Chasing Le Tour: Quintana hits the jackpot

by Matt de Neef

In the closing kilometres of today’s stage, Nairo Quintana looked like he was ready to strike at any moment. And when the moment finally came, the diminutive Colombian gave it everything he had and won just about every prize available to him.

The Movistar climber had been in the yellow jersey group on the final climb to the Semnoz ski resort and, along with Joaquim Rodriguez, was the only one who could respond to an attack by Chris Froome with 8.2km to go. Rodriguez did the bulk of the work to distance Contador (whose podium aspirations were coming to an end) and others, before Quintana attacked from the trio and won the day.

Quintana didn’t just win the stage. He’s now in second place overall going into the final stage, he’s going to win the Best Young Rider classification by more than 13 minutes, and with the 50 KOM points he got for summiting the Semnoz climb first he’ll also win the KOM classification.

What started out looking like a reasonably average tour for Movistar has turned into a race to remember. As well as the awards destined for Quintana tomorrow night in Paris, Rui Costa has won two stages and Alejandro Valverde will finish in 8th place overall.

While Chris Froome sewed up the overall lead many stages ago, there’s been a red-hot battle for the remaining places in the top 10 overall. That battle only continued today when the GC contenders hit the final climb.

As mentioned, Quintana jumped from 3rd place to 2nd overall with his win today, Rodriguez leapt from 5th to 3rd thanks to an impressive effort to drive the leading trio, Contador slid from 2nd to 4th after losing 2:28 to Quintana, and Contador’s teammate Roman Kreuziger also went backwards and will finish the tour in 5th.

Special mention should go to Andrew Talansky in his first Tour de France. Before today’s stage the American was in 12th overall but after bridging across to the Contador group on the final climb, Talansky managed to secure 10th place in GC.

The battle for the KOM jersey, too, was of great interest today. Pierre Rolland made the breakaway, as predicted, and scooped up a number of KOM points in the early part of the stage. Solo breakaway rider Jens Voigt took the honours at the top of the 1st category Mont Revard climb but even if Rolland had won that, it wouldn’t have made a difference.

Quintana’s win boosted him from 4th to 1st in the KOM competition and with only two 4th category climbs tomorrow (worth 1 point each), Quintana’s 11 point lead over Chris Froome is unassailable.

And so the Tour de France caravan packs up and travels the 600km to Paris for the final stage tomorrow evening. For the teams and many of the thousands-strong crowd associated with the tour that means a flight this evening or tomorrow morning. For us it means a high-speed train from here in Aix-les-Baines to the French capital ahead of the twilight stage which finishes, of course, on the Champs Elysees.

For everyone but the sprinters it’s a day to sit in, to enjoy the moment and to try and stay out of trouble. For the fast men, it’s a chance to take the honours on the most famous finish in world cycling.

Mark Cavendish has never lost on the Champs Elysees, having won every Tour de France finish there since 2009. It’s going to be hard to stop him winning his fifth on the trot, but if anyone can do so, it’s Marcel Kittel. The German has won three stages already this year and is happy just to get the opportunity to ride on the Champs Elysees. He’ll be a whole lot happier if he can beat Cavendish tomorrow, that’s for sure.

As always, thanks for reading and be sure to check out the photos from the penultimate stage of the Tour de France.

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