Tour contenders have mixed results at Fleche

Froome, Nibali, and Quintana all tested their legs at the midweek Ardennes classic

HUY, Belgium (AFP) — Tour de France hopefuls Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali, and Nairo Quintana enjoyed varying fortunes at Wednesday’s La Flèche Wallonne.

Reigning Tour champion Nibali (Astana) showed he was in good form, attacking the field on the penultimate climb 5 kilometers from home before battling shoulder to shoulder with the favorites up the Mur de Huy finish in Wallonia.

The Italian finished 20th at the end of the 205.5km Ardennes classic, just 19 seconds behind Spanish winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

However, earlier in the day, there was speculation that Nibali might join Vuelta a Espana champion Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) in riding May’s Giro d’Italia.

Nibali’s compatriot and teammate Fabio Aru was due to ride the Giro as team leader but had to pull out of this week’s Giro de Trentino due to a stomach virus and is now doubtful for the Giro.

A report in La Gazzetta dello Sport quoted Nibali as saying he may ride the Giro, particularly with the ongoing uncertainty about Astana’s WorldTour license over several doping cases and the possibility it could be revoked.

La Gazzetta speculated that Nibali, 30, might opt to ride the Giro as a safety net, in case the license is withdrawn between the Giro and the Tour.

“It’s true. [Astana manager Giuseppe Martinelli] is pushing for me to ride the Giro too. But at the moment it’s not in my plans,” Nibali said.

With Contador already deciding to go for a Giro-Tour double, the prospect of Nibali doing the same would certainly excite Giro organizers.

Particularly with Australian Richie Porte (Sky) showing his form in taking control of the Giro del Trentino on Wednesday after a solo victory on the second stage, backing up his impressive overall victories at Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya stage races.

A half-fit Aru would likely be no match for Porte or Contador, but a Nibali firing on all cylinders would be a strong contender.

While Nibali proved his form in Belgium, the same could not be said of Froome.

The 2013 Tour de France winner, who crashed out last year during the first week, was on the deck again in Belgium.

Froome crashed inside the final 10km and although he carried on to the finish, he lost more than 12 minutes and placed 123rd.

“Chris was … pretty banged up but showed real courage to finish the race and we’ll assess his injuries overnight,” Sky sport director Gabriel Rasch said.

“He hasn’t needed to go to hospital and right now as things stand, we’re still expecting him to line up at the Tour de Romandie next Tuesday.”

Froome, 29, was still due to recon the cobbled section that forms part of the Tour’s fourth stage on Thursday.

The Kenyan-born Brit started his season well by winning the Ruta del Sol, but he then had to pull out of Tirreno-Adriatico in early March due to a chest infection.

On his comeback at the Volta a Catalunya, he struggled and finished almost 40 minutes behind Porte in the overall standings.

As for Quintana (Movistar), he seemed to be on a voyage of discovery at Huy, following Valverde’s wheel throughout.

The third stage of July’s Tour finishes at the top of the Mur, so Wednesday’s race was useful in terms of intelligence gathering.

Quintana, 25, sat up once the racing spiced up and finished 76th at 2:43 back.

The Colombian may have been giving little away but he has already demonstrated his condition, winning Tirreno-Adriatico this season.