The fallout from the breakdown in communications between Nairo Quintana and the rest of his Movistar team in the Pyrenees continued during the second rest day of the Tour de France, with the two riders holding separate press conferences, one after the other.
For the last two days, race observers have been scratching their heads over why Movistar continued to drive hard on the Col du Tourmalet on Saturday's stage 14 despite Quintana, their GC leader, having a tough time and cracking.
Various members of the team have insisted that Quintana did not communicate that he was not going well on the climb, a claim repeated by Alejandro Valverde during Monday's press conference. Shortly afterwards, Quintana explained that he tacitly accepted what was a mid-stage team decision to work for Mikel Landa rather than continue to defend his own position on GC.
Quintana added that he had told the team he was not having a good day on the preceding Col du Soulor, where Movistar had already begun working hard. Nonetheless, Movistar proceeded to open up the throttle again on the Tourmalet. Quintana said that well before the team reached the Tourmalet, the decision had effectively been taken to work for Landa.
"On the Soulor I told them to take things calmly, tranquilo, tranquilo, when Andrey [Amador] was going hard, because I was going through a difficult moment," Quintana said.
"But Mikel was going well, and he wanted the team to go on driving and the other rivals were suffering."
Quintana explained he had opted to step aside to let Landa have his best chance, noting that he did not want to hinder the Basque's 'moment.'
"I don't like it when 'my moment' gets fucked up," Quintana said, making virtual quotation marks with his fingers around the phrase 'my moment' to indicate that he was referring to a hypothetical situations when he is on the attack himself.
"Then when we hit the Tourmalet I was just defending myself as best I could."
As for his own GC chances, Quintana said that, "the crash I had [on stage 10] has fouled things up for me. I tried yesterday. From now on, I'll be working for Landa. We didn't get that much of a reward for all the work we did yesterday, but we'll keep on trying."
Quintana went on the offensive early on stage 15, but when Landa attacked and passed him on the final climb to Prat d'Albis, there was a notable lack of communication or even a gesture of support between the two teammates. Instead, it looked like each rider was in their own race, as Landa powered on to try and pull back Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), with the Basque saying later "It's a pity he couldn't work for me for a couple of kilometres."
Asked by a Spanish journalist if his failure to do more when Landa passed by was indicative of Quintana's status as a champion, not someone used to working for other riders, Quintana answered: "No, it wasn't that. I'd have liked to have helped him, but he shot past, and you could see that I fell back pretty soon after."
Asked by another member of the Spanish media why he had not, at least, given Landa a bidon or made a gesture of support, Quintana indirectly answered the question by saying: "He turned up very suddenly, and AG2R were working hard at the front. I couldn't do anything to go with them."
Quintana's comments seemed to explain, at least partially, why the team continued to drive on the Tourmalet. But on a day when each Movistar rider gave a separate press conference, one after the other, his comments contrasted sharply with those made previously by Valverde, who said the team's gung-ho attitude on the Tourmalet was centred on Quintana, not Landa. If that was not the case, it seemed, nobody had yet told Valverde.
"It was disappointing, because Nairo wasn't at the level he should have been, while the team performed at 10 out of 10," Valverde said. "We did a great job, but we didn't know what was happening to him. So we did what we'd agreed.
"Yesterday things went a lot better, Mikel got back time and I was up there with the favourites. That gives us a lot of faith, particularly with the hard stages coming up. We all know how strong Mikel can be in the third week and we have to continue with our hard work."
Performing as consistently as ever when at his best, and eighth overall, Valverde was clearly in a good mood, saying: "I'm not surprised so much by how I'm racing at 2,000 metres or higher above sea level [traditionally his weak point – ed.] as much as by how, at 39, I'm still able to race with the top guys."
On the subject of Quintana and the Tourmalet and the breakdown in communications, Valverde was not so cheery, saying: "the only mistake [on the Tourmalet] was that Nairo didn't say anything. As I said on that day, you'll have to ask him why. If he had said something, then why would we go on working? As soon as he got dropped, we stopped working and you could see that clearly."
As for how the 'Nairo factor' could play in Landa's favour, Valverde said bluntly, "let's hope the 'Nairo factor' is there and we can really use it in important situations. That's what we'd all like, Nairo's a very good rider and with all his knowledge and experience, he could be very useful for the team."
As for Quintana's lack of visible support for Landa on stage 15, Valverde said: "We're all on the limit. When Mikel passed Nairo and he didn't do anything, I hope that was because he couldn't do any more. And I hope the same went with me when I went past him. If he didn't do any more, I hope it was because he couldn't."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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