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Tour de France's Big Four battle on Mur de Huy

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Chris Froome (Team Sky) puts on the yellow leader's jersey

Chris Froome (Team Sky) puts on the yellow leader's jersey
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Chris Froome (Sky) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) have a chat

Chris Froome (Sky) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) have a chat
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Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo)

Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) (Image credit: Tim de Waele/
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Nairo Quintana (Movistar)

Nairo Quintana (Movistar) (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) (Image credit: Tim de Waele/

After race finishes this season, Nairo Quintana has tended to make straight for the sanctuary of the Movistar team bus. As he soft-pedaled beyond the finish line atop the Mur de Huy on stage 3 of the Tour de France on Monday, however, the Colombian broke with routine and veered to the roadside on sighting the canopy of the race’s official water supplier, Vittel.

“Agua?” the attendant asked gently, and Quintana nodded his assent. By the time he had downed half of the bottle, a group of reporters had gathered around him, waiting for his impressions of a day that had seen him finish ninth place on the stage, 11 seconds down on stage winner Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and the new maillot jaune Chris Froome (Sky). In the overall classification, he now lies 17th, 1:56 behind Froome.

“It was very nervous and very hard, with the crash during the stage. It was tough all day,” Quintana said when asked for his thoughts on the day and then drained his bottle.

“Más?” the attendant asked after Quintana had placed the crushed plastic back on the counter. “Sì,” he said quietly.

If the short, sharp climb of the Mur de Huy provided an indication of the four main favourites’ condition, then Quintana was treading water, finishing alongside Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) but seven seconds ahead of Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), who was distanced in the final 400 metres. None of them, however, could match Froome, and Quintana admitted that he had suffered on the Mur de Huy.

“I didn’t feel very good on the climb, there was a lot of adrenaline before the climb and I had a lot of lactic acid,” Quintana said, adding that he had approved of the decision to neutralise the stage temporarily following a mass crash with a shade under 60 kilometres to race. “I think it was right to neutralise the stage out of respect for our fallen colleagues.”

Nibali: Mur de Huy not suited to me

Nibali, meanwhile, was called to doping control on cresting the summit of the Mur de Huy, and he had time to process the day’s events by the time he spoke to reporters on his way to the Astana team bus, half an hour or so after the finish.

After conceding 17 seconds in total to Froome with bonuses factored in, Nibali is now 13th overall, 1:38 off the maillot jaune. As ever, his was a measured analysis, as he acknowledged Froome’s superiority on the climb but stressed that he had never expected to perform particularly well on the Mur.

“I don’t think a final climb like that is very suited to my characteristics, but I tried to manage my strength as best I could from the bottom from the climb to the top,” Nibali said. “Froome made one of his typical accelerations and he showed that he’s really in condition. Even though this was a short climb and the real ones are still to come, we can get a small picture of what the form is. It was a hard day with a lot of heat.”

Nibali appeared confused by the race direction’s decision to neutralise the peloton, though he reserved his criticism for riders who, in his opinion, have taken undue risks during the opening two road stages. The Sicilian was, of course, among those to lose out on Sunday when crashes triggered splits in the peloton.

“I didn’t understand why we stopped like that in the race, but there were two big crashes at 90kph and falling at that speed does damage,” he said. “It seems that nobody cares about how they’re risking their lives, they need to pay attention. As for our team, after the error we made yesterday we were always trying to stay in front and take a minimum of risks.”

Last year, Nibali placed a major down payment on overall victory with a fine display on the cobbled stage to Arenberg, and he will hope for similar on Tuesday’s jaunt over the pavé to Cambrai. Before boarding the Astana bus, he hinted that is likely to switch to his cobbles bike just shortly ahead of the first sector.

“Today we certainly used up a lot of energy but all of the others did too. You had to, if you wanted to be in front today,” Nibali said. “Tomorrow’s going to be a difficult day as well.”

Contador slips down the standings

Of the so-called Big Four, Contador was the man who fared the worst on Monday, a particular disappointment given that his Tinkoff-Saxo team had briefly succeed in provoking a split that caught out Froome and Quintana on the rapid approach towards the Côte d’Ereffe.

Once on the Mur de Huy, however, it was apparent that Contador would do well simply to keep time with his principal rivals. After Froome forged his way clear, the Spaniard looked to hold onto the coattails of the splintered chasing group, but he finished the stage in 12th place, 18 seconds down on Froome and 7 behind Quintana and Nibali. He now lies 8th overall, 36 seconds behind Froome.

“We saw some time differences today. I might have lacked a bit of sugar in the finale but I’ve always said that we will see bigger time differences in the mountains,” Contador said, adding that Froome must now carry the weight of the yellow jersey from earlier in the race than he might have liked.

“Froome was very strong. He nearly won the stage today. But there are still many days of racing and you must stay positive. The yellow jersey gives you confidence, you tell yourself you're well but it also creates pressure and responsibilities.”

Speaking of the cobbled stage to Cambrai, Contador, like all his three main rivals, struck a cautious note. “Tomorrow on the cobbles, it will be a matter of survival,” he said. “We must be very careful, anything can happen.”

GC Watch

Although the top four traded places, with Froome overtaking Uran as the highest placed of the pre-race contenders, most of the GC men gained positions in the overall standings as the sprinters and workers dropped out of the top spots. Wilco Kelderman, LottoNl-Jumbo's outside hope, both tumbled down the rankings, losing 1:59.

Richie Porte, Team Sky's 'plan B' lost almost four minutes on the stage, while last year's podium finisher Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) conceded another 1:33. (ed)

PositionRider Name (Country) Team (Pos. Change)Time down on GC
1Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky (+9)0:00:00
3Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team (+5)0:00:13
7Rigoberto Uran (Col) Etixx - Quick-Step (+0)0:00:34
8Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo (+6)0:00:36
12Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek Factory Racing (+18)0:01:32
13Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team (+20)0:01:38
14Robert Gesink (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo (+14)0:01:39
16Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team (+23)0:01:51
17Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team (+27)0:01:56
18Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha (+53)0:02:00
21Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale (+20)0:02:07
23Andrew Talansky (USA) Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team (+32)0:02:39
26Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale (+52)0:02:54
27Thibaut Pinot (Fra) (+4)0:02:58
46Richie Porte (Aus) Team Sky (+0)0:05:48
56Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Trek Factory Racing (+61)0:06:36
60Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar (+110)0:06:42
62Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo (+33)0:06:49