Colombians set the pace in the first of three mountain stages in the Alps as Nairo Quintana takes the stage win and Egan Bernal climbs to second place in the general classification.
After days of difficulties for Nairo Quintana, the 29-year-old Colombian is back with a cracking stage victory in Valloire. In the stage with three big mountains to climb, Nairo joined the breakaway before the first climb and was the best in the general classification in the chunky group.
On the final climb, the Col du Galibier, the team Movistar rider jumped away from a group of five left from the breakaway, including Romain Bardet. He quickly had a 20 second lead and never looked back. It wasn’t just Nairo who made the Colombians cheer, because about five minutes behind him Team Ineos rider, Egan Bernal also jumped away from the peloton with only a select group of GC riders and some helpers in it.
Nobody responded to Bernal’s jump as they went almost a minute clear of yellow jersey rider Julian Alaphilippe, Steven Kruijswijk, Thibaut Pinot, Emanuel Buchmann and teammate Geraint Thomas. It was Thomas who made the next jump, clearing part of the gap. But the others quickly caught up on the top of the Galibier with a 20 kilometre descent ahead of them.
Nairo rounded the summit 1:45 ahead of Bardet – and that proved more than enough for the descent. Nairo climbed to seventh in the hunt for the yellow jersey on 3:54 minutes. And in the GC group Alaphilippe quickly pulled back the time he lost before the summit, so the elite group – with all the favourites for the Tour de France victory and Rigo Urán – went full speed to chase Bernal.
The 22-year-old Colombian kept 32 seconds on the finish line and climbed from fifth to second place, 1:30 minutes behind Alaphilippe. The Frenchman struggled but again didn’t crack on the long climb.
Bernal told reporters, “Geraint asked me how I was feeling and I was feeling really good, so he told me to attack to try to move the race. He tried to make the jump but when he saw the others in his wheel he just followed. But I attacked because he asked me to.” His comments after the race explained why Thomas was the one who blew up the following group chasing Bernal.
Nairo Quintana is in a difficult situation within team Movistar. He’ll reportedly be leaving after this season and when his teammate Mikel Landa – who is now exactly one minute behind Nairo in the GC – was asked whether they would work to get Nairo on the podium, he answered that he didn’t know. His comments support the popular view that Nairo has lost the support of his team.
Lots more spectacle is expected in the in the Alps tomorrow and Saturday. Tomorrow, the uphill finish is in Tignes after several tough climbs including the Col de l’Iseran at 2,770 metres altitude. The hors-category climb to ski resort Val Thorens is the finish of Saturday’s stage through the French Alps. The Tour will finish on Sunday with the traditional flat stage to the Champs-Élysées in Paris