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MONT VENTOUX, France (VN) — It was the kind of moment you expect on Mont Ventoux. Not Chris Froome (Sky), jubilant, having conquered one of the most unforgiving mountains of the Tour de France, but Nairo Quintana (Movistar), on the ground, empty.
Success on the Ventoux comes at a steep price: everything you have in you. But the mountain asks the same of those who come up short.
There was Quintana, who attacked in search of a stage win, but couldn’t follow Froome’s final acceleration on the barren mountaintop. There was Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), who simply fell away under the strain of Sky’s perfect one-two punch, Richie Porte and Froome. There was Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Leopard), a former contender, finishing 39th at 10:42.
The Tour’s longest stage ended with one of its hardest climbs, and few GC hopefuls reached the summit unscathed.
“I could tell Froome was stronger than me,” said Quintana, whose desperate efforts to stay with the race leader earned him the best young rider’s jersey. “That’s why he was talking to me, telling me that we should keep pushing to leave Contador behind, that he’d let me win the stage.
“But I knew it wasn’t true, because I knew how strong he was. I’m not at his level, and I could understand what he did, I knew I wouldn’t be able to attack him again. When he went I went full gas but I couldn’t follow his wheel.”
Bauke Mollema (Belkin) was one of the many riders who broke under the pressure of the vicious pace of Froome’s set-up man Porte.
“It wasn’t my best day,” Mollema told reporters. “Luckily Laurens (Ten Dam) was there, and the first 10 kilometers (of the climb) wasn’t so hard. Then when Porte started pulling in the last 10Ks, then I really had to suffer. Laurens had a good day, but I didn’t.”
Mollema managed to regroup and hook onto a group that included Contador, Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), and Roman Kreuziger (Saxo), salvaging his second place on GC with a late effort near the top of the climb.
Mollema now faces the prospect of defending his position against Contador, Kreuziger, and teammate Ten Dam, all of whom sit within 40 seconds of him in the race for the podium in Paris, through another week of difficult racing in the French Alps.
The mountain ripped through not just those who sought the yellow jersey, but those just hoping just to scratch the top 10.
Garmin-Sharp’s white-jersey hopeful Andrew Talansky saw his hopes evaporate when he finished in 25th place, 6:09 down on Quintana. Talansky said a series of difficult days — including a turn in the breakaway Saturday — simply left him unable to ride with the leaders, but that he was hopeful for his prospects in years to come.
“When you look at the kind of numbers we did today,” he said, “and (considering) I was in the break yesterday, I’m just missing that kind of one level to be with those first 10 guys. But that comes with time and experience and doing more than one Tour.”
Fuglsang, a first-time team leader at the Tour hoping for a place in the final top 10, was one of the few to cross the line appearing relatively collected. The rising Danish star suffered during the first of last weekend’s Pyrenean stages, losing valuable time on the ascent to Ax-3-Domains in stage 8. He avoided the same mistake on Ventoux.
“The race was on the whole day,” he said. “First Movistar, then Euskatel, then Europcar (attacked). They all wanted to show something, and they all had some kind of plan. I think it was more about payback than anything else.
“And then Sky made the speed just before we entered the small hills before Mont Ventoux. And then it was hard from almost 10k to go. … (Sky’s Peter) Kennaugh put good pressure on, but it was not too fast. And then when Richie hit it was a little bit too fast for me. And compared to Ax-3-Domain, I didn’t want to go over my limit this time. And then I wanted to be a little bit smarter.”
Fuglsang now sits in seventh. Schleck was not so lucky. The once-brilliant climber cracked on the lower slopes of the climb and now finds himself in 18th place, nearly 20 minutes down overall.
“Okay, it was not a good day,” said Schleck. “But it’s not the end of the world, it’s not the end of the Tour.”
Maybe not, but after Mont Ventoux, there must be plenty of riders wishing it was.