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ANDORRA (VN) — Where was Nairo? That was the question Sunday after a stage tailor-made for the Colombian climber.
Sometimes Nairo Quintana (Movistar) was so tucked in behind Chris Froome (Sky) that you could barely see him. The two-time Tour runner-up was there, but you’d never know it.
Everyone was waiting for the attack, especially Froome, but it never came. Where was Nairo?
Froome put it best: “In the back of my mind, I was waiting for Quintana’s attack … I’d like to think he was on his limit. It was a tough day out there, but it looks like he stuck to my wheel like glue out there.”
Did Quintana miss an opportunity to take it to Froome’s yellow jersey? We’ll never know, because he never tried. The pair came across the line Sunday at Arcalis without Quintana ever sticking his nose to the wind.
A day after Froome surprised Quintana with an over-the-top surprise attack on the summit of the Peyresourde to take the yellow jersey, the Colombian was content to be a shadow to Froome’s maillot jaune. Movistar is clearly taking a long view to this Tour.
“We see Nairo closer to Froome than ever before, so that’s good,” said Movistar sport director Chente García. “Now it’s time to recover on the rest day, and take on the second part of the Tour with guarantees.”
Sky set such a brutal pace up the final climb to Arcalis, it appeared Quintana had nothing left to counter. Granted, conditions were horrific by any measure, and he never appeared to be in danger of getting dropped. Still, he never attacked when everyone was waiting for it.
It wasn’t clear if Quintana spoke after the stage. There were no official quotes on the Movistar team website. His teammates insisted that the Tour is just starting, and that the overall balance nearing the midway mark is very good for Movistar.
“It wasn’t a day to give everything, and die trying,” said Movistar captain Alejandro Valverde. “Especially considering the conditions. The team rode well today.”
For Quintana and Movistar, this Tour is clearly going to be played out in the final week. In fact, they’re betting everything on cracking Froome in week three of the Tour.
In the previous two Tours that Quintana has finished runner-up, Froome has shown chinks in his armor in the closing stages. Movistar is calculating that Quintana can make up the 23 seconds and pile on a lot more in what is a brutal final week.
Coming into this weekend, Movistar was elated to bring Quintana into the mountains on equal footing to Froome, and seemed to shrug off the 23 seconds they lost to Froome in the Sky captain’s unconventional attack in Saturday’s descending final.
Those 23 seconds probably won’t count for much Paris, but neither will the seconds that Quintana didn’t take back on Sunday.
“Is Froome unbeatable? Well, so is Nairo,” Valverde insisted. “There is still a lot of Tour, and one must attack when it’s the right moment. And you do it when it feels right, and you can never know when.”
Sky clearly isn’t taking it all sitting down. Froome tweaked his training program to be even stronger in the final week specifically to withstand the inevitable Quintana onslaught.
More importantly for Sky, however, is that the team carries the yellow jersey into the rest day and the second half of the Tour. That brings responsibility, but it also carries a certain tactical and psychological advantage.
It’s always better to be in the lead, no matter how slender the margin.
Up next? The rematch on Mont Ventoux on Thursday. The giant of Provence is where Quintana and Froome so dramatically clashed in the 2013 Tour. Quintana wasn’t a shadow that day, and it’s almost certain he won’t be this time around, either.