Nairo Quintana will have been happier than most at the arrival of the Tour de France's second rest day. The Movistar rider had shown signs of improvement at the start of week two, but fell by the wayside during a disastrous stage 15 to Puy-en-Velay.
With another week of racing still to come, including a summit finish on the Col d'Izoard and a time trial around Marseille, Quintana has a 6:16 deficit on the yellow jersey. He is in 11th place and unless something incredibly dramatic happens – which cannot be discounted in a Grand Tour – then Quintana is almost certainly going to finish off the podium. It will be the first time that he has not made the rostrum in Paris in his four appearances at the Grand Boucle.
Quintana might be able to slip away from the attention of the European press to a certain extent, but he has no such luxury when it comes to the media from his native Colombia. Even with the success of his compatriot Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac), they are following him every step of the way. He has to publicly come to terms with what is likely to be his lowest finishing position since his Grand Tour debut at the 2012 Vuelta a Espana.
"You always have a bitter taste on stages like last Sunday's. It's not good, it's not beautiful, it's not easy to go through such pain, harder than you're used to. You've got to accept that, finish your race as close to the top as you can," Quintana said in his rest-day press conference.
"We've got badly accustomed to winning or being up there inside the top guys at every single Grand Tour we went to in the past. This is life – you've got to take the blows and accept defeat with the same humility as you do when you're a winner. It's really difficult to assume you're not strong enough, because you're used to get into a race and always feel on par or sometimes stronger than other contenders. However, I remain calm about everything I did. I worked as hard as it was required to win."
Quintana has said that riding the Giro d'Italia in the same season as the Tour de France has taken its toll on him. His father has spoken out, saying that the team has burned out the 27-year-old by designing the calendar they did for the 2017 season. Quintana has had to ensure plenty of questions about his performances this year, but he hit back at his detractors, saying that the team has produced a strong season despite his recent travails.
"I try to not pay much attention to critics, because many of them do not know how it feels to struggle on a bike, how big are the sacrifices you have to take in order to be successful," he said. "We've done a really great season, not only myself, but the whole team. We're so sorry about Alejandro's crash, because with him, things in this Tour would have probably been different."
After losing Alejandro Valverde on the opening stage and Quintana's struggles, Movistar will have to pull out all the stops to get something out of the final six stages. Quintana says that they still hope to close the Tour de France on a high note.
"We've gone through a difficult time in this Tour de France," said Quintana. "We did everything that we could to reach the race in good condition, but the results have been as you could see so far in this race. Now we will try to go for another day like the one we had in Foix. We will of course try to go for a stage win – ambition and willingness to do something good are never lost that easy.
"We'll try to shine in the upcoming days, but we must see how our legs do first, especially considering yesterday's loss on not such of a difficult terrain. We'll carry on until Paris. We want to finish the Tour on a high note, rest up and get back on our feet, because this season is not over yet."
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