Movistar team manager Eusebio Unzue says that his team will not throw in the towel at the Tour de France despite conceding more than two minutes to the yellow jersey Chris Froome (Team Sky) in the overall classification. Heading into the second week, Movistar's leader, Nairo Quintana had been within a minute of his rival but a bad day on Mont Ventoux and a lacklustre time trial mean that the Colombian is almost three minutes back and off the podium.
Speaking to reporters at the start of another windy stage in Montelimar, Unzue refused to accept defeat, with three big mountain stages and a mountain time trial to come.
"You have to get back up. There are key stages, and the heat will return. Nairo can come through that well, and the wear and tear becomes noticeable," he said according to Spanish news agency EFE. "We will see if we can surprise Froome but it will be difficult because of his quality, and he has a great team. We will not throw in the towel."
Quintana was able to claw back time in the final week in 2015, although not enough to snatch yellow. He has already tried to crack the yellow jersey on Mont Ventoux but it was, as he admitted himself, a little premature considering the weather conditions. The attack was perhaps a sign that the Colombian was concerned, knowing that he ran out of road in trying to defeat Froome last time out.
- Tour de France: Nairo Quintana defends holding onto motorbike in Ventoux chaos
- Tour de France: Nairo Quintana's tow up Mont Ventoux - Video
- Tour de France: Quintana content with where he stands after Ventoux
- Tour de France: Quintana and Movistar resist the pressure to attack Froome
There are more chances to come, but Quintana has not just Froome to worry about but a strong looking Bauke Mollema, who will be determined to continue what was so abruptly stopped by a motorbike on Mont Ventoux. Adam Yates also lies between Quintana and the dream of yellow. The young Briton is delving into the unknown but has looked stronger than Quintana at times. Unzue hopes that a common goal between these rivals will help his team topple Froome.
"Here, no rival is racing for second place, so everyone will have to try and put Froome into difficulty," said Unzue. "He is the best, but nobody can go without a bad day. Now we go to the mountains, and we will do some important stages. We do not give up on the yellow jersey."
Valverde conundrum and Mont Ventoux crash
Movistar has a second card to play with the 36-year-old Alejandro Valverde, who moved up to fifth just behind his teammate after a strong performance in the time trial. Valverde finished third behind Quintana in last year's race and Team Sky directeur sportif Nicolas Portal has called Valverde the bigger threat of the two Movistar riders. Unzue has been surprised by Valverde's performance, considering he fought all-out in the Giro d'Italia in May, but says that he has no intentions of changing his tactics just yet.
"To have this good classification is good for our strategy in the mountains. I thought that he would be more tired from the effects of the Giro, but he has recuperated well. In the Alps, we can provoke an interesting situation," he said. "We will not change any of our plans. If Valverde is good, we can play another asset. There is only one week to go, and he will continue to sacrifice himself."
Unzue was also probed on his thoughts regarding the contention surrounding the motorbike crash on Mont Ventoux. Parties have been wading in on both sides of the coin, whether it was right or not to nullify the time gaps. The initial results saw Froome drop down to sixth while Adam Yates moved into yellow. In the end, it was decided that time gaps would be given at the finish according to the groups that the riders had been in at the time of the incident. That meant that while Quintana lost some time on the road, he regained six seconds after being given the same time at Yates at the finish.
There was no pre-existing rule to cover the incident so the UCI effectively created a new one during the race. Unzue didn't comment on whether he thought that it was right or wrong but said, like several other team managers that it sets a dangerous precedent.
"Yes, there is a regulation that you have to respect, and it has to be the same for all the teams, riders and races. Crashes are part of cycling. You have to apply the rules, and that is that," said Unzue. "What will the judges do now? Will they stop whenever the leader falls? It is necessary that the UCI has regulations for everyone without arbitrariness.
"That was an exceptional case? There are crashes every day, but in cycling you fall and you get up. How does exceptionality apply? Does it depend on who is in the crash?"