Up until the Ventoux stage, Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Tour de France had been newsworthy largely because of the team’s confirmation that it is battling to find a new co-sponsor for the next three seasons or face the prospect of abandoning the sport at the end of his year. However, Tour debutant Mikel Nieve’s third place on Mont Ventoux gave the Basque team reason to hope for a change of fortune going into the race’s mountainous finale.
The 29-year-old Nieve, who has a stage win and a top 10 finish to his credit in both of the other grand tours, described himself as “happy” with his performance, acknowledging there was no way he could follow the pace set by Chris Froome or Nairo Quintana. “It was important for me to finish third on this mythical summit. This is my first Tour and to be at that level – third on Mont Ventoux – is good reason to be happy,” said Nieve.
Speaking to the Basque press immediately after the finish, he revealed he went into the stage knowing his only hope of success was a long-range attack. “I couldn’t wait for the last moment to attack with the kind of people there are in this race. I played my card and tried to get a gap early on the climb in order to give myself some options. When Quintana caught me my only thought was to stay with him, but I realised he was stronger than me and that was impossible. I focused on climbing at my own constant rhythm. I wanted to finish third and I managed to do that,” he said.
Nieve described stage winner Froome as being “on a higher level. He’s had a very good year and today he’s been at that level. It was impossible to stay on his wheel.”
The Basque climber ended up with Alberto Contador, leading the Saxo Bank rider most of the way up to the summit once the pair got above the treeline at Châlet Reynard. The pair conferred on at least a couple of occasions. Asked what they had talked about, Nieve revealed: “He told me that he couldn’t help me out. I had to do the work on the front in order to try to finish in third place.”
Nieve admitted his performance had fatigued him, but also raised his confidence looking ahead to the final days of the race. “We will have to recuperate as well as we can on the rest day. There is a still a very hard week ahead. Up to now, we’ve had good legs. We have to keep on fighting,”
Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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