Alejandro Valverde and Movistar sparked some major life back into the battle for the overall classification of the Tour de France on Sunday after launching an all-out attack on the first of five Pyrenean climbs. But the Spanish veteran admitted that they had failed to deliver the coup de grace in a spectacular day's racing where Chris Froome was isolated from his Sky teammates for nearly all of the stage.
Valverde's teammates Ruben Plaza and Jonathan Castroviejo were amongst the first who began the mass attack, on the Col de Portet-d'Aspet. And at one point, after the next climb, the Col de Mente, Valverde moved ahead with those two teammates and Froome and looked to be close to breaking away ahead of the front group as well.
The Froome-Valverde move eventually eased back and re-fused with the first group of chasers, but with Nairo Quintana and Rui Costa both present in the chasing group, Movistar were still in a position to call the shots. Which they duly did, as Quintana launched one little dig after another on the final climb and Richie Porte disappeared completely from the front end of the overall classification. "We dismembered Sky," Ruben Plaza said later. "It was a question of either them blowing apart or us blowing apart, and it ended up being them."
"It's a pity we could finish [Froome] off, but I'm happy about what we did," Valverde, now second overall, said afterwards. "I'm very happy to be second, we pulled the Sky team apart. Froome is very strong, but we've managed to do some damage to the team.
"It was a very, very hard day," the 2009 Vuelta winner, who remains at 1:25 on Froome, said. "We wanted to give the race a little more tension and Sky didn't have their best day.
"But we've got rid of Porte, which was one big rival, although it would have been even better to win the stage and that didn't happen. Froome, in any case, was never weak at any point."
Other benefits for Movistar are that Quintana has now moved up to seventh, whilst remaining leader of the Best Young Rider competition, whilst Costa is now tenth. Movistar has also reinforced its leadership of the teams classification. Whether Valverde can remain in second overall, though, now hinges on his getting through Wednesday's 33 kilometre time trial. If he loses as much time to Froome as he did on a similar distance in the Criterium du Dauphiné, where he lost 2:37, the ball may well be back in the British rider's court.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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