Spanish team Movistar and their leader Nairo Quintana are facing what could be a crucial stage in the Colombian's Tour de France prospects with a mixture of anticipation and optimism, management told Cyclingnews.
After a first day in the Pyrenees on Thursday, when an undeclared truce between the top favourites saw little if any overall action, Friday's time trial will be a vital moment for all the GC contenders.
For Quintana, who has ridden a near-faultless first half of the Tour so far, the chances of impact on the overall may hinge largely on the mountains. But not losing time in the 27.2km time trial in Pau forms an even bigger part of the picture.
The Colombian has much at stake, too, in a year where returning to his top Tour form of the early part of his career does not feel out of the question at all.
"It’s going to be all about going flat out, and there are no other options," Movistar director Txente García Acosta told Cyclingnews at the finish of stage 12 in Bagneres-De-Bigorre.
"All three of our main men have checked out the course in person, and not just once but several times” García Acosta told Cyclingnews, referring to Quintana, Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde. "So we know what's coming and they’re feeling very confident."
García Acosta argued that with so much at stake, there was little point in trying to attack the other favourites on Thursday and possibly wasting energy for the TT.
"Today wasn't a day for making a move, with the time trial just coming up, that's going to be crucial," he argued. "Today we were all waiting to see who attacked first, and finally nobody did."
His own riders, García Acosta said, were all fine, with Quintana, eighth overall and now the team’s sole leader, recovering quickly from his late fall and injured elbow of the previous day.
"Nairo is getting a bit better, we were following him even more closely than usual all day, and our impressions were that he's in good shape," García Acosta said.
As for Landa, whose GC hopes are all but extinguished, the Basque said, "There will be differences, and I hope not to lose too much time. The gaps will begin to open and we’ll see who’s strong and who isn't. By this point in the Tour, how strong you're feeling can have a huge effect.
"We've got three very hard days ahead of us," Gacia Acosta said, further explaining the dynamic on stage 12. "Everybody is thinking about what's coming up and finally we didn't get too motivated [to attack]. The idea was to save energy."
Talking pre-stage, Quintana had insisted that he and his teammates had to save energy before the time trial. As for how much time he might lose at Pau, the Colombian said he hooped it isn't very much.
"I've never lost so little time in the first part of a Grand Tour as this year," he added.
In last year's final time trial in the Tour, Valverde finished 19th, but both Landa – who was injured – and Quintana failed to impact at all. Landa completed the course in 45th place, and Quintana, who was close to exhaustion by that point, finished 49th, more than four minutes down. This time round, though, both are in far better shape, although in very different places overall.
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