Vuelta a Espana leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar) failed to gain any time on Chris Froome (Sky) on the race's toughest stage 14, but the Colombian did not visibly express any kind of disappointment at the summit of the Aubisque, saying instead about that "we have to be satisfied because we gave it everything we have."
Quintana attacked up to six times on the Aubisque, but his surging drives on the upper slopes of the special category climb failed to dent Froome's armour. In what could have been a crucial development in the race, this was the first time since the race left Ourense that Quintana had not dropped Froome on the Vuelta's toughest longer climbs.
Although the Briton did not counter attack or finally roar past Quintana - as he has done on the shorter ascents of the Ezaro and Peña Cabarga in response to moves - Froome's ability to resist Quintana's uphill attacks on the Aubisque leave the Briton looking ever stronger for the GC, and still the favourite for overall victory in Madrid.
Quintana's lead of 54 seconds remains intact, but given the Colombian has said he would need three minutes to win the Vuelta before Friday's time trial in Benidorm, not being able to drop Froome has left him looking dangerously exposed.
"It's not maddening that we can't leave him behind, but you do think about what this means, and how he is holding on so well when I attack" Quintana admitted.
"I have to be pleased with not losing time on him," which was the minimum objective for Quintana prior to the stage, "and I have got good legs. There are hard days to come, too."
Quintana explained that Movistar's strategy was to "get somebody in the break" to make the other teams worked and that part of the operation went well. Indeed, given he was 5:38 down, Dani Moreno (Movistar), one of three Movistar riders up the road, was overall leader on the road for a considerable period of time.
However, the team's second idea, "to get time on Chris" did not work out at all. "I attacked as hard as we wanted but was not as effective," Quintana said. "We have to be satisfied because we gave it everything we had. Chris responded well and we'll see if we can hold on from here."
With Sky, Movistar and - as best he could - Contador marking each other closely, a textbook longdistance attack by Simon Yates (Orica-BikeExchange), followed by a late move by teammate Esteban Chaves was, Quintana said, something his team did not treat as a top priority.
"They are two young riders" Quintana said, and " they are important riders, but we gave them a certain degree of freedom of manouvre because we knew that they weren't so significant on GC" - as Froome. "From now on, though, we won't be letting them go so easily."
Quintana and Movistar have a lot on their plate, and though Quintana has played down the significance of Yates and Chaves attacks, it will be intriguing to see how both the Movistar leader - now without Valverde on the provisional podium as back-up - and Team Sky handle the Orica-BikeExchange challenge in the future. At the same time, Froome's options on overall victory are looking stronger than ever.
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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