Alejandro Valverde's chances of becoming the first rider in over half a century and third in history to take top ten GC finishes in all three Grand Tours took a near-definitive blow on Saturday when the Movistar rider lost over ten minutes on Saturday's queen stage 14 of the Vuelta a Espana.
Valverde slid off back of the group of favourites ten kilometres from the top of the Aubisque and proceeded to shed time steadily all the way to the summit. Previously third overall, Valverde has therefore disappeared from the provisional podium with a bang, slumping to 19th on GC.
"It was not a good day, I couldn't hold on when the group went strongly," Valverde said afterwards.
Although Quintana started the Spanish Grand Tour as Movistar's leader, after his third in the Giro d'Italia and sixth in the Tour de France, his teammate Valverde had been looking for a top result in the Vuelta. But as he said afterwards, there has come a point where even the seemingly evergreen Valverde can no longer keep on keeping on.
"Really I've run out of strength, it wasn't just a bad day," said Valverde, who won the Vuelta outright in 2009. "From now on I'll have to continue working for Nairo as a leader, and that's going to be it from hereon in the Vuelta."
Despite Valverde's tenacious defence of his overall position, and two very strong rides on the Alto de la Camperona and Lagos de Covadonga there came a point when it proved impossble for the Spaniard to hold on to the GC position.
"It was a very tough stage, sometimes you go well, sometimes you don't, and it's no real surprise," Valverde reflected.
As for Quintana's options overall, Valverde said, "The important thing is the overall lead, but of course we need more time, and [Chris] Froome (Sky) is strong. We have to accept that."
There is, of course, the possibility of a stage win for Valverde and he remains in control of the points classification.
But his GC aspirations - and acting as a valuable 'Plan B' for Movistar and Quintana in the process - will now have to be shelved.
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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