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Movistar bet everything on blowing up the Tour de France on the Tourmalet but ended up only self-imploding.
The Spanish WorldTour team came out blazing Saturday, slotting a rider into the day’s early break and putting four riders on the front to pace the bunch to the base of the hors-categorie Tourmalet.
The all-in bet all but backfired dramatically. Two-time runner-up Nairo Quintana was gapped early, ceding more than three minutes and losing all hope of a podium spot. Alejandro Valverde was also dropped, leaving only Mikel Landa, who ran out of steam in the final kilometers in the hunt for the stage win.
Movistar bet the house on the stage, and the house won.
Quintana sunk to 14th, more than nine minutes in arrears. With speculation that Quintana’s career at Movistar is over with an anticipated move to Arkea-Samsic next season, where he will bring his brother and other helpers across to the French team, Quintana all but threw in the white flag. A crash involving the once-dynamic Colombian climber on Wednesday didn’t help.
“Mikel was going well, so I was not going to tell them to stop,” Quintana said. “Now there is nothing else to do but to help Mikel and Alejandro. They are in better condition than me and are ahead of me on the GC. It’s obvious I didn’t have a good day.”
Movistar ran off the rails Saturday just when it was poised to move into favorable ground with an endless string of mountains between Pau and Paris.
The team started with Quintana in ninth, Valverde 12th, and Landa 18th. With the race seemingly still up for grabs, Movistar decided to press the accelerator Saturday. It slotted a rider into the day’s early move over the Col du Soulor and massed four riders at the front on the lower flanks of the Tourmalet, one of the Tour’s most difficult and mythical climbs.
After riders like Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) were spat out early, there was every indication it was going to be a hard day. Movistar was driving hard, then almost unexpectedly, Quintana faltered little more than halfway up the climb. There wasn’t going to be a miracle on Colombia’s national holiday.
“The fact that [Chris] Froome isn’t in this Tour gave us more expectations than others,” said Landa, sixth on the stage. “It was a very fast stage and I was motivated to go well, but I ran out of gas in the last five kilometers.”
There seemed to be a communication breakdown inside the ranks. Movistar kept pushing at the front when Quintana was gapped. Of course, after going all-in, they couldn’t let up so close to the summit, and pushed on in hopes of delivering the stage win.
“Nairo was not going well, but he didn’t tell us a thing,” Valverde said. “We didn’t know he was going like that.”
The day’s outcome was a bitter blow for the Spanish team. Just a month ago, it rode near-perfect tactics to win the Giro d’Italia. On Saturday, the team looked to be trying a similar tactical coup in the Tour’s first major mountaintop finale.
There was one big difference between May and July, however. In May, Richard Carapaz was the strongest man in the race. In July, Movistar was far from the best.
When the dust settled on the Tourmalet, Movistar can only hope to try to salvage something out this Tour. Valverde moved up to ninth overall, but he won’t be fighting for the overall victory.
It seems it’s up to Landa, who just missed the podium in the Giro and lost time early in the Tour, will try to carry the team colors.
“Let’s hope the legs don’t run out of gas from the efforts of the Giro,” Landa said. “There are still a lot of hard stages to come. We’ll try to stay in the mix and take some sort of partial victory from this Tour.”