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FINHAUT-EMOSSON, Switzerland (VN) — “Complicated.” That word was bandied about a lot outside the Movistar team bus Wednesday, high in the Alps. On a day when Nairo Quintana needed to make a move, he lost another 20 seconds to yellow jersey Chris Froome to slip to 3:27 behind.
To win the 2016 Tour? Yes, it’s very complicated indeed.
“Seeing how things are, it’s very, very complicated [to win],” said Movistar sport director José Luis Arrieta. “It would have to be a big collapse by Froome.”
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Quintana promised to attack in the third week of the Tour, but much like he has throughout this race, the two-time Tour runner-up didn’t have the legs to change out of third gear and go over the top of Froome.
Movistar teammate Alejandro Valverde held up his end of the bargain, accelerating twice in the closing kilometers to soften up Froome for Quintana, but it was Froome who ended up attacking. Here’s that word again. “To win now is very complicated,” said Valverde, who slipped from fifth to seventh, now 5:19 back. “To fight for the podium is more obvious.”
What’s happened to Quintana during this Tour? Valverde and Arrieta both denied that the Colombian climber had fallen ill during race or that he came into the Tour at a lower level than in 2013 and 2015, two years when he put Froome on the ropes.
Speaking to journalists after doing a post-stage doping control, Quintana seemed at once defiant as well as resigned.
“I didn’t have a great today. I expected more because I had good sensations, but my body didn’t feel good in the end. I did the best I could,” Quintana said. “I still have a lot of years ahead of me. I am 26, and there are a lot of people who have more experience. I still have a lot of years ahead of me to fight for the yellow jersey dream.”
“He’s not bad, but the thing is sometimes the strength is there, sometimes it’s not,” Arrieta said. “Up to now, the Tour isn’t unfolding like he would have liked.”
Earlier this week, Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué said Quintana suffered in the brutal winds that hit the Tour between the Pyrénées and Alps. Quintana was forced to use a lot of strength just to stay even with Froome on the flats.
His early attacks on Mont Ventoux were quickly snuffed, and thanks to the ensuing chaos that neutralized the times near the summit, Quintana was saved from even more losses to Froome, Richie Porte (BMC Racing) and Bauke Mollema (Trek – Segafredo), who were up the road.
Quintana is now running out of asphalt. Thursday’s climbing time trial will favor Froome, and Friday’s stage is the final uphill finish of this Tour. Saturday’s mountainous stage over Joux-Plane to Morzine will likely be easier to control for the ever-dominant Sky.
“I wouldn’t want to be racing against us, that is for sure,” said Wout Poels outside the Sky bus. “We have expected more from Nairo this Tour. It’s not over, and he is a strong rider, so we know he will try to attack us again.”
Quintana is a fighter, and will certainly go down swinging. At this point, Froome is looking untouchable, and even the podium fight won’t be easy for the Colombian. Mollema gave up time to Froome, but only ceded 12 seconds to Quintana to retain second place. Third-place Adam Yates (Orica – BikeExchange) is proving stubborn, and even gained 17 seconds on Quintana to remain in third. Porte is also moving up behind, from seventh to sixth at 4:27 back, now only one minute behind Quintana.
“We hoped that Nairo could be better, especially after the rest day, but we could see that he didn’t have the legs to try to go for more,” Arrieta said. “Alejandro accelerated two times, to try to expose Froome a little more, and but Nairo didn’t have his best day.”
Quintana is running out of days in this Tour — that bit is not complicated.