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CHAMONIX, France (VN) — Nairo Quintana waved the white flag Thursday in the 2016 Tour de France.
On another day when he would have expected to gain time, the two-time Tour runner-up lost 1:10 to Sky’s Chris Froome in Thursday’s climbing time trial. Still fourth, but now 4:37 behind, the Movistar leader will be fighting to save a podium spot with only two mountain stages left.
“Now we have to fight for the podium,” Quintana said at the line. “The overall win is very difficult. Froome is untouchable.”
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In what’s one of the biggest disappointments of this Tour, Quintana has not been able to challenge Froome at any phase of the race. Despite a few tepid attacks early on Mont Ventoux, the Colombian has been a shadow of the rider he was in 2013 and 2015, when he gave the Sky captain a run for his money.
What’s happening? Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué hinted that Quintana was pummeled in the crosswinds between the Pyrénées and Alps. Although he never lost time, the effort to fight for position cost him so much strength he had nothing left in the tank to attack. Also, Sky has been a much stronger unit than Movistar, and Froome is firmly establishing himself as the best Tour rider of his generation.
“This is not my normal performance for me,” said a frustrated Quintana. “I don’t know what’s happening. Maybe it’s some sort of allergy. Maybe the rain that is forecasted will help me feel a little better.”
Quintana will now be racing to secure a podium spot. In two Tour starts, he’s been second both times. Anything less than the podium in a year when he was vying for the yellow jersey is a stinging disappointment.
It won’t be easy. Although he is only 45 seconds adrift of second-place Bauke Mollema (Trek – Segafredo) and 21 seconds behind third-place Adam Yates (Orica – BikeExchange), he is only 20 seconds ahead of fifth-place Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) and 23 seconds ahead of Richie Porte (BMC), now in sixth.
All five of are only separated by 68 seconds, so the fight for the podium will be intense as those riders will forget about Froome, and start attacking each other.
“There are still two hard stages left, and we are going to try to do it as best as we possibly can,” said Movistar teammate Alejandro Valverde. “Everyone knows after today that [winning] the Tour is very complicated.”
Quintana, 26, won’t be happy with how this Tour has gone, and confirmed Thursday he will race the Vuelta a España in August following the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. With Froome dominating this year’s Tour, his “yellow jersey dream” (sueño amarillo”) will have to be put on hold until next summer.