Tour de France: Quintana and Movistar resist the pressure to attack Froome

"We will soon go 'mano a mano' and may the legs decide it", says Colombian

Over the course of last year's Tour de France, the Movistar team was a source of frustration for many, widely seen as overly conservative in their approach and unwilling to lay everything on the line to take the fight to Chris Froome.

Things seemed set to be different this year. Alejandro Valverde has now ticked a Grand Tour podium off his bucket list and is working unequivocally and entirely for Nairo Quintana. The Colombian also promised to test Froome earlier in the tour after realising that waiting for the final week was too late to pull back any time lost. 

However as this year's Tour de France leaves the Pyrenees, at the mid-way point of the race, Froome is in yellow and Quintana has kept his powder as dry as a bone.
The Movistar press conference in Andorra was dominated by the topic of their approach to the race, and those pining for increased aggression will not have been satisfied.

"Queda mucho Tour" – 'there's a lot of this Tour remaining' – was a repeated refrain from Quintana, who doesn't give a great deal away either on the bike or in front of the microphones.

The Colombian, twice a runner-up to Froome at the Tour, finds himself fourth overall at 23 seconds after nine stages, his time loss coming when the Team Sky rider attacked on the descent of the Col de Peyresourde at the end of stage 8.

"We're taking it day-by-day – me as well as the team. Queda mucho Tour; there are lots of mountains left. We cannot empty ourselves on just one day – we know are rivals are very strong. We have to take it day-by-day and look for an opportunity to attack."

Quintana was asked why he didn't attack on Sunday's summit finish at Andorra Arcalis, and his explanation was simply that he, like most of the other overall contenders, was on the limit, having to contend with the changing weather conditions and the flurry of accelerations. Despite that, he claimed he feels stronger, and more mature, than last year.

As for why Valverde didn't go on the offensive: "Each team and each rider has their strategy. That was ours. And at the moment we are losing very little time. We're going to need Valverde in the next couple of weeks."

The question is of course, how long Quintana can keep taking it 'day-by-day' before running out of days? He would argue that he faces a far lesser deficit than he did at the first rest day last year, and thus one or two well-timed, well-executed assaults might be wiser than, say, a series of clumsy token jabs.

Thursday's finish atop Mont Ventoux is the next major GC battleground on the horizon, rising up on Bastille Day and on the eve of the all-important 37.5km time trial, where received wisdom would have it that Quintana will lose ground to Froome. However, the 26-year-old didn't give any indication that his approach on the so-called 'Giant of Provence' would be anything other than conservative.

"We'll wait and see what will happen. Always waiting and seeing how the rivals are," he said. "We cannot drive ourselves mad and waste our resources, which would give the rivals a chance to take advantage."

'There's no prize for the one who attacks the most'

Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué sat beside Quintana and also faced questions over his teams approach. The long-standing Spanish manager defended the tactics, arguing that they are born out of pragmatism rather than conservatism.

"What we'd like to do is not necessarily attack, but to achieve effectiveness," he said. "There is no prize for the one who attacks the most. Effectiveness is what yields the rewards and sometimes you obtain that through attacking and other times with great shows of defence."

He pointed to Movistar's fearsome pace-setting on the stage through the Massif Central, which brought about the demise of Vincenzo Nibali – if not a genuine GC threat then a useful card for Astana teammate Fabio Aru. Then there was the Andorra stage, where they "unsettled Team Sky" by putting four men in the early attack, including Valverde, who would later have to sit up for the good of the breakaway.

"In the race we try to find surprises with the 'arms' we have," was how Unzué put it, though he clearly considers the enemy an incredibly strong one.

"There's a reality we can't forget, and that's that Froome has a tremendous team behind him," he said. "Doing damage to Froome with an attack is complicated, because when you isolate him – that doesn't happen very often. They [Sky] could come with a slightly weaker team so they're a bit more vulnerable and that way it would improve the spectacle," he added, his tone jocular but almost defeatist.

Quintana was himself asked if he found Team Sky's strength in depth demoralizing. He said no, before giving a promise of a direct showdown with Froome – somewhere between here and Paris.

"It's not demoralising. We also have a strong team, with great riders. We might work differently but we make our presence felt. If I was demoralized I'd be further down the GC.

"He [Froome] surprises us so much that we don't know what to expect, but I am also prepared. For sure we will soon go 'mano a mano', and may the legs decide it…" 

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