The first day in the Alps brought unexpected twists that moved Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) into third overall at the Tour de France. The change was due to the abandonment of Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) who had fallen ill, unable to continue racing.
“It was awful to see van Garderen leaving the race,” Valverde said at the finish. “I want to send him all my support. I know how it feels - the Tour and cycling are as hard as this. I was just off of the podium last year, fourth after the final TT following a tough final week and I know the bad side of this race.”
Rather than waiting for the final two, much-talked about climbs of the day, Nairo Quintana attacked early in the stage. The fast pace, helped by a late attack by Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), enabled the isolation of Chris Froome. Though Valverde took his chances trying to distance himself from the leaders, Froome remained attentive as the group climbed to the finish together.
While Quintana was unable to shake Froome, the Movistar team gained confidence that time still remains before the celebratory stage to Paris on Sunday.
“It’s true that there are only three days left in this Tour before Paris, but there’s still much left to cover,” Valverde said. “It’s also true that I’m feeling really well, working hard for my teammate Nairo, and trying everything to create some gaps, but Froome is really strong and it’s hard to beat him.”
The Spanish road champion now sits over two minutes ahead of fourth place on GC, Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), who had crashed on a descent, losing more valuable time.
“When Contador crashed I was ahead of him and couldn't see the incident, but I was told afterwards,” Valverde said. “Alberto is a real fighter and dangerous rider, someone you can never leave a gap to. He was really close to me on the GC.”
Movistar now sits on the top of the team classification, holds the white jersey with Quintana, and holds second and third in the overall classification.
“Safe on the GC podium?” Valverde said, “I don’t really know if it’s a given yet. All in all, we're still there and, as many have seen, we keep trying to take the yellow jersey.” Third in Paris would be Valverde’s best finish at the Tour in his career.
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