Tinkoff-Saxo lost valuable time on stage 17 of Tour de France to Pra Loup after a crash down the penultimate climb Col d’Allos cost team leader Alberto Contador two bike changes and 2’14” in the GC, while a malfunctioning radio prevented Rafal Majka from aiding his captain. “Right now the most important thing is to recover”, says Contador, who sits 5th in the GC. Simon Geschke took the stage win from the break.
A grand team strategy, where the squad positioned three outposts, was cut short after a crash stopped Alberto Contador in his tracks. Upon crossing the finish line atop Pra Loup with skin scrapes on his right side, Contador explains:
The 161km stage seventeen in the 2015 Tour de France, first of four in the Alps towards the Cat-2 Pra Loup climb including four other rated ascents, brought Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) onto the overall podium, now ranked 3rd after a very eventful ride from the start.
Numerous splits into the favourites' group led into an attack by Nairo Quintana with almost 130km remaining, quickly neutralized a bunch which later let go a 28-man breakaway with three of the Blues: Castroviejo -8th across the line, with Simon Geschke (TGA) victorious-, José Herrada and Gorka Izagirre -plus Adriano Malori, who jumped away later on-. While Tejay van Garderen (BMC, 3rd overall) abandoned due to sickness, the main bunch broke into pieces through the Colle-Saint-Michel (Cat-2) after an attack by Contador (TCS), quickly brought back by Valverde.
The pace by Trek and especially Astana into the peloton during the Col d'Allos shrank the group to only five elements: Nibali, Froome (SKY), Contador, Valverde and Quintana, who briefly attacked near the summit. At the descent, led out by Nibali and Valverde, a crash by Contador and Alejandro's subsequent effort, ultimately helped out by Gorka and José into Pra Loup, kept the pace high and produced a series of accelerations from the Blues' leaders, the latter leaving Nairo and Froome alone, face to face, with a handful of seconds over Valverde across the line.
Quintana remains 3'10" behind the yellow jersey and leading the Young riders' competition as second overall, while Valverde now sits in 3rd spot, 4'09" down, with a 2'25" margin over Thomas (SKY, 4th) and 2'31" ahead of Contador (TCS), now in 5th place. In turn, the Movistar Team conserves almost 17' over MTN-Qhubeka in the lead of teams' classification with three Alpine stages to go, the longest to come on Thursday. 186.5km are on the race programme, with no less than seven categorized cols and the Glandon (HC) set to produce big drama en route to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.
Nairo Quintana:“I felt really well today. I recovered fine and did not struggle after the rest day. We fared pretty well, as well myself as my team-mates - with the pace we rode through the Allos climb, I didn't realized until the end of the climb that we were only four of five at the front. That's where I tried to attack, just like I did in the finale, though I didn't get a gap. We didn't have an intention of trying to turn things around today as there are days where the mountains are more demanding, and we think we'll be able to try harder later on. Tomorrow's stage will be complicated; the one on Friday, finishing at La Toussuire, is a route that suits me well -full of ups and downs, with serious climbs, a hard route with long ascents-; and Alpe d'Huez is a long climb whose slopes are really good for me. There's still room for battle. We also entered the podium with Alejandro Valverde, who has a nice chance to snatch a place into the top-3, and kept the lead in the teams' classification, so today's overview must be pretty good for us."
Alejandro Valverde: "Safe on the GC podium? I don't really know if it's granted yet. It's true that there are only three days left in this Tour before Paris, but there's still much left to cover. It's also true that I'm feeling really well, working hard for my team-mate Nairo and trying everything to create some gaps, but Froome is really strong and it's hard to beat him. When Contador crashes I was ahead of him and couldn't see the incident, but I was told afterwards. Alberto is a really fighting and dangerous rider -what can you say from him-, someone you can never leave a gap to and he was really close to me on the GC. It was awful to see Van Garderen leaving the race, too - I want to send him all my support, I know how it feels - the Tour and cycling are as hard as this. I was left out of the podium last year, fourth after the final TT following a tough final week, and know the bad side of this race. All in all, we're still there and, as many have seen, we keep trying to take the yellow jersey."
Four demanding Alpine stages -starting with Wednesday's 161km journey from Digne-les-Bains to Pra Loup (Cat-2), via four other ascents- are in the way of the Movistar Team and the whole Tour de France peloton before the Champs-Élysees in Paris on Sunday. In order to improve their already decent results, leading the teams' classification while Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde sit in 2nd and 4th overall individually, the two GC references from the telephone squad promised to attack as they spoke to the media during the final rest day of the Grande Boucle near Embrun.
Quintana expressed himself content about his performance so far, but is willing to go for more: "Finishing runner-up wouldn't be a failure for me, rather a huge honour, but there's still a long way to go in this Tour and we'll give everything to win. It still hurts to have lost 1'30" into the second day of racing due to circumstances not related to physical performance, though it's true that Froome was stronger than me at Plateau de Beille - as much as I was in front of the rest. Strategy will be crucial; we trust the whole team, including 'Bala', who is always there, very consistent, an amazing team-mate, and my directors, who always help us out a lot." From what is left in the race route, Quintana underlines the climb towards “Alpe d’Huez (Sunday) - I love it. I raced and trained on its slopes and that climb is something really special for me.”
In turn, Valverde pointed out that he always “kept clear in mind what I was into before coming to this race. Finishing in 2nd and 3rd would be phenomenal, but all of my team-mates and myself will give all that's left inside us for the win. For me, it's evident that Nairo remains incredibly strong and ready to win. In every race I shared with him from the start of the season, I always saw him doing well, but for this third week in the Tour, he's got special motivation, a strong will to do great things and good physical shape to try and gain back that lost time. It'll be difficult, since Froome never showed to be in crisis and didn't suffer into descents - he's strong and has proven he can stand much pressure - but I see Nairo ready, and wherever it's possible, we'll try to attack."
The Tour enters the Alps on Stage 17 with a 161kms mountainous route from Digne-les-Bains to Pra Loup. With five climbs in store, I hope the riders make the most of their rest day!
A break should get away relatively early and stay out for most of the early KOM points as well as the intermediate sprint that occurs at 110kms in Beauvezer. The fourth climb for the day, however, the Col d’Allos, is where we could see a battle for GC begin:
Km 40.0 - Col des Lèques6 kilometre-long climb at 5.3% - category 3
Km 67.0 - Col de Toutes Aures6.1 kilometre-long climb at 3.1% - category 3
Km 96.0 - Col de la Colle-Saint-Michel (1 431 m)11 kilometre-long climb at 5.2% - category 2
Km 139.0 - Col d'Allos ( 2 250 m)14 kilometre-long climb at 5.5% - category 1
Km 161.0 - PRA LOUP (1 620 m)6.2 kilometre-long climb at 6.5% - category 2
The descent from Allos is tricky, and this can be complicated further if the heat has melted the road as it infamously did in the 1975 Tour that witnessed Bernard Thevenet using this to his advantage, taking yellow from five-time champion Eddy Merckx.
Many are also asserting that this is the “easiest” of the upcoming four days in the Alps. So, if anyone is hoping to break Froome and his fierce Team Sky, today is the day to start laying that foundation.
Tinkoff-Saxo’s Peter Sagan once again delivered plenty of action in a dedicated effort at the front of the race. Following a blazing descent, Sagan took 2nd place behind stage winner Plaza and extended his green jersey lead to 94 points. Meanwhile, team captain Contador notes that he felt much better in the tough finale going into gap.
After crossing the finish line of stage 16 to Gap, Peter Sagan notes that he found it difficult to establish common ground in the effort to bridge the gap to the eventual stage winner Rubén Plaza but that he remains fairly content with the outcome of the stage.