Quintana wins “pure climber” Tour de France stage

July 25, 2018
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Colombia's Nairo Quintana celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the seventeenth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 65 kilometers (40.4 miles) with start in Bagneres-de-Luchon and finish in Saint-Lary-Soulan, Col du Portet pass, France, Wednesday July 25, 2018. The Tour de France thinks it has some solutions to liven up the action with today's shorter mountain stage with three grueling climbs, including an uphill finish, intermediate bonus sprints, and a Formula One-like grid start. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

SAINT-LARY-SOULAN, France (AP) — The Tour de France title will continue to elude Nairo Quintana this year, but the Colombian climber at least salvaged some pride by ending a long victory drought in spectacular fashion on Wednesday.

Five years after claiming his maiden Tour stage win in the Alps, the diminutive rider from Movistar triumphed at the summit of Col du Portet in the Pyrenees, a mountain top 2,215 meters above sea level.

After a catastrophic start to the race and a disappointing showing in the Alps last week, the victory brought a smile back to Quintana’s face.

“It was a stage for pure climbers,” he said about Stage 17, the shortest road leg in more than 30 years. “It was a hard day but we had prepared well for it. It went exactly as we’d planned.”

Twice a Tour runner-up, Quintana arrived at the start in Noirmoutier hoping he would finally be able to prevail with the help of a strong squad featuring Alejandro Valverde and Chris Froome’s former teammate at Sky, Mikel Landa.

But everything went wrong as Quintana lost more than one minute during the opening stage in western France after he suffered two broken wheels before the 3km safe zone. He was never a factor in the Alps, losing more time on his favorite battleground.

“I went through some difficult moments in the first part of this Tour and lost some time,” said Quintana, who moved up to fifth in the general classification on Wednesday, 3 minutes and 30 seconds behind race leader Geraint Thomas.

“But I still felt strong and had the energy to finish the race on a high. I usually improve in the third week of the Tour and it’s going that way.”

There is one more mountain stage before the race reaches Paris on Sunday and Quintana has little chance of overturning his deficit, aware his limited ability in the race against the clock will go against him in Saturday’s time trial in the Basque country.

Still, Quintana was proud after claiming Colombia’s third stage win this year, making the South American nation the most successful so far. Sprinter Fernando Gaviria also claimed two stage victories earlier in the race in his first Tour.

“I wanted to win for my people in Colombia, after months of hard work,” said Quintana, who has won the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta. “My team also deserves that win, they work very hard. We came here with a great team although things did not play out the way we expected.”

Once again, Quintana was hampered early by mechanical issues and had to stop twice. But his strategy in the explosive stage was a total success. He attacked from the yellow jersey group, with Irish rider Dan Martin, at the bottom of the final 16-km climb and made the junction with other breakaway riders before going solo in rarefied air.

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