FONTENAY-LE-COMTE, France (VN) — The conversation surrounding Movistar’s three-headed GC monster at the Tour de France got a lot more interesting on Saturday. Nairo Quintana, generally considered the “first among equals” of the team’s three leaders, finished 1:15 down in a hectic opening stage.
“That’s how things are,” Quintana said. “We have to keep going. We have to try to stay in front and make up what we lost today.”
The final kilometers of stage 1 saw several crashes and holdups in the peloton. Quintana managed to stay upright in the chaos, but his GC hopes took a blow anyway; the Colombian sustained a pair of broken wheels just a few hundred meters shy of the three-kilometer safe zone.
“He went over a traffic island some 600 or 700 meters from the three-kilometer mark,” team director Eusebio Unzué said. “Luckily he stayed upright, but he broke both wheels and couldn’t continue.”
Quintana was forced to pull to the side of the road, and then began a long wait for help. Co-leaders Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde continued on.
Unfortunately for Quintana, crashes in the finale made for a shortage of domestiques.
“The rider assigned to help with whatever happened to Nairo in the last kilometers, and to change the bike possibly, was [José Joaquín] Rojas, but Rojas was in a crash a few kilometers back,” Unzué said.
The Movistar team car was stuck behind the action as well.
By the time Quintana got going again on new wheels, he’d lost a hefty amount of time. Up ahead, Landa and Valverde finished with the lead group, with Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) first across the finish line to take the stage win.
Heading into the race, Movistar was adamant that all three riders would have their shot at the Tour’s general classification. At the same time, it was generally understood that Quintana was the best card the team had to play with Landa as a strong second option and Valverde as a veteran wildcard. Each counts a collection of grand tour results on his palmares.
A hectic opening stage, however, has quickly spiced up the team leadership discussion at Movistar. Unzué did not give any indication of whether the team would adjust its gameplan after just one stage, instead preferring to focus on the positives of having a squad of healthy riders despite the chaos.
That same chaos also has Movistar’s pair of Spanish leaders sitting pretty on the GC leaderboard, and should provide some solace to Quintana. As big as Quintana’s time loss was, rivals like Chris Froome (Sky), Richie Porte (BMC), and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) also lost quite a few seconds on the run-in to Fontenay-le-Comte.
“Falls, punctures, a bit of everything,” Valverde said of the stage after making it to the bus. “It was all really complicated, really fast, really dangerous. Every one of us did the best we could.”
Froome crashed with some five kilometers to go. He was quickly back on the bike, but found himself in a group of chasers that ultimately would include former teammate Porte and compatriot Yates. They rolled home 51 seconds down on the sprinters, Landa and Valverde, and other GC hopefuls like Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), and Rigoberto Urán (EF Education First-Drapac).
As such, Quintana’s gap to the defending champion is a much more manageable 24 seconds.
Still, Landa and Valverde suddenly seem much better placed to contest the yellow jersey after just 201 kilometers. Expert climber Quintana will certainly have his chances to reestablish himself as the rider to beat on Movistar as the race makes its way towards the high mountains in week two, but he’ll have to survive less hospitable terrain in the next several stages.
With the race spending plenty of time along the coast in the northwest of France, the Tour peloton can expect more nervous racing and possibly crosswinds on the otherwise mostly flat stages to come. Quintana will likely finish on the same time as Landa and Valverde in the stage 3 team time trial — where Movistar’s trio could conceivably pick up time on the likes of Nibali and Bardet — but the cobbles of stage 9 loom large as another threat to Quintana’s GC hopes. Anything could happen on the pavé, especially for a rider of Quintana’s small stature.
Depending on your point of view, Unzué’s master plan of bringing three leaders to the race — sparing fewer domestiques for each one — was either a contributing cause of Quintana’s time loss or a wily decision that has already paid off.
After just one stage, the Tour’s longest-tenured team has a pair of dangerous riders sitting well ahead of the defending champion on the overall leaderboard. While Quintana will rue his luck on the day, Landa and Valverde have dramatically increased their GC chances in the sport’s biggest race without putting in a single attack.