One of the strangest episodes of the whole of stage 14 in this year’s Tour de France was the sight of Movistar driving at the front of the bunch on the Tourmalet, only for their leader, Nairo Quintana, to wind up dropped, at least partly as a result of their own pace.
Movistar had begun their hard, and ultimately self-destructive, work on the Col du Soulor, and their domestiques, spearheaded by Andrey Amador and Marc Soler, continued to power away on the lower slopes of the Tourmalet.
However, with 10 kilometres to go, Quintana suddenly begun to swing across the back part of the peloton, and although he managed to stay in contention for another kilometre or so, after that he suddenly cracked for good.
As the Movistar domestiques suddenly eased up, with Soler being sent back to support Quintana whilst Valverde and Landa remained in the leader’s group, the Colombian finally ended by losing more than three minutes.
Overall, he has slumped from eighth to 14th, and with it has gone any hope of taking yellow this year. Quintana himself said that the team should now work for Alejandro Valverde and Mikel Landa.
The key question on stage 14, however, was more how it was possible that Movistar should lay down so much groundwork for Quintana when he was not on a good day. According to Movistar head manager Eusebio Unzué, the answer was that Quintana failed to inform them he was not in the best of places beforehand.
"If we had known he was going badly, we wouldn’t have worked like that," Unzué told Cyclingnews at the Movistar bus after the finish. "Our idea today was going for a stage win and to see how things were going with the big names, because we hadn’t seen anything since the Planches des Belles Filles.
"We knew this strategy would give us a real measure of how we’re going, and we’ve found that out," he said. "Logically, you never lose hope, but it says something that he lost time."
Unzué denied that Quintana’s injury from crashing late on in stage 11 into Toulouse had had a negative effect on his performance, but said that the rider didn’t tell his team that he wasn’t feeling good. Quintana’s time loss was a surprise, he said, because they had no idea he wasn’t in great shape.
Unzué’s words were corroborated by Alejandro Valverde, who told reporters that he had no idea that Quintana was not on a good day. The Colombian is widely expected to sign for Arkea-Samsic next season after eight years with Movistar, until now his only WorldTour team.
Asked about his poor performance by reporters at the finish, Quintana himself said he was convinced that the injury had "something to do with it".
"I hope that tomorrow’s stage is better for me, and then we can rest up and fight on after the rest day," Quintana said.
As for Landa himself, who took sixth on the stage and is now 11th overall, the Basque said that he was feeling motivated but "ran into the red with five kilometres to go”.
"People aren’t as strong as before," Landa said. "We’re all racing at a different speed. Myself, I’d like to go for the podium and get a stage win."
The Basque’s relatively strong showing, however, barely overshadows Movistar’s considerable tactical blunder in working so hard for a leader who was in no state to defend his position, let alone attack.
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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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