The second mountain stage of the Tour de France proved to be a successful day for the general classification riders with only one change to the top 10 overall as Bauke Mollema (Trek Factory Racing) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) swapped 10th and ninth places, respectively.
After the scale of time loss on the previous day's stage 10 climb to La Pierre-Saint-Martin, the GC contenders were content to make it through stage 11 ahead of tomorrow's demanding third day in the Pyrenees. Chris Froome (Team Sky) retained his overall lead by 2:52 ahead of runner-up Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and by 3:09 ahead of third placed Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
Van Garderen ensured his BMC team covered all the dangerous moves in a frantic start to the 188km day before the pieces of the breakaway jigsaw fell into place.
The American finished 13th in a big GC group, 5:21 minutes down on stage winner Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), after Team Sky allowed the breakaway to succeed into Cauterets.
“It went pretty smooth, the breakaway was really hard, it took almost two hours for it to get established and get guys up the road. Astana was a little bit aggressive on the Tourmalet but all in all it was a good day,” van Garderen said of the stage.
With two category 3 climbs, a category 1 climb and the Hors Category Col du Tourmalet, the parcours presented an opportunity for the likes of van Garderen, Quintana and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) to spring a surprise attack on Sky in order to make up the time lost on the summit finish in La Pierre-Saint-Martin.
Despite Astana riding on the front in the final kilometres of the Tourmalet, however, the GC battle took a breather before the mountainous stage 12 that finishes with the 15km climb to Plateau de Beille, as van Garderen anticipates.
“The Tourmalet, when Astana was making a tempo, was pretty difficult but with this finish and the Tourmalet so far, it was mostly just following wheels. Tomorrow should shake up the GC a lot more,” he said.
Sitting 17 seconds behind van Garderen in third place is Quintana, who also explained that stage 11 was one to survive before the Plateau de Beille battle tomorrow.
“It was a hot day, too much for my liking. The pace was high all day, there were lots of attacks from the very start. With the speed we were riding at there was no chance to try anything so from that point on, our intention was a bit of 'getting through the day', waiting for what we can really do into the following stages,” Quintana said after he finished 11th.
On the climb to La Pierre-Saint-Martin, Chris Froome finished 1:04 minutes ahead of Quintana to announce his himself as the strongest rider in the race. With multiple categorised climbs on tomorrow’s route, there are ample opportunities for Quintana and Movistar to test the strength of Team Sky, who have spent the majority of the race riding at the front, controlling affairs.
On stage 9 of the 2013 Tour, Froome and Sky were put under immediate pressure from Movistar and Garmin with the Col de Portet d'Aspet ascent setting the scene for the stage. The category 2 climb is the first ascent of stage 12 and could once again prove to be a launching pad for Quintana, who explained he is looking to race aggressively.
“It might be possible, we'll see how the race goes,” Quintana said of whether he will attack. “[Our concern is] keeping Chris Froome under control and, should I find the legs for that, why not try. Depending on how the rivals are doing, we might try as well and take the team forward,” he said.
“Yesterday's stage was more important for me, but tomorrow's is also demanding.”