Strong team time trial keeps Quintana in the hunt at the Tour de France

Far from the madding crowds that had one point threatened to disrupt their rhythm on the way up the climb to La Croix Peinte, Nairo Quintana and his Movistar comrades enjoyed an impromptu picnic on the edge of a football field in Plumelec on Sunday evening following the Tour de France’s stage 9 team time trial.

With their team bus already making the transfer south to Pau for the Tour’s first rest day, the Movistar riders had to shower and change inside the Complex Sportif de la Madeleine after the stage. Adriano Malori was the first to re-emerge with a paper plate in hand, and he opted to sit on the grass and eat his recovery meal outside rather than aboard the stuffy charter coach waiting to bring the late finishers to Lorient airport.

In ones and twos, Quintana and the rest of his teammates eventually filed out and joined him, enjoying the novelty of a meal alfresco and a rare moment’s tranquillity amid the hubbub of the Tour’s seemingly incessant demands. Their laughter was that of simple relief at reaching the Tour’s rest day, and of contentment, perhaps, at a job well done.

Movistar finished the stage in third place, just four seconds down on winners BMC and three behind Team Sky, meaning that Quintana reaches the conclusion of the Tour’s opening act in ninth place overall, 1:59 down on the yellow jersey of Chris Froome.

“Being up there with the time trial specialists is very good,” Quintana had said at the finish area. “We have specialists in the team too who were very good on the flatter parts and then we climbers helped where the terrain suited us. We lost out narrowly on the stage but we’ve gained ground on some of our other rivals.”

Indeed, Movistar finished some 31 seconds clear of Vincenzo Nibali’s Astana and 24 clear of Alberto Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo squad, meaning that Quintana reaches the Tour’s first rest day ahead of Nibali on general classification and within a minute of Contador.

After conceding 1:28 in the crosswinds on stage 2, Quintana’s fortunes have turned steadily upwards through the opening week, his involvement in the final kilometre crash in Le Havre notwithstanding, though he acknowledged that Froome is in the box seat, describing him as the strongest of the so-called Big Four thus far.

“It’s clear that we are four favourites, but I knew Froome would be very strong as he’s been demonstrating. I think he is the strongest right now,” Quintana said, though he will be optimistic about his prospects of recouping his early losses once the race hits the Pyrenees on Tuesday.

"I hope that little by little we can recover that time. Today we’ve picked up a bit on some rivals. In the mountains, we have to try to make up some more.”

Movistar set out at a steadier pace than the other teams in the top five, clocking 11:07 for the opening 10 kilometres, 12 seconds down on Sky and BMC, but they still had their full complement of nine riders intact by the second check after 20 kilometres, and had closed to within three seconds. When Quintana took over on La Croix Peinte, Movistar soon dropped to five riders, and though they conceded some ground to BMC in the finale, manager Eusebio Unzue declared himself broadly pleased with their third place finish.

“The result in itself is magnificent, both in terms of the position and the time lost. We would have settled for that beforehand,” Unzue said. “The group broke up a bit when we reached the point of the course with the most fans, and we lost around 10 or 15 seconds there.”

The Tour resumes in Tarbes on Tuesday for the first mountain stage to La Pierre Saint-Martin, with two more tough days in the Pyrenees to follow. By Thursday, the general classification picture will be altogether clearer. “We’ll have to wait until Plateau-de-Beille before we really know who the favourites are,” Unzue said.

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