While Alberto Contador celebrated closing the gap on overall Tour de France leader Chris Froome during Friday’s 13th stage, the hopes of his fellow Spaniard Alejandro Valverde were left in tatters after a disastrous afternoon.
Valverde began the day in second place in the general classification and, despite being 3min 25sec behind Froome, the mood in the Movistar team camp was upbeat in Tours on Friday morning.
But, as crosswinds wreaked havoc upon the peloton during the flat 173km ride to Saint-Amand-Montrond, the 33-year-old Valverde saw his chances of gaining any time on Froome destroyed when a falling rider inadvertently broke the back wheel of his bike in the feeding zone halfway through the stage.
The setback saw the former Tour of Spain winner drop behind the main peloton and then continue to lose ground as Belkin and Europcar upped the pace.
He eventually came home a stunning 9min 54sec behind Contador in the leading group and 8min 45sec adrift of Froome, ending any chance he had of winning the sport’s biggest race, and shattering his podium aspirations too.
“It was a day of bad luck. We were up there and then unfortunately somebody fell into me from behind and broke my wheel,” Valverde told the scrum of reporters gathered outside the Movistar team bus.
“That is what happens. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. We just have to keep fighting.”
At the beginning of the day Valverde had insisted that all was not lost in his chase of Froome, but four hours later he and his team were forced to accept that maintaining a challenge in the general classification was now beyond them.
“Our situation was already difficult before and now it’s more complicated. I was well placed but there is nothing you can do when you are unlucky enough to break a wheel at such a critical moment,” he said.
The decision by Belkin to up the pace and pull away from Valverde was a controversial one, even if, in Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam, they have two riders in the top five in the general classification.
There were claims that the Dutch team may have been motivated by the memory of the 2011 Tour of Switzerland, when Movistar accelerated away from Mollema when he had a flat tyre, but Valverde chose instead to turn his anger towards the French team Europcar.
“I can understand why Belkin sped off because they were already out at the front but I can’t understand what Europcar did,” he said.
“I don’t know who they have high up in the GC.”
Meanwhile, Movistar sporting director Jose Luis Jaimerena was also left cursing the luck of his leading rider and admitted that his team must now turn their attention towards backing Colombian climber Nairo Quintana’s bid to win the white jersey for the best young rider.
“Alejandro lost 10 minutes and it is impossible to recover that time,” said Jaimerena.
“What happened changes everything for us because Alejandro and Rui Costa (who slipped to more than 14 minutes off the pace in the GC) have both disappeared.
“But we still have Nairo who is going well and will be our leader from now on in.”
Text via AFP.