Despite not being able to shake Chris Froome with several attacks on the penultimate and final climbs of the day, Nairo Quintana believes that he and his Movistar teammates finally cracked the seemingly unbreakable Team Sky. Froome became isolated for a rare occasion during this year’s Tour when Wout Poels and Geraint Thomas were both distanced on the ascent of the Col d’Allos, giving Quintana confidence in the stages to come.
“Today I was almost 100 per cent. We have not got to Froome but we have weakened Sky and now come the more serious stages, which favour me, with longer climbs and tougher finishes where we can try to scratch back some time,” Quintana told the press after the stage. “Tomorrow’s stage will be very complicated and the finish in La Toussuire is a course that suits me, it is all day up and down, with major climbs that are very hard and very long. Alpe d’Huez is a fairly long climb and the slope suits my abilities. There is terrain to bring the battle.”
Quintana has looked increasingly strong in the last week, after losing more than a minute on Froome on the opening day in the Alps. He hasn’t lost time since that day and has been consistently attacking Froome. Stage 17 was no different and Quintana made his first move near the top of Pra Loup, hoping to test his isolated rival.
The attack came to nought but on the whole, Quintana believes that it was a strong day for the team. While Alejandro Valverde lost seven seconds in the general classification fight he moved up to third following the abandon of Tejay van Garderen due to illness. Movistar also increased their lead at the top of the team classification to over 16 minutes.
“I felt very good. I recovered well and I didn’t have any problems after the rest day. We were good, together as a whole team, and with the pace that we set on the Allos,” Quintana said.
“When I saw him [Froome] without teammates, we wanted to see how he felt. Mine are good and you have to keep trying. Today we have also got on the podium with Alejandro Valverde and we maintained the lead in the team classification by quite a margin and I think that the balance of the day has been quite favourable for the team.
Movistar had four riders on the Col d’Allos, with Gorka Izagirre and José Herrada dropping back from an earlier break to help set a strong pace before allowing Astana to take over towards the top. Quintana made digs off the front in the closing kilometres but all were matched by Froome and he was forced to chase down one from the yellow jersey wearer. After being outsprinted by Froome earlier in the race, Quintana returned the favour atop Pra Loup but the gaps in the general classification remain the same between the top two.
“We didn’t really intend to turn things around in the general classification today and there are days where the mountains are more demanding and we believe that the remainder may prove to be harder,” explained Quintana.
“It will be difficult to do if I attack too close to the final so I will have to try from further out. Today we saw the strength of the whole team that is at a great level. We will keep trying and we hope that we can weaken them. We already have second place, if nothing happens, but I continue to think of yellow. Time is running out but we believe as the desire grows.”