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LA TOUSSUIRE, France (VN) — Nairo Quintana (Movistar) finally delivered on his promise to attack the yellow jersey. With time running out in this Tour de France, the Colombian gapped Chris Froome (Sky) in a searing attack with about 5km to go deep in the French Alps, clawing back 32 seconds.
“I wanted to attack to take time on Froome, but in the end, I couldn’t take back that much time,” Quintana said. “Tomorrow, we’ll try again.”
Friday’s intense stage once again saw Froome isolated late in the race. Geraint Thomas, who started the day fourth, lost contact on the Col du Glandon, and tumbled out of podium range. Wout Poels was the last man standing for the yellow jersey.
With last year’s Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) attacking up the road, Tinkoff-Saxo put Rafal Majka on the front to defend Alberto Contador’s GC position. That high pace forced Quintana to wait longer to attack than he wanted.
“The pace was very high with Tinkoff-Saxo chasing Nibali, so it was not the right moment to attack, and I had to wait,” Quintana said. “The legs responded when they needed to, but the top part of the climb was not as steep, and I could not make the differences as I had hoped.”
With the l’Alpe d’Huez looming in Saturday’s penultimate stage, time is on Froome’s side. He knows all he has to do is weather one more short, but intense day in the saddle, and the Tour will be his.
Quintana, meanwhile, will be holding out for a miracle on the Tour’s most famous climb.
“I was hoping the differences would have been bigger today. We did what was possible,” Quintana said. “Tomorrow, maybe we will try from a little bit further away. Froome defended well today. He is very strong.”
Revealing a new grace under fire, Froome did not hit the panic button when Quintana surged clear, and he didn’t bury himself to cover the move, either. Starting with a lead of 3:10, Froome could keep Quintana on a short tether, without having to go into the red zone to close it down.
“When Quintana attacked, I didn’t start panicking. I didn’t stress about it. I wasn’t flogging myself,” Froome said. “I just went into TT mode. I didn’t want to go too deep, but I didn’t want to give Quintana too much time, either.”
In Saturday’s finale, Movistar will be playing a triple tactic. First, it will want to try to set up Quintana for the miracle long-distance attack to maybe snatch away the yellow jersey. If they cannot crack Froome, they want to at least salvage a shot at a stage victory. And finally, they also want to defend Alejandro Valverde’s third-place podium spot.
Quintana has not won a stage so far in this Tour, but Sky certainly won’t be riding defensively and gifting l’Alpe d’Huez to the Colombian rider.
“I cannot wait until tomorrow,” Froome said. “It’s going to be an amazing stage. It’s the most iconic climb in the Tour. It’s the final test, in terms of GC, and I imagine it’s going to be an amazing atmosphere. I’m in a great position, with an advantage of 2:38.”
Froome, however, hinted he’s not going to burn out his team to chase stage-hunters who will be jumping early in the stage.
“It would be a dream to win tomorrow’s stage,” Froome said. “At this point, the focus is on the yellow jersey, and keeping that on my shoulders.”
Quintana will be doubly motivated to win atop the 21 switchbacks of the Alpe. Already in control of the white jersey as well as what will be his second runner-up result in three years, the Colombian will be gunning for the victory.
“Tomorrow we will try to control the race to try to win the stage,” Quintana said. “To win on l’Alpe d’Huez is the dream of any rider.”
In 2013, Quintana had a miracle ending in the last climbing stage up Semnoz, winning the stage, slotting into second overall, and claiming the best climber’s jersey. It may prove very difficult for history to repeat itself, but Quintana will certainly be trying.