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Nairo Quintana’s battle to hold onto his fourth place at the Tour de France came undone under the pressure exerted by rival David Gaudu (Cofidis), who managed to drop the Team Arkéa Samsic rider on the final climb of Hautacam on Thursday’s stage 18.
Quintana’s team was on the defensive from early in the stage when Louis Meintjes (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert went on the attack. Meintjes had started the day seventh overall, 1:31 behind Quintana, and this forced his team to chase. A bigger threat however came from Gaudu, who attacked the Colombian on the final climb and finished 2:24 ahead of him.
Quintana was under sufficient stress to briefly push off a race motorbike, and was subsequently penalized for that. He was given a 10-second time penalty, a 200 Swiss franc fine and was docked four points from both the points classification and the KOM competition.
He is now 13:35 behind race leader Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and has slipped one place to fifth overall. Gaudu is 2:30 ahead of him and will be relatively confident of holding that position, although there is an undulating stage on Friday and a time trial Saturday before the race conclusion in Paris on Sunday.
Quintana needs to be vigilant about the riders behind him; Meintjes is just eight seconds behind him, while Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe) is 35 seconds back.
He said that he will remain focused between now and the conclusion of the race in Paris.
“I gave it my all,” he said. “I had a little trouble breathing, but I don’t want to use that as an excuse. I think we are doing a great Tour de France. The race was very fast, my teammates did a very good job. We all gave our all.
“I hope to set a good time now [in the time trial – ed.] in order to be among the very first in this Tour de France. I raced with my heart, threw all my strength into the battle, the head also played an essential role.”
Cofidis sports director Yvon Ledanois said that he was proud of how the team rode. “This stage brought together everything we expected: suspense, panache. We tried, and we did everything, even if it meant dying on the side of the road. The guys gave their all, there are no regrets to be had. Nairo also gave his all.
“We leave [slip out of] fourth place with honor. There are now three stages left before the Champs [Élysées], we will continue with the same desire that has driven us since leaving Denmark. Few people would have said before this Tour that we would be in this place at the end of the Pyrenees.
“The team has always believed in Nairo, and his teammates. Focus now on the next stages, we remain focused, because the Tour is far from over.”
Quintana is in the final year of his contract with the team. Having finished second, second and third in the Tour in the early years of his career, he has been further back in recent seasons. His display in this year’s race is a step up from his past two participations, having placed 17th and 28th in 2020 and 2021.
At 32 years of age, he said that he has taken a positive step in the event.
“I regained confidence on this Tour after difficult years, and it is a good thing for the future.”