All the pieces were in place for Team Sky coming into Stage 6, a 24km time trial with a fair number of climbs but enough flats to permit the strongest cronomen to take advantage. And the strongest cronoman, apart from ITT World Champion Tony Martin (a non-contender for the GC), was Richie Porte, lying third overall at four seconds down. If the race tipped toward the climbers, Sky could count on overnight leader Sergio Henao, riding strongly all week and inspired by his yellow kit to win.
But rain fell on the course, a bit more as the day went on, and the slick corners limited the advantage of the pure cronomen, tipping things back to the climbers. And among the climbers it was Quintana who rose up to the challenge. Riding with the right combination of aggressiveness and caution, and scorching the climbs, Quintana produced his best-ever result in a senior circuit time trial, besting even his third place in the Col d'Eze climbers' ITT from a month ago.
Quintana was seven seconds off the pace set by the World Champion Martin at the first split, putting him 20 seconds ahead of the time of Porte, who had started one place earlier, and expanded his gap over the decisive Alto de Olaberria -- the diminutive star of a fascinating week-long parcours. At the finish Quintana was 17 seconds behind stage winner Martin, 15 seconds ahead of his equally surprising and impressive teammate Beñat Intxausti, and 23 seconds beyond his danger man Porte, well out of reach. Only Henao had a chance to ruin Quintana's moment, and while his Colombian countryman rode a decent race, he was 40 seconds behind the winner, sneaking onto the last step of the podium by a single second ahead of Katusha's Simon Spilak.
The result caps off a truly excellent week of racing in northern Sp... um, the Basque Country. Lacking in soaring altitudes (which wouldn't have remained open as the bad weather closed in), the course designers opted for the traditional array of smaller, often narrow and tricky climbs, calling for riders to show a combination of strength and aggressiveness. Spurred on by the huge crowds that you can always count on in the Pais Vasco, it was Quintana, Henao and even Porte who showed the aggressiveness needed to drop the bigger names on hand, like Alberto Contador and Samuel Sanchez. And on the team level, it was Sky and Movistar who took responsibility and took chances. AG2R deserves a mention here too.
By week's end, the dribs and drabs of time gained thru this aggressiveness set the podium battle up for the three winners, with Spilak, AG2R's Jean-Christophe Peraud and Orica-GreenEdge's Pieter Weening invited to the party too. Home team Euskaltel failed to impress, but Intxausti and Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural; winner of the climbers' jersey) gave the fans plenty to cheer, in addition to great racing, which Basque fans never fail to recognize and celebrate. Chapeau!
- Tony Martin, OPQS
- Nairo Quintana, Movistar, at 0.17
- Beñat Intxausti, Movistar, at 0.32
- Richie Porte, Sky, at 0.40
- Simon Spilak, Katusha, at 0.48
- Jean-Christophe Peraud, AG2R, at 0.51
- Sergio Henao, Sky, at 0.57
- Carlos Betancur, AG2R, at 1.05
- Pieter Weening, Orica-GreenEdge, at 1.06
- Alberto Contador, Saxo-Tinkoff, at 1.07
- Porte, at 0.23
- Henao, at 0.34
- Spilak, at 0.35
- Contador, at 0.54
- Weening, at 1.18
- Betancur, at 1.19
- Intxausti, at 1.57
- Wout Poels, Vacansoleil, at 2.47
- John Gadret, AG2R, at 2.56
- Amets Txurruka, Caja Rural, 64 points
- Jose Herrada, 32
- Laurent Didier, RSH, 27
- Txurruka, 23 points
- Didier, 9