Nightmare start to Tour de France for Nairo Quintana

The leadership hierarchy at Movistar was one of the big talking points in the build-up to the 2018 Tour de France, and it started to take shape as early as the opening day as Nairo Quintana lost more than a minute to many of his general classification rivals.

Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde, Movistar’s two other nominal ‘co-leaders’, came through the chaotic final kilometres unscathed but Quintana ran into trouble when he and others rode into a traffic island with just over three kilometres to go – just 600 metres shy of the point at which GC times are neutralised in the event of accidents.

Though he did not crash, both wheels were broken by the impact and he had to wait for a new bike from his team car. He eventually crossed the line 1:15 down on the main peloton.

Having finished on the Tour de France podium three times, it represents a major blow to the 28-year-old's hopes of finally landing the maillot jaune, even if there was mitigation in the fact that Chris Froome, Richie Porte, and Adam Yates all lost 51 seconds due to an earlier crash.

"I went into a curb very close to the safety zone of the last three kilometres. Both wheels were broken and I couldn’t continue like that," Quintana said.

"That's how things go in cycling. There's nothing to do but to carry on and console myself with the fact that Froome also lost time to the rest of the favourites and that he only took a few seconds out of me."

At Movistar's pre-Tour press conference on Friday, Quintana, Landa, and Valverde all stressed the need to get through the treacherous first week of this Tour de France unscathed, before assessing the situation when the race hits the mountains. The cobblestones on stage 9 are the most obvious pitfall of the opening nine stages but nobody expected such a dramatic GC shake-up on what had, up to that point, been a largely uneventful opening stage.

As the peloton entered the final 10 kilometres, however, everything changed. First a crash took out sprinter Arnaud Démare and held many others up, and then four-time champion Froome crashed over a roadside barrier, leaving multiple groups on the road in the final few kilometres.

"There was a lot of tension, as is always the case in the Tour," Valverde said. "There were a lot of crashes, punctures, a bit of everything. It was all very complicated, very fast, very dangerous. In the end, each of us tried to do the best we could. Some teammates dropped back for him but Mikel and I had to carry on."

It did, however, takes some time for Quintana to be joined by teammates – Daniele Bennati and Andrey Amador being the two to drop back – and the Colombian was on his own in the wind for a good chunk of time. It took him a long time just to get going again as he took two wheels from the Mavic neutral service car before stopping again to get a new bike from the team car.

"The worst thing was that Jose Joaquin Rojas, the guy we had designated to be there right behind Nairo and give his bike up if anything happened, was himself caught up in the big crash three kilometres earlier," said team manager Eusebio Unzué.

"The problem is that we in the team cars were very far back because the peloton had split after that earlier crash. Nairo was trying to fix the bike with the neutral service and they changed both wheels but it wasn’t going well so we changed the bike when we reached him in the car."

As for the notion that Quintana should have carried on in a somewhat desperate attempt just to make it under the 3km banner and then seeking assistance, “It was impossible".

Landa: It's a catastrophe

Quintana now finds himself 1:15 down on the bulk of his general classification rivals. The deficit to Froome, Porte, and Yates, however, is a more modest 24 seconds. That said, Landa is now 51 seconds up on those three, and 1:15 up on Quintana.

Valverde had designated a loose hierarchy of Quintana-Landa-himself, though in the eyes of many that will now have changed.

Landa himself refused to acknowledge as such, instead describing how big a blow it was for the team as a whole.

"It's a catastrophe for us," he said. "The first three quarters of the stage were calm but at the end there was a lot of tension and nerves. Things like what happened to Nairo, you never expect them at the time, and it’s tough to take.

"We have to remember we are on the first stage, and that what happened to us today could happen to our rivals further down the line."

Similarly, Unzué, who denied that the day's events had altered the structure of his plans, scrambled for the silver lining.

"It's a miracle Nairo didn't hit the deck. It could have been much worse," Unzué said.

"At least he's in one piece. With time lost, but in one piece."

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Patrick Fletcher
Deputy Editor

Deputy Editor. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2022 he has been Deputy Editor, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.