Nairo Quintana and his Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué hit out at the Tour de France organisers for what they saw as an unduly dangerous stage 11, a day where the Colombian lost another small chunk of time to defending champion Chris Froome (Team Sky).
The 167km journey from Carcassone to Montpellier was flat and fairly innocuous on paper, but strong winds from start to finish conspired to make it "the most difficult stage of the Tour" for Movistar's leader.
In a finale that provided echoes of the descent of the Col de Peyresourde on stage 8, Quintana watched Froome disappear up the road in unlikely circumstances – this time latching onto an attack from Peter Sagan and helping to drive the split of four riders all the way to the line. The Sky rider gained six seconds for his efforts and, thanks to six bonus seconds for second place behind the world champion, extended his lead atop the GC to 28 seconds, and 35 over Quintana in fourth.
"We all spent a similar amount of energy, but he took advantage and seized that moment and took some seconds," said Quintana from the steps of his team bus.
"Nothing is decided yet. The selection process continues, and there are still many days left in this Tour, a lot of mountains in the final week."
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Cutting a disconsolate figure as the Colombian fans roared songs of support behind the media scrum, Quintana hinted at just how rough the day had been, and expressed his anger at the "dangers" he felt it entailed.
"For sure this was the most difficult stage of the Tour for me. A very flat day with lots of wind, where even the sprinters lost the opportunity to fight for the stage.
"I'll look at the positive, which is that we didn’t have any crashes, because really the organisation doesn't often think about the athlete, the cyclist. They look for a certain type of spectacle but without realising the type of dangers they send us into. We're all risking our lives every day and they need to think more about stages like this."
Quintana was whisked away before he could detail why exactly he considered the stage so dangerous but, moments before, Unzué had stepped off the bus to voice his own complaints. Struggling to get to grips with what had clearly been a demoralising day for the 'world's number one team', the Spaniard blamed race organisers for the amount of small villages the route passed through, with the wind combining to produce a hugely stressful day in the saddle.
"As always, losing time is not what we want but looking at this incomprehensible route - which seems hard to believe, honestly - which made us pass through the series of towns that we did, on top of that wind, racing with the risks that entails to riders, to the public," he said.
"Today all the guys agreed – they weren't able to eat, they were barely able to drink. There was a level of stress and tension that probably made it the most difficult stage of the whole Tour. At the end of the day for the spectacle it’s good but really for those who have so many interests in the peloton, it's a big problem."
Dealing with another blow from Froome and the loss of Ventoux
Unzué insisted that Froome would have felt the same, but there were few complaints emanating from the Team Sky camp, who revelled in the landing of another significant blow on their rivals – if not so much in terms of pure time gained then on a psychological level.
Once again, no one seemed to have an answer as to why Froome was able to sneak away and gain time where it seemed improbable.
"Alone? No - at every moment we were where we were able to put ourselves," said Alejandro Valverde when asked if the team had left it's leader isolated, explaining that there was only a brief moment when he lost track of Quintana.
"From start to finish it was a day of so much tension, and we limited the damage as best as possible, and did pretty well to come away without crashes – we're all unscathed. We did what we could because it was a really tough stage."
Unzué preferred to focus on the perceived shortcomings of the race organisation over those of his team in the closing phases of the stage.
"I prefer to lose 12 seconds and see all the riders alive, without crashes or problems and able to continue," he said bluntly.
Compounding what was clearly a miserable day for the team, news would soon filter through that the winds had caused the organisers to curtail Thursday's summit finish at Mont Ventoux, with the finish line moved some 6km down the mountain at Chalet Reynard – where the treeline ends.
"It's a pain, a shame, because it's a great climb that suits my characteristics really well," rued Quintana, who has played a waiting game so far in this Tour, often insisting there are many mountains still to come.
For Unzué, there were mixed emotions as he was forced to square the disappointment of losing an element of the parcours that played to his rider's strengths, with seeing the race ogranisation take the sort of action he would have like to have seen on stage 11.
"Personally I wish the wind was normal and that we could go to the top," he said.
"Sometimes the wind adds difficulty that the topography wouldn’t normally provide, and in this case on the Ventoux the last 6km there's no protection whatsoever – no trees – and in the last 2km the wind speeds are such that they could thrown you from the bike."
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