PAU, France (AFP) — After Friday’s anti-climax, Tour de France favorites Chris Froome (Sky) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) will almost certainly do battle on Saturday.
With four categorized climbs on the menu, including the beastly hors category Tourmalet, the Tour contenders should finally engage in skirmishes on the 184-kilometer eighth stage from Pau to Bagnères-de-Luchon in the Pyrenees.
Friday’s first-category Col d’Aspin climb failed to spark the challengers into life as race leader Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) surprisingly extended his advantage in the yellow jersey competition.
But even he said such a scenario would be “impossible” on Saturday.
Froome said the two taxing weekend stages were to blame for Friday’s tame finish — although the stage had been fast until it reached the climb.
“We’ve got a really big weekend coming up and there’s a lot of hard racing to come,” said Briton Froome, 31.
“It’s better to save a little bit in the tank. I’d imagine we’ll see bigger time gaps [on Saturday].
“There should be some tired legs as [Friday] wasn’t an easy day.”
Friday’s high average speed throughout the stage was the reason no one had the energy to attack on the Col d’Aspin, according to Quintana — but he expects a different approach on Saturday.
“It was a faster race than we expected. The Col d’Aspin was also climbed at a higher speed than we thought and there wasn’t much energy left for a big attack within the GC contenders,” he said.
“All we could do was prevent the escapees keeping a massive gap and hope for a better chance [on Saturday].”
A challenging Friday was even more difficult for young French hope Thibaut Pinot, who lost two and a half minutes and has now already written off his hopes.
It was the third time he’d seen everything go wrong in the Pyrenees at the Tour.
“I simply didn’t have the legs. There’s no excuse to look for,” said the FDJ rider.
“It’s three times that I’ve arrived in the Pyrenees and lost ground. That’s it.”
He added: “I’m not 100 percent and in the Tour you have to be 100 percent.
“Of course, it’s a waste. It’s a season that almost goes to crumbs. The Tour is the highlight of the season and from the first mountain stage, the objective is over.”
His reaction was in stark contrast to Richie Porte, who lost almost as much time due to a puncture on the second stage.
He’s feeling confident though.
“I’m climbing with the best of the best, but the time loss still hurts,” he said.
His BMC team-mate Tejay van Garderen is expecting things to take off this weekend with two brutal mountain stages totaling nine peaks, including two hors categorie ones.
“With the next two days coming up I think people are pretty nervous for those two days, so I think we’ll see some fireworks on Saturday and Sunday,” he said.