Nairo Quintana's right elbow was bloodied, but his broad smile told its own story as he climbed back onto his bike to warm down after stage 11 of the Tour de France in Toulouse. A knot of television and radio journalists from his native Colombia had followed him from the finish line to the Movistar team bus not far from the Canal de Brienne, and as a cameraman zoomed in on his wounded elbow, Quintana jokingly called out an admonishment.
"Don't make too big a deal out of it," Quintana laughed. "They'll only get worried back home."
It could have been a whole lot worse. Quintana was among the fallers in the crash that ended Niki Terpstra's Tour with a little under 30 kilometres to go, but he remounted quickly and gave chase. Quintana and Movistar found a useful ally of circumstance in Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), and they regained the bunch after a short but fretful pursuit.
Quintana and Porte both came home safely in the body of the peloton to retain their overall positions. The Colombian remains in 8th place, 2:04 behind maillot jaune Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep), while Porte is 19th at 3:59.
"The race was getting tense and there were lots of change of direction, narrow roads, and falls, so we tried to stay out of trouble and not lose time in these stages," Quintana said as he soft-pedalled on the turbo trainer.
"Fortunately, I fell when the bunch was already slowing. It was inevitable, the important thing is that I'm fine and my legs are fine. Quickly the team got together, and we worked together with Richie Porte's team, because he'd been in a crash, too, and then we all came back together."
The Tour enters the Pyrenees on Thursday, with the ascents of the Peyresourde and Hourquette d'Ancizan preceding a long drop to the finish in Bagnères-de-Bigorre. The pivotal individual time trial in Pau then precedes back-to-back summit finishes on the Col du Tourmalet and at Prat d'Albis. Quintana anticipated no lasting consequences from his fall ahead of that potentially race-defining sequence.
"I'm fine," Quintana said. "I'll need a bit of ice on my injury to reduce the swelling on my elbow, which got the worse of the blow. But no problems."
Although Quintana's Tour began with Movistar's off-key showing in the Brussels team time trial, he has steadily risen through the standings ever since. He ran through the scales to good effect on the first mountain stage to La Planche des Belles Filles and then hit all the right notes when he made the front group amid the echelons en route to Albi on Monday.
Quintana set out from Brussels as co-leader with Mikel Landa, and, officially at least, the Movistar hierarchy remains unchanged. After crashing on the run-in to Albi, however, Landa is 4:15 down in 20th place overall, more than two minutes behind Quintana.
"Tomorrow the biggest exams begin for us, where we want to be ahead and start recovering lost time," Quintana said. "We have Mikel in a good position to play strategically and physically, he, Alejandro and the whole team are doing well."
A few minutes later, Richie Porte emerged from the neighbouring Trek-Segafredo bus to talk reporters through his crash. The Tasmanian was caught up in the incident with no fewer than five of his teammates, including former maillot jaune Giulio Ciccone. The Italian appeared to hurt his knee in the crash, and he finished 169th and last on the stage, more than 12 minutes behind winner Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal).
"Some guys went down in front of me and that's all I remember," Porte said. "I hit my head pretty hard, so we'll see how that is. Otherwise, it isn't so bad. Ciccone had a pretty bad crash so hopefully he's ok."
Porte's past two Tours have been ended prematurely by injuries sustained in heavy crashes on stage 9. He safely passed that unhappy milestone in Brioude on Sunday but endured ill fortune the following day when he conceded 1:40 after the peloton split in crosswinds on the run-in to Albi. Like Quintana, he downplayed the seriousness of his fall.
"In the grand scheme of things, it wasn't a terrible crash, I don't think," Porte said. "Anyhow we were up the front. They're pretty indiscriminate, the crashes here. It's probably a relief to get the first crash out of the way."
For Porte, as for all the podium contenders, the coming four days will set the tone for the remainder of his Tour, but he expressed optimism that he would not be hindered by his crash on the road to Bagnères-de-Bigorre on Thursday. "I hope not," he said. "We'll see."