Mende produced fireworks again in the Tour de France and brought another interesting gain for the Movistar Team riders, which saw its GC leader Nairo Quintana jumping onto 2nd overall after the 178.5km stage fourteen from Rodez to the top of La Croix-Neuve (Cat-2).
The telephone squad put one of its riders, Jonathan Castroviejo, into a 20-man break which ended up fighting for the stage win, with Steve Cummings (MTN) making up the gap to Pinot (FDJ) and Bardet (ALM) over the top to claim the victory into the final sprint -with 'Castro' in 9th place-. The escape's gap over the main field -always around 6', eventually almost 4' to the leading favourites- helped the squad directed by Arrieta and Chente riding always calm and together behind and increase their lead in the teams' classification, now almost 14' over Sky. Yet, the biggest strike from the Blues would come from behind into the decisive ascent, when Quintana chose to go ahead halfway through its slopes.
Despite Froome (SKY) quickly reacting to successive moves from Nairo, the Colombian's efforts quickly dropped back Tejay van Garderen (BMC), finishing 39" behind Quintana and losing his second place in the GC -Nairo now 3'10" behind Froome, the American at 3'32"-. After them, Valverde, who initially tried to follow Quintana and Froome, later went on his own rhythm, chased down Contador (TCS) and attacked him to finish barely 4" behind the duo, sitting now 4'02" behind Froome in the overall standings and just 30" away from Van Garderen.
Two stages are still remaining before the rest day, the first one -the 15th in the 'Grande Boucle- set to connect Mende with Valence across 183km, with two small ascents in the opening part plus L'Escrinet (Cat-2) crested just under 60k before the finish.
Nairo Quintana: "I'm really happy with having climbed onto second. We knew that patience would bring this place to us, but our real goal, the one we're focused on, is taking place number one. We have worked hard with the team through all these days, we found a chance to gain time today and we're staying confident and determined to try some attacks when the big mountains are back, maybe still being able to go after that yellow dream.
"We didn't have this stage and climb marked down for an attack, but I felt strong today and we thought that, after the fast pace in the last few days, wear and tear would be more evident. That's why we wanted to try - we saw we can keep attacking and fighting for our goal. I was really amazed to see so many Colombians again today at the finish; they must be really excited about this, as much as I am to see them, and this brings passion and huge support to me in order to keep pushing."
Alejandro Valverde: “It was a good day for us. We couldn't gain time on the leader since, as everyone saw, Froome is super strong - he's able to set a huge pace and it's really difficult to 'derail' - but still, we did a really good stage. Shouldn't we be able to beat him nor Sky, it will be because they were stronger than us, but we'll keep showing courage and willingness to try. Though winning the Tour remains difficult at this point, we must keep working. There's still all Alps left and we've got these two days, plus the rest one, to keep recovering.
"I'm feeling really great at the moment - legs continue to roll well at the moment and I hope them to continue this way into the last week. I was doing my work through the climb; I didn't want to stay between Nairo and the other favourites, taking them into Nairo's wheel would have been really bad, so I waited, then kept my own pace not to lose much time, and with that same rhythm, I chased down Alberto and still had energy to drop him back. When I reached him, Contador asked me for some turns and I told him I couldn't take them, because Nairo was ahead. This is racing: he's doing his job, mine is to take care of Nairo, and he was the one who had to push.
"There's a beautiful battle for the GC podium ahead, with plenty of mountains still to come. We took some gains today, but we might lose elsewhere. There's a long way home yet and my main goal till Paris is helping Nairo out for the victory. If I get into the podium, that'd really be fantastic, but that's a distant dream at the moment."