Movistar survived, and even dominated, a rough Tour de France day over the dusty cobbled roads made famous by Paris-Roubaix. Out of the Spanish team’s three leaders, only Mikel Landa lost any time – and even then it was a matter of seconds.
Team Bora-Hansgrohe took control for Peter Sagan and its classification leader Rafal Majka, but behind there was the sight of Team Sky with Chris Froome and Movistar with its three amigos leading the splintered peloton over the famous farm roads of northern France.
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The rough surfaces did not seem suited to the small Colombian Quintana – twice second in the Tour – or to his Spanish team-mates Landa and Alejandro Valverde, but they performed ahead of expectations on what could have been a chastening ride.
“We overcame the day, and we were very attentive as a team. The most important thing was to be strong and be very concentrated all day,” Quintana said as he arrived at the team bus.
“It wasn’t easy, because there are riders here who are specialists and they have a lot of strength, and their bodies really help them. But we saved the day, we’ve managed to avoid troubles, and now we’re getting closer to the mountains.
“The rest of the Tour is different. We have the best part of the race ahead of us and we will be fighting now against our rivals on terrain that favours us. Let’s hope that the strength and the luck keeps following us, and we have to remain calm.”
The riders now transfer 800 kilometres south to Annecy, where the race takes a much-needed rest day on Monday. On Tuesday, it restarts with stage 10 and three consecutive Alpine mountain days.
Quintana suffered a time loss in the first day when he smashed both wheels of his bicycle. That, and the team time trial, saw him lose a minute early on to rivals such as Froome.
Mikel Landa, who raced with Sky the last two seasons, fell hard with 32.2 kilometres to race to Roubaix today. He was drinking from his water bottle when he touched wheels with another rider.
Movistar sent their blue helpers back, and chased to bring Landa within seven seconds of the favourite group with his team-mates Valverde and Quintana.
“Seven seconds for me isn’t so much when I could have lost a lot more,” Landa explained, after he arrived back at the team bus with his jersey and shorts ripped, showing blood on his back and legs. “I am happy with how the first part of the Tour has wrapped up on a good note.
“The Alps are, in theory, harder this year, but the Pyrénées, we’ll start to feel the fatigue in our legs in the final week. You have to be attentive in every stage, and try to take advantage of any opening when it presents itself.”
The team’s only sour note was losing José Joaquín Rojas, who crashed and injured his left shoulder. He will have scans this evening.
“We have to be happy with how things turned out today,” Movistar Sports Director José Luis Arrieta said. “To have Alejandro and Nairo in the front, especially when they are not specialists in this type of terrain, and after the crash with Landa, we have to be happy.
“We don’t know exactly how our rivals will be in the mountains because we haven’t really had any stages to measure the forces of the peloton. Landa is banged up, but it doesn’t appear to be too serious.”