Alpe d’Huez produced a spectacular denouement to a Tour de France that had been lacking much of a fight over the yellow jersey. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) delivered a gutsy performance to take a chunk of time out of Chris Froome‘s lead, though not enough to seize the maillot jaune ahead of tomorrow’s procession to Paris. Out front, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) took a magnificent stage win.
The day’s big breakaway contained a handful of strong climbers, though it was FDJ’s Alexandre Geniez who led alone over the Col de la Croix de Fer. Early Movistar skirmishes didn’t bear fruit, and all of the GC riders remained together as the riders hurtled towards the foot of Alpe d’Huez.
On the final climb, Geniez was quickly caught and passed by his teammate Thibaut Pinot and Cannondale-Garmin’s Ryder Hesjedal, while Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde again attacked Chris Froome (Sky) to form a Movistar tandem ahead of the yellow jersey group. Quintana swiftly dropped his teammate and put Froome into difficulty, all the while gaining on the leaders.
Pinot eventually cracked Hesjedal, and fortunately his efforts were not in vain: the Frenchman just about held off Quintana to win his second Tour de France stage and first in three years. Quintana came across the line in second while Froome, nursed almost all the way home by Wout Poels and Richie Porte, successfully limited his losses to 1:20. It was enough to ensure that he – barring a catastrophe on tomorrow’s stage to Paris – will win the Tour de France a second time.
Rider of the day
We often award this prize to the stage victor, though unfortunately for Thibaut Pinot, he chose the most dramatic day of the entire race to take a win. As such, we’re nominating Nairo Quintana as Rider of the Day, with the Colombian having given everything in one last glorious pursuit of the yellow jersey. It was a brilliantly aggressive move after a disappointingly conservative Tour from Movistar, and had the Alpe been a bit longer, he could well have ridden himself into the race lead.
Thanks to Quintana’s attack, this Tour de France will no longer be remembered as one micromanaged by Dave Brailsford’s two-wheeled robots, but a genuine battle between the two great climbers of the age.
Four things we noticed
1. This race was closer than you’d expect. Many of us have been guilty of writing this Tour off long before today, with Froome invariably sticking limpet-like to the attacks of his biggest GC rivals. However, just as in 2013, the Briton’s form appears to have been gradually seeping away over the final week of racing, and today he was almost calamitously weaker than Quintana on the famous Alpe. Whether we’d miscalculated their natural talent or misread the strength of their condition, the gap between the two favourites was much shorter than anticipated. This was a pretty close race, after all. [Froome revealed after the stage that he had been suffering with illness for the past few days – Ed.]
2. You’ve gotta have friends. Ultimately, Froome may only have won this race thanks to the work of his teammates Wout Poels and Richie Porte on the final climb. The pair found their climbing legs just in the nick of time, setting a steady tempo that ensured Froome neither slowed too much nor pushed too hard. Had they not been there to manage the loss to Quintana, the Colombian could well have been sleeping with a stuffed lion tonight.
3. Pinot redeems himself. Finally, finally a deserved word for Thibaut Pinot! The Frenchman had a terrible start to the race, with his hopes of a high overall placing dashed amid a childish strop when he lost over three minutes to the yellow jersey on the cobbled stage four. However, he – to use Brailsford-speak – reevaluated his objectives, and today his breakaway bid paid huge dividends. He becomes the third French stage winner after Ag2r La Mondiale teammates Alexis Vuillermoz and Romain Bardet, and you can bet FDJ boss Marc Madiot will be grinning from ear to ear at the team hotel this evening.
4. Froome nicks the polka dots. If all goes to plan, Chris Froome will be taking two trips to the podium in Paris tomorrow, with today’s stage having seen him pip Romain Bardet and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) to the mountains classification. He becomes the first rider to win both at the same race since Eddy Merckx in 1970. Froome has effectively won the classification by accident – unlike his rivals for the King of the Mountains title, he never actively went out to try and win points – and Bardet in particular may well be kicking himself (if his DS isn’t doing it already), as he was within touching distance of winning the prize.
Stage 20 result
1. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) 3:17:21
2. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +0:18
3. Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) +0:41
4. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +1:38
5. Chris Froome (Sky) same time
1. Chris Froome (Sky) 81:56:33
2. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +1:12
3. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +5:25
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) +8:36
5. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) +9:48
6. Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) +10:47
7 Bauke Mollema (Trek) +15:14
8. Mathias Frank (IAM) +15:39
9. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) +16:00
10. Pierre Rolland (Europcar) +17:30
Points leader: Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo).
King of the Mountains leader: Chris Froome (Sky)
Best young rider: Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
Team classification: Movistar.
Link: Official race website