Nairo Quintana (Movistar) came into the Route du Sud with bib number 1 on his back and the aim to ramp up his preparation for the Tour de France, but most expected him to show himself later in the week when the race hits the Pyrenees. But the Colombian had other ideas, and entered into the day's breakaway, spending 150km off the front and mopping up enough time bonuses to sit third overall after the bunch sprint finale.
Quintana hasn't raced for six weeks since winning the Tour de Romandie, choosing to do a long block of training at altitude back home before coming back to Europe for the French race. He said he wanted to check his level before the start, and what better way to do that than to go on the attack on a stage that began on a climb, and had a category 2 climb, the Col dels Therondels, just 32km into the stage.
Quintana escaped as the road kicked up with Quentin Jauregui (AG2R-La Mondiale), Thierry Hupond (Deklo Marseille Provence KTM), Ildar Arslanov (Gazprom-Rusvelo), Bruno Armirail (Armee de Terre) and Imanol Estevez Salas (Euskadi Basque Country-Murias), just minutes after the flag dropped.
Soon, however, only Jaurequi was left, and the pair built up an advantage of 11:15 as the peloton tried to decide who would be responsible for bringing them back.
The pair kept their breakaway rolling, sharing the primes along the way: Jauregui took the first internediate sprint, while Quintana won the second, while Jauregui won both mountain sprints to move into the climber's jersey. Once the peloton switched into full on chase mode, their lead plummeted and they were finally caught with 45km to go.
"I went to the start pretty excited to get going," Quintana said. "The break went away and we went for it, looking to test our legs for a bit and see if we could experiment some. When we saw we had a gap, we decided it was worth to keep going - and it ended up being a long one. A good training and also some fun!"
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