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Nairo Quintana wins stage 20; Chris Froome defends yellow

The race leader finishes third on the final mountain stage to confirm his grip on the overall victory

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Nairo Quintana (Movistar) dropped race leader Chris Froome (Sky) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) on the final steeps of the Annecy-Semnoz ascent to win stage 20 of the Tour de France on Saturday.

The three had been alone off the front since shortly after a determined pursuit by Movistar, Sky and Katusha reeled in an escape by the irrepressible Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Leopard), who collected the day’s combativity prize for his efforts.

Froome threw the first punch, but Quintana delivered the knockout blow, riding to the stage win by 18 seconds ahead of Rodriguez, with Froome rounding out the day’s podium in third, another 10 seconds behind.

The move vaulted the little Colombian into second overall, 5:03 behind Froome, while Rodriguez slipped into third at 5:47.

Their gains were Alberto Contador’s loss. The Saxo-Tinkoff captain couldn’t respond when the going got tough and slipped off the podium altogether. He now sits fourth overall at 7:10.

“When one gives everything they have, that’s it … I could not be at 100 percent. One must congratulate those who have passed ahead of me,” said Contador.

Froome was a happy man in the post-stage interview.

“I can’t quite believe that I’m sitting here in this position. This really is amazing,” he said. Barring the parade stage into Paris, he added, “This is the GC side of it pretty much sorted out now.”

Quintana was likewise delighted to have won a stage — and taken the mountains and white jerseys — in his debut Tour.

“It’s like a dream to be on the podium, to win the KoM, the white jersey. This Tour unfolded better than I could have imagined,” he said.

The break du jour

The day’s escape contained Igor Anton Hernandez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), best placed at 23rd overall, 42:13 behind Froome; Pierre Rolland and Cyril Gautier (Europcar); Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Euskaltel-Euskadi); Christophe Riblon (Ag2r); Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge); Voigt; Marcus Burghardt (BMC); Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Vacansoleil-DCM); and Pavel Brutt (Katusha).

Movistar was driving the chase.

Peter Sagan (Cannondale) locked up the green jersey, assuming he finishes in Paris, after taking three points to Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Mark Cavendish’s four in the intermediate sprint.

With 70km remaining the escapees had less than a minute on the bunch.

As the break hit the lower slopes of the Mont Revard, Voigt gave it some stick and quickly shed Rolland and the others. Clarke and Brutt tried to follow, but Voigt didn’t seem to want company and forged ahead alone, chased by Anton.

Behind, world champion Philippe Gilbert and BMC teammate Tejay van Garderen had a go out of the chase. They assembled a chase from the remnants of the break, a pursuit that boiled down to van Garderen, Clarke, Rolland and Riblon as the climb wore on.

Voigt summited alone with Anton some 38 seconds down. Rolland led the first chase, now a group of nine riders, a couple of minutes in arrears, with the yellow-jersey group nearly four minutes down.

That left only the valley and the final obstacle of the day, the 10.7km, hors categorie grind to Annecy-Semnoz. Voigt remained alone out front, but the chase, powered by Katusha, Movistar and Sky, was closing in on van Garderen, Riblon and Alexis Vuillermoz (Sojasun).

Movistar did the final bit of work with Alejandro Valverde, Rui Costa, Quintana, Froome, Richie Porte, Rodriguez and Contador all in the first chase.

As Voigt was pulled back in, Rodriguez opened hostilities on one side, and Quintana followed suit on the other. And then Froome attacked, opening a big gap.

But it wasn’t big enough. Rodriguez towed Quintana up to him and it was a three-man lead group bound for the line.

Quintana and Froome let Rodriguez do the work as Contador fell further and further behind.

And then Froome jumped, Quintana countered, and off the diminutive mountain goat went. He took the stage ahead of Rodriguez, but Froome was the man who bore the biggest smile as he crossed third.

“The GC is over now,” he said. “Tomorrow is a stage for the sprinters. For me, the Tour’s done.

“Today was a very hard stage. It was a hard final climb. I was only thinking of the yellow jersey. Quintana and Rodriguez made it a very hard climb. Only in the last 2km did I realize for the first time that I could win [the Tour]. …”

After a very successful day in the saddle Quintana was wondering whether he might have a Tour victory in him, too.

“The team rode perfectly for me today, everyone gave their all for me to win today. I have to thank them for this victory,” he said. “Maybe some day I can come back to try to win the Tour.”

Sagan, meanwhile, was wondering whether he might be able to add the final stage as a sweetener to his green jersey.

“I feel very good, I am very happy. We have only won one stage, but tomorrow is another chance,” he said. “We made a very good Tour de France. The big goal was to win the green jersey, so we are content with that. Tomorrow to win? Why not? I want to win. We will see what happens.”

Race notes

Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) had a fine last day in the mountains, climbing to sixth on the day to move into 10th overall at 18:22. “I proved I have what it takes,” he said. “This is confirmation of what I did in the Vuelta last year. I have what it takes to race and compete for the top 10 in a grand tour. And it’s always what I thought I was going to be able to do, but it’s nice to kind of come through and be able to show once again that my body’s kind of designed for three weeks of racing.”