Movistar will go into the second weekend of the Tour de France with both their options in the overall classification, very well positioned. Both Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde sit neatly inside the top 10 after a mercifully calm opening seven stages.
This time last season it was a different story for the Spanish outfit with Quintana and Valverde both almost two minutes back on Chris Froome – who was already in yellow at this point – leaving the Movistar pair chasing yellow from the outset. Going into the Pyrenees on a level playing field is all they could have asked for.
Alongside their main rivals Team Sky, Movistar were the main protagonists in the peloton as the race tackled its first category one ascent, the Col d'Aspin, in stage 7. Both Sky and Movistar set a speedy tempo up the climb as they tried to limit their losses against the big escape group that included race leader Greg Van Avermaet, putting the likes of Thibaut Pinot in trouble.
The stage ended in a bit of confusion as the one kilometre to go banner deflated after a fan's belt disconnected the air supply, resulting in the times being taken at the three kilometres mark. "The banner crashed on us with one kilometre to go. It was just like they wanted to end the race there," laughed Valverde.
"Today was a little bit quieter, but the fatigue is still there. For that reason, it was a tough day."
Valverde could be seen in deep discussion with Froome at the finish and the two even shook hands at the finish line. When asked about the topic of conversation, Valverde was coy saying just that: "We were just talking about what had happened to us in the race," and adding, "he speaks Spanish perfectly."
Valverde has a four-second advantage over his teammate, thanks to his third place on stage 2. Meanwhile, Quintana – who also came home in the same group as Valverde - is equal on time with the majority of the general classification contenders at 6:42 behind Van Avermaet.
"It was a much quicker day than we expected it to be," Quintana explained at the finish. "The Col d'Aspin was also really quick. In the end, nobody really tried to force a big attack between any of the contenders, and all we could do was avoid the escapees maintaining a massive gap and hope for a better chance tomorrow."
Saturday's stage 8 will be a much sterner test for Movistar and their rivals with the Hors Categorie Col du Tourmalet their first climb of the day. A second cat and two further first cat ascents, including the Col du Peyresourde. Sunday's stage will feature the first proper summit of this year's Tour de France in Andorra.
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