GRENOBLE, France (VN) — For Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Friday’s first test in the Alps was one of those classic quandaries: Is the glass half full or half empty?
The veteran Spaniard moved up to second overall, with Movistar turning the screws to eliminate a struggling Richie Porte (Sky), who tumbled from second out of the top-10. Yet Valverde lost time to maillot jaune Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
When Valverde tried to take it to Nibali, it was the Italian who was applying the pain, leaving Valverde to limit the damage, with one eye on maintaining his podium position against challenges from the surprising French climbers Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale).
“Maybe I was a bit too ambitious to attack so far from the finish, but I had to try,” Valverde said post-stage. “The pace was slowing down, and there was no one taking charge of the pack, so I decided to move. I couldn’t let this stage go by without trying.”
Valverde arrived to Friday’s first test in the Alps in ideal position, surviving the harrowing first half of the Tour that saw pre-race favorites Chris Froome (Sky) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) crash out.
When VeloNews asked Valverde ahead of Thursday’s stage if he was thinking podium or victory, he replied, “50-50.”
Friday’s finale, which saw Valverde climb to second, but Nibali widen his overall lead to 3:37, might cause Valverde to rethink those odds, with the podium becoming the priority.
Valverde, 34, has never finished on the Tour podium, and he realizes this might be his best, and last chance, especially with teammate Nairo Quintana on the rise. A Tour podium would be Valverde’s crowning achievement, yet there remain plenty of climbs ahead. Will he dare to attack again?
“We will be ambitious, because anyone can have a bad day,” Valverde said, hinting he’s not done yet. “As I said before, there is time to take back, and there is time to lose, and we’ll keep looking at things day to day. Tomorrow is another hard day, and the effort is starting to add up, after 14 stages, and it will be hard. I hope to keep having the legs and strength that I’ve had up until now.”
Like anyone racing in the Tour, he has one eye looking ahead, and one behind. With Nibali appearing rock-solid at the top, Valverde was happy to drop Porte, who was an unknown factor slotting into the leadership role vacated by Froome at Team Sky, which has won the past two Tours.
Porte’s GC hopes faded on the final climb to Chamrousse, allowing Valverde to move up into second overall.
“I have to be happy, because I had good legs all the way to the end. Even though Nibali was a touch better, we did everything we could, and I’ve moved up to second,” Valverde said. “We left behind a dangerous rival like Porte, which is important in our ambitions, the GC podium, which is what I’ve stated from the beginning.”
With Valverde now second, one misstep by Nibali, and the yellow jersey could be his. No one ever expected Froome and Contador to be out of the race before the mountains, so Valverde hasn’t counted out his yellow jersey chances just yet.