In an echo of one the Giro d'Italia's most entertaining sub-plots, the battle for the white jersey at the Tour de France looks set to involve a Colombian and a Pole, with Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) firmly in place atop the standings in the best young rider classification.
In Italy in May, it was Quintana's fellow countryman Carlos Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale) who eventually won out, as his punchier climbing saw him edge a close contest with Rafal Majka (Saxo-Tinkoff). The contrast in styles is less nuanced at the Tour and more of a confrontation between two opposing schools, as the rouleur Kwiatkowski is pitched against the pure climber Quintana.
When Quintana danced away on the Porte de Pailhères on Saturday's opening mountain stage, it looked as if he was about to take a decisive hold of the white jersey. Kwiatkowski rode well to limit his losses, however, and he regained the lead with a fine fifth place finish in the stage 11 time trial to Mont-Saint-Michel, 1:31 down on teammate Tony Martin.
"I think I did a pretty good TT and I'm happy with my improvement and my progression in the TT," Kwiatkowski said afterwards. "I pushed from the beginning and I was looking for my speed all the time. I was going 55kph a lot of the time, so it was a fast course."
That performance was enough to catapult Kwiatkowski to seventh place overall and also saw him leapfrog Quintana in the young rider classification after the Colombian finished 3:28 down on the stage. The gap between the two is now just 34 seconds. However, even with another time trial to come in the final week, Kwiatkowski was under no illusions about his chances of fending off Quintana's inevitable advance in the Alps.
"For sure, I should lose it in the last week because Quintana climbs better than me," said Kwiatowski, who downplayed his own prospects. "We will see. I don't have any pressure. I want to improve in the climbs but we'll just have to see how it goes in the third week. it would be nice to stay with the best but it's going to be hard too."
Quintana was pleased simply to have what he called "probably the worst day of the Tour" behind him and did not seem unduly concerned at having yielded possession of the maillot blanc to Kwiatowski. "I lost the white jersey but I hope I can get it back in some mountain stage and keep it to the end," he said. "Kwiatkowski is going to be a tough opponent but there are substantial stages left that suit me well."
The Colombian has slipped to eighth in general classification, more than five minutes off the yellow jersey of Chris Froome and almost two off a podium place. "I didn't do a dream time trial but the result was still good, and I didn't lose too much time to the men around me on GC," he said. "The wind made the day a bit more complicated for me because it suited bigger riders who can produce more power."
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