Briton Chris Froome (SKY) increased his gap as leader of the 2015 Tour de France with a solo victory in La Pierre-Saint-Martin (HC), first mountain-top finish of the 'Grande Boucle', after 167km where the Movistar Team took a starring role in the making of the course.
It was Imanol Erviti and Alex Dowsett's task to reduce gaps early with the day's breakaway -Fédrigo (BSE) and Vanbilsen (COF), who ammassed a 15' margin- and keep a steady, high pace which prepared things for a steep climb, in hot conditions and with terrain enough to see big gaps. At the botton of the ascent, Anacona, Castroviejo, Herrada and a notable Gorka Izagirre successively shrank the group, with the likes of Costa (LAM), Péraud (ALM), Pinot (FDJ), Urán (EQS), Mollema (TFR) or even Nibali (AST) losing contact.
Two attacks by a brilliant Alejandro Valverde -who reached the finish in 5th spot- and the definitive acceleration by Porte (SKY) reduced the fight to a two-up race: Froome vs. Nairo Quintana. An attack by the Blue leader's rival with 6.5km remaining made him lose terrain, Nairo riding on his own to secure the 3rd place -after Porte overtook him into the final kilometer- while jumping into the GC podium -17 seconds away from Van Garderen (BMC), 2nd; 3’09” to Froome- and claiming the young riders' jersey outright, worn today as 2nd placed behind Sagan (TCS). In turn, Valverde now sits in 4th overall, less a minute behind his team-mate.
Wednesday will bring stage eleven, second of the Pyrenees trio, through 188km with six climbs and a grueling final chain over Aspin (Cat-1), Tourmalet (HC) and Cauterets (Cat-3.)
Nairo Quintana: “It was a really hard stage, with hellish temperatures and big pace all day, especially since we took command of the peloton. We wanted to test our rivals’ condition, see how they were going, and we found a superior Chris Froome. He was really strong and we must accept that. We’ll try to find a strategy or some alliances to try and gain some time back or, at least, keeping our actual position. We must keep going day-by-day. We saw in previous races that he struggled a bit at the end in races finales and at the end of the three weeks; we will hope he cracks some day or that I find myself better than I did today. My winning chances? They shrank a bit today, but I keep dreaming about yellow, and will give my everything to snatch it.”
Alejandro Valverde: “To be honest, it was a big blow by Froome today. We did a nice race, but we’ve got to be realistic: he was over the rest today. Let’s see if he can continue to do so for the rest of the race. Sky kept a high pace all the way when they took over, I tried to jump away to drop Froome’s team-mates back, but they were strong. It’s been a hard nine days before this stage, and the steep climb, combined with the heat… made everything impossible for many. Now, for us it’s a matter of keeping what we’ve got or improving our result if we’re able to. The Tour is not over at all, though it’s becoming harder to win. Still, we can hope for everything when it’s Nairo. Others like Contador, Nibali, Purito, Van Garderen cracked today, and the same can happen to us or any other rivals up to the end of the race.”
Eusebio Unzué: “There’s an awful part on today’s overview, which was confirming Froome was as strong as we saw earlier, and another more favourable part, which was the results we got today. We thought that, being the first real mountain stage, it could be a good day to approach those rivals sitting over us in the GC and increase the distance with those trailing behind, and we got that. We’re very satisfied with it. There’s a long way to go in this race for many things to happen; it’s also true that, shouldn’t Froome go through bad days or suffer the wear and tear of the race, it’ll be difficult to win. But sometimes in cycling, we saw so many surprising things - everything is still possible. Gaps are higher and higher, but not something we can’t surmount. We’ll try and keep trying to approach ourselves to the leaders, and if there isn’t any other chance in this year’s Pyrenees, we’ll keep pushing in the Alps, of course.”