Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas (Movistar) won the event’s queen stage on day three and held onto the jersey on day four’s sprint stage to seal the overall. This was the 22-year old Colombian’s fourth win in his fledgling season with Movistar – although he’s been a professional since 2009 – and follows close on the heels of his win on stage six of the Criterium du Dauphine and his overall in the Vuelta a Murcia.
It has to be said that he looks no more 22 than I do but, boy, can this boy climb and descend. He’s not in Movistar’s team for the Tour de France but instead he’ll be setting the Vuelta a Espana alight along with Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) and Alberto Contador (SaxoBank).
VeloVoices had predicted a Colombian win on the queen stage but had anticipated that French chouchou Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) might provide some light relief and cheer. Instead he retired on the final stage with a knee injury which will keep him out of next week end’s French Championships and, most probably, the Tour too.
We were also keeping a close eye on early season Brit sensation Jon Tiernan-Locke (Endura) who was returning to competition after a broken collar-bone – that most popular of cycling injuries – and acquitted himself well by finishing just outside the top 20.
AG2R La Mondiale won top team, the mountains jersey with Blel Kadri and the sprints jersey with stage four winner Manuel Belletti who recorded the team’s fourth win of the season.
Here’s how the race unfolded.
Stage 1: Laucune-Les-Bains to Albi, 183km
Albi native Stephane Poulhies (Saur-Sojasun) won the first stage and assumed first leader’s jersey of the four-day race. The 26-year old Frenchman sprinted to his second victory of the season from a bunch ahead of compatriot under-23 World Champion Arnaud Demare (FDJ-Big Mat) and Italy’s Manuel Belletti (AG2R).
Jerome Cousin (Europcar) initiated the three-man break of the day but spent 40km on his own before Staf Scheirlinckx (Accent.jobs-Willems Veranda’s) and Javier Chacon (Andalucia) decided to keep him company. Their lead never extended beyond three minutes and they were taken back by the peloton within 5km of the finish line.
Stage 2: Castres to Saint-Michel, 197.1km
Another day, another sprint finish, although this stage was equally suited to puncheurs. This time it was won by yesterday’s runner-up, Demare – also claiming the leader’s jersey – ahead of Steven Caethoven (Accent.jobs) and Manuel Belletti (AG2R).
The stage was animated by a long breakaway of five riders including Jean-Marc Bideau (Bretagne-Schuller) and David Veilleux (Europcar) who almost took it to the wire.
Stage 3: Tries-Sur-Baise to Arras-En-Lavedan, 204.6km
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) continued his recent run of fine form by soloing off in the Pyrenees on a very long, hot and difficult stage which took in the triple challenge of the Cols du Tourmalet, Soulor and Spandelles. The youngster launched his attack on the third and final climb – although he’d been at the front of the action along with teammate Sergio Pardilla, Kenny Elissonde (FDJ-BigMat), Anthony Charteau, Thomas Voeckler (both Europcar) and Hubert Dupont (AG2R), just behind the day’s lone kamikaze escapee Mathieu Perget (AG2R) – since the much reduced peloton ascended the Tourmalet.
He went clear on the steepest section of the final climb and while initially Dupont and Charteau were able to follow they were all too soon burned off. Quintana continued his furious pace on the descent to finish – after over six hours in the saddle – a minute ahead of the rest and over 40 minutes ahead of the gruppetto!
Here’s his post stage interview where he expresses his happiness at the win and thanks his teammates for their assistance.
Stage 4: Saint Gaudens, 133.4km
Sunday’s final short, albeit undulating, stage was won time by AG2R’s Manuel Belletti, well served by his team, ahead of Poulhies and Juan Jose Lobato (Andalucia) to cement his claim to the points jersey. Meanwhile GC leader Quintana finished safely in the bunch to retain the overall and succeed his teammate Vasili Kiryienka, last year’s winner, to conclude a successful weekend for Movistar (with Rui Costa emerging triumphant at the Tour de Suisse).
In summing up his race, Quintana said:
This win is for all those who have always supported me and who have made where I am today possible. The truth is that the stage was quieter than we expected. Undoubtedly, the enormous effort yesterday left its mark on the peloton. On the last climb I wasn’t going that fast but I was able to distance the others showing there was very little strength after yesterday. My teammates did a great job in the first part of the stage, which had been more difficult because of the numerous attacks, but as we let the break go it all calmed down and then the sprinters’ teams took over as we expected.
At no time have we compromised victory. The team’s work has been great, we formed a compact team and I was proud to be part of it. It was a spectacular day for the team also with the triumph of Rui [in the Tour de Suisse]. This gives us even more harmony and more desire to deliver our best.
As I said in my preview, most of the riders taking part in this stage race will be watching the Tour de France on the television. Some from the comfort of their lounges, others while taking part in other races. That’s not to take anything away from any of the riders, many of whom are riding for teams which haven’t been invited to the Tour, while the Tour may have been adjudged a week or two too far for some of the younger riders.
AG2R will, however, be delighted that their season is finally gathering pace just ahead of their most important race of the year, plus Dupont, who will be riding the Tour, was the only rider not too far off the winner’s pace.
However, there are a couple of things worth noting. Saturday’s queen stage was a bit of a monster – expect it to make an appearance in the Tour de France within the next year or so. And keep a look out for young Quintana at the Vuelta.
1 Nairo Quintana (Movistar) 18:18:28
2 Hubert Dupont (AG2R La Mondiale) +0:48
3 Anthony Charteau (Europcar) +3:55
4 Kenny Elissonde (FDJ-BigMat) +5:38
5 Mathieu Perget (AG2R La Mondiale) +6:38
6 Yannick Talabardon (Saur-Sojasun) +6:51
7 Sergio Pardilla (Movistar) +7:30
8 Riccardo Chiarini (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela) +8:22
9 Adrian Palomares (Andalucia) +9:13
10 Mikhail Antonov (Lokosphinx) +12:12