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ALPE D’HUEZ, France (VN) — The second stage of the 2015 Tour de France will haunt Nairo Quintana all winter long.
That’s when the Colombian climber lost 1:28, and ever since that decisive stage, Quintana and his Movistar team were on the back foot.
Quintana attacked with all he had Saturday, but he ran out of pavement up the 21 switchbacks of cycling’s most famous climb. He took back 1:26 in Saturday’s stage 20 to Alpe d’Huez, but the final difference to the yellow jersey was still 1:12. Time lost in the echelons proved decisive.
“We lost the Tour in the first week,” Quintana said. “We tried attacking until the very end. I gave everything today. I was only thinking about the yellow jersey.”
In a mountainous route, with the opening-day time trial in Utrecht only spanning 13.8km, this was a Tour made for Quintana.
Froome and Sky took up the initiative right from the start, and took what were ultimately decisive gains in the first week. After the echelons, Froome took valuable seconds on the Mur de Huy, survived the cobblestones, squeezed out a few more seconds in the team time trial, and then dropped the hammer on the Pierre-Saint-Martin climb.
From there, it was Froome’s Tour to lose, and Quintana’s to try to recover.
“We fought all the way we could to try and gain time we had lost on Froome,” Quintana said. “We attacked from very far from the finish, yet we couldn’t open up a big enough gap. We gave it all on the final climb.”
Movistar insisted it will walk away with its head held high. The Spanish squad ends the Tour with second and third place overall, and the best team classification.
When asked if Quintana was stronger on the climbs, and how much the stage 2 echelons affected the race, Froome demurred.
“If I didn’t have quite an advantage, maybe the race would have been different. Maybe we would have been more aggressive on other climbs,” Froome said. “People can give ‘what ifs,’ but that was the way it turned out. Nairo pushed me all the way to the end. He’s chosen his moments well. Chapeau to him.”
Valverde, who narrowly missed the podium last year finishing fourth, collapsed into tears at the finish line.
“It’s something that I have pursued my entire career, and now I have it,” Valverde said. “Hat’s off to Froome and Sky. We gave them everything we had, and he was strong enough to hang on to win.”
Quintana has time on his side. He’s only 25. He confirmed his quality by finishing second in an impressive showdown between the “Fab Four,” finishing well ahead of defending Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo).
Quintana might not be so lucky next year. The Tour will all but surely add more time trial kilometers to the route. Froome, who said he tweaked his training schedule to focus on climbing, will always be better than Quintana against the clock.
“I am satisfied with this Tour,” Quintana said. “If things happened differently, maybe we could have won. We never stopped fighting. We will come back to this Tour and win the yellow jersey.”