, on a route for the climbers. Here I was, doing well in my terrain, over beautiful climbs, those that I like.”
Mikel Landa: “Everyone knows how tough Nairo is. He never surrenders, and again proved today the quality he has. He got himself into the breakaway, did an excellent job, and he will play a big tactical factor for the whole team in the remainder of the race. We saw some riders struggling, and that’s why we set that pace through the Izoard – we then stopped, so the breakaway could gain some terrain back. There wasn’t really many moves into the GC group before near the top of the Galibier, which allowed Alaphilippe staying with us. He’s got that spark, and was able to get over that difficult moment. He’s still there and everyone has got respect for what he’s going. In my case, having Nairo ahead, we were also making our rivals a bit nervous and I had to respect that position and not try a move, so he could keep that gap. I saw the main contenders doing well. It’s been a tough day, and the fact that no one really lost time means that it’s going to be tight. Let’s see if we can take advantage from our current situation to have one of us on the podium. None of us will get a margin to try a long-range attack anymore, yet the terrain ahead is tough, it will be hard to control the race and it could make it easier to attempt something different. We must keep trying until the very last day.”
Cover picture (c): BettiniPhoto