Welcome back, Nairo, we’ve missed you.
Colombian climber Nairo Quintana (Movistar) channeled in his inner Claudio Chiappucci on Thursday, attacking from the gun in the opening stage at the Route du Sud.
It didn’t matter if it eventually ended in a bunch sprint. The two-time Tour de France runner-up wanted to test his legs, and what a ride it was.
“It was some good training,” Quintana said at the line. “And we had some fun, too.”
Here’s what happened: Early in the 196km stage 1 from Saint-Pons-de-Thomières to Bessieres in the shadow of the Pyrénées, Quintana was a surprise figure in the day’s main breakaway. A couple of early, relatively easy climbs proved too enticing for Quintana, who hasn’t raced since winning the Tour de Romandie in May, and he pounced.
Only Quentin Jauregi (Ag2r La Mondiale) could keep pace as the Colombian powered a gap of 11 minutes ahead of the furiously chasing peloton. The final half of the stage was flat, and the sprint teams, led by Direct Energie, combined to reel in the sortie with about 45km to go. Direct Energie’s Bryan Coquard won the bunch sprint, but Quintana got what he was looking for.
“I was very animated at the start,” Quintana said. “A break went, and we followed it, and once it got a gap, I kept going to make a test for the legs. It turned out well until they caught us.”
Quintana’s hot opening shot was a preview of what lies ahead later this weekend. Friday features two stages, with a short sprinter’s stage in the morning followed by a 13.4km rolling time trial around Albi. Saturday’s 185km climbing stage tackles the Tourmalet before ending atop the Cat. 1 Col de Couraduque, ideal for Quintana. Sunday features a circuit course over hilly terrain in another opportunity for the sprinters.
The Route du Sud is Quintana’s only tune-up before his run at the Tour de France next month. Who knows? Maybe he’ll be aiming for the most aggressive rider’s jersey as well.