With only five stages remaining in the 2015 Tour de France, including four difficult days in the Alps, Movistar’s Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde promised on Tuesday to continue their general classification fight until the race ends on the Champs Élysées this Sunday.
Barring any unforeseen incidents on the road, unseating race leader Chris Froome at this point will be a monumental task. Quintana is currently second overall, 3:10 behind race leader Chris Froome, while Valverde is fourth overall, 20 seconds behind BMC’s Tejay van Garderen and more than four minutes behind Froome.
"Finishing runner-up wouldn't be a failure for me, rather a huge honour, but there's still a long way to go in this Tour and we'll give everything to win,” Quintana said during the team’s rest-day press conference in gap.
For his part, Valverde echoed his team leader’s sentiments about the Tour so far and their hopes for Paris.
“Finishing in second and third would be phenomenal, but all of my teammates and myself will give all that's left inside us for the win,” he said.
“For me, it's evident that Nairo remains incredibly strong and ready to win. In every race I shared with him from the start of the season, I always saw him doing well, but for this third week in the Tour he's got special motivation, a strong will to do great things and good physical shape to try and gain back that lost time.”
The first opportunity to pull back time will come on Wednesday during stage 17. The 161km stage from Digne-les-Bains to Pra-Loup will be familiar for Froome, who finished third on the same route when it was used this year at the Critérium du Dauphiné. Froome finished four seconds behind van Garderen and 40 seconds behind stage winner Romain Bardet, but neither Quintana nor Valverde were at the French race.
Stage 18 features seven categorized climbs on the route from Gap to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, while stage 19 has a mountain-top finish at La Toussuire. Stage 20 has just one hors category climb before the finish on legendary Alpe d’Huez, a climb that Quintana has highlighted in his race bible.
“Alpe d’Huez, I love it,” the Colombian said. “I raced and trained on its slopes and that climb is something really special for me.”
Despite the team’s ambitions, Valverde acknowledged he and Quintana have a huge task ahead.
“It'll be difficult, since Froome never showed to be in crisis and didn't suffer into descents,” Valverde said. “He's strong and has proven he can stand much pressure, but I see Nairo ready, and wherever it's possible, we'll try to attack."