Going into the Tour de France, it was expected that Nairo Quintana (Movistar) would be able to blow the race apart with his stinging attacks in the mountains. He was the only one to get anywhere close to Chris Froome (Team Sky) on the opening day in the Pyrenees but the first signs of what he could do didn't come until the final day in the high mountains. En route to Mende on Saturday, Quintana showed again hints of the rider we hoped that we would see this July.
The Colombian was ultimately unable to shake Froome again, but he would crack all of his other rivals and move himself into second place overall. Froome would put a second into Quintana on the line and nudge out the distance to the top spot but, despite seeing the yellow jersey edge further away, Quintana is not yet ready to give up on taking it back to Colombia.
"I'm really happy with having climbed onto second. We knew that patience would bring this place to us, but our real goal, the one we're focused on, is taking place number one,” said Quintana. “We have worked hard with the team through all these days, we found a chance to gain time today and we're staying confident and determined to try some attacks when the big mountains are back, maybe still being able to go after that yellow dream.”
Quintana’s teammate Alejandro Valverde was also on a good day in Mende, as he closed in on a podium position. Valverde was initially put in trouble by Quintana’s attack, although the 35-year-old says it was a conscious decision to drop back in order not to pull their rivals back to Quintana. Valverde eventually caught Alberto Contador - his nearest rival in the GC - and despite apparent protestations from Tinkoff-Saxo riders not to attack him, Valverde did just that and increased his advantage over the former Tour de France winner to 21 seconds.
“This is a competition, Alberto needs to understand that,” Valverde said following the stage, according to Spanish newspaper El Pais. “I and my team are working to win the Tour with Quintana, but if I make the podium it would be incredible.”
He later said in a press release from his team: “When I reached him, Contador asked me for some turns and I told him I couldn't take them, because Nairo was ahead. This is racing: he's doing his job, mine is to take care of Nairo, and he was the one who had to push.”
Valverde is also now only 30 seconds behind Tejay van Garderen, who is clinging onto the final podium spot after getting dropped during Saturday’s stage. The second rest day is just two days away with the Alps beginning in earnest next Wednesday. Valverde has been very active in recent days, trying to set up Quintana, and he hopes to carry that into the final days of racing.
"I'm feeling really great at the moment - legs continue to roll well at the moment and I hope them to continue this way into the last week,” Valverde said. "There's a beautiful battle for the GC podium ahead, with plenty of mountains still to come. We took some gains today, but we might lose elsewhere. There's a long way home yet and my main goal until Paris is helping Nairo out for the victory. If I get into the podium that'd really be fantastic but that's a distant dream at the moment."