The penultimate mountain stage of the 2015 Tour de France left everything wide open before Saturday's showdown on the Alpe d'Huez -110km including the climb towards the Croix de Fer (HC) before the most famous ascent in professional road cycling-. Nairo Quintana slightly approached GC leader Chris Froome (SKY) in the overall standings while Alejandro Valverde kept his 3rd place into a podium he'll have to defend with all energy after struggling, from the final meters of the Glandon, against a new big threat: Vincenzo Nibali (AST).
A brutal start to the stage caused Froome being let with no team-mates after 18km of a total 138 on today's programme, almost through the summit of the Col du Chaussy (Cat-1). Malori and Herrada entered the opening moves, soon countered by Valverde, who responded to attacks from Contador (TCS) and Nibali himself. When the 'Shark' attacked as Froome suffered from misfortune, José Herrada was responsible to lead the charge from the group with prodigious insistence, limiting losses that kept growing until 2'10" on the foot of La Toussuire, the decisive ascent of today's stage.
With 6km remaining, Nairo Quintana launched a series of strong accelerations that ended up dropping Froome back, a gap that increased up to 30 seconds -32", bonuses comprised after finishing in 2nd spot- into the fastest part of the climb and the plain towards the finish. Behind, Valverde fought bravely and crossed the line at 2'26" in 6th place, keeping his 3rd overall at 2'25" with a 1'19" margin over Nibali. Nairo remains second in the GC, 2'38" behind Froome.
Nairo Quintana: “Overall, the day went pretty well, but we missed that final touch. We initially tried to control Nibali, thinking that Sky would start chasing later on, but it's true that a rider like Vincenzo was really far in the overall standings in that moment, and they didn't have to care about him. We kept pushing with José Herrada, who was fantastic, and Tinkoff pulled a bit later on to gain some time back. I jumped when I though it was the right moment and place to put a good distance on Froome, but it wasn't enough compared to what we thought. There's only one day left, the final mountains for all of us - we'll try to attack stronger and also fight for the stage win. Regarding Alejandro('s podium chances), I think there shouldn't be any problems when riding face-to-face tomorrow; we conceded a big gap today, but I think they'll be together tomorrow.”