Nairo Quintana (Movistar) raged through a snowstorm to victory in the Monte Terminillo stage of Tirreno-Adriatico on Sunday.
The Colombian climber shot out of a chase group of overall favorites to catch and drop the remnants of a breakaway and ride alone to the snow-slick finish line, winning the crucial fourth stage and claiming the leader’s blue jersey.
Behind, his rivals for the final overall title opened hostilities, and while Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) was among the most aggressive, it was Bauke Mollema (Trek Factory Racing) who managed to escape to finish second on the day at 41 seconds, followed by Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) at 55 seconds.
“I’m very happy. Getting the first win of the year in this way fills me with hope,” said Quintana. “It was a very fast, difficult stage, especially with how cold it was. But thanks to my team, which was always close to me, helping me, I could reach the final climb with the necessary strength and execute my tactic with that final attack.”
With 11km remaining in the 194km stage from Esanatoglia to Monte Terminillo — a frigid affair with wind on the road, snow at the finish and a battle among the overall contenders anticipated — the peloton was still in pursuit of a breakaway — Michele Scarponi (Astana), Maxime Monfort (Lotto-Soudal) and Alessandro De Marchi (BMC Racing).
Scarponi attacked the break, briefly opening a gap, but De Marchi fought back, and eventually Monfort rejoined as well. The trio held an advantage of 1:18 with just over 7km remaining.
Behind, the testing began. Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) jumped the bunch, hoping to soften them up for team leader Contador. Mikel Nieve (Sky) shut it down. Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-Quick-Step) then took over pacemaking for Rigoberto Uran, who was looking particularly strong.
Monfort fell out of the break once again, and then De Marchi likewise lost the wheel, leaving Scarponi along to contend for the stage win.
Quintana was first among the overall contenders to make a move, blasting up the right side of the road with less than 5km to go. Contador responded, then realized he was only bringing his rivals along for the ride and settled into the middle of a swelling chase.
As the group grew in size, Contador attacked again, not getting away but slashing the chase in half.
Ahead, Quintana caught and discarded Scarponi. Behind, Thibault Pinot (FDJ) threw a few punches of his own, and then Uran gave it some stick.
Bauke Mollema (Trek Factory Racing) was next to try his luck, blasting clear and shooting past Scarponi into second on the road.
With 2km to go Quintana was alone and racing through the snow to the stage win and overall lead. Mollema was chasing a half-minute down, and Contador was still trying to get rid of all his company — Uran, Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) and Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge).
While that drama played out behind, Quintana skated to the stage win and overall lead ahead of Mollema and Rodriguez, who came out of nowhere to round out the podium.
Race leader Wout Poels (Lotto-Soudal) fought bravely to finish some 90 seconds down, but his leader’s jersey was lost.
Quintana had the lead with Molleme second at 39 seconds and Uran third at 48. Poels slipped to 10th at 1:13.