Nairo Quintana on good form for Volta a Catalunya but says Valverde is likely better

Colombian champion starts as Movistar co-leader, but also ready to move into helper role

Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde will start the Volta a Catalunya as co-leaders of the Movistar squad, but Quintana has recognised that Valverde's form could well prove to be the stronger at this point in the season.

Quintana's comment is the first indication of how the Movistar hierarchy of leaders may play out in a race in which both Valverde and the Colombian have shone in the past. Although Quintana has raced less than Valverde and the Volta is his first European race of the season, both have won the week-long Catalan stage race, Quintana in 2016 and Valverde in 2017.

As if that was not enough of a strong hand, Movistar also have up-and-coming local racer Marc Soler, third overall last year in the Volta a Catalunya and the recent winner of Paris-Nice with a spectacular long-range, last-stage attack, in their line-up.

Soler told reporters on the eve of the race that his role in the Volta this year would be one of domestique deluxe, helping Valverde and Quintana to get into a winning position "and then one of them could finish it off."

A partial answer as to which of the two leaders might be the stronger came from Quintana on Sunday evening, who said, "We're both in good condition, and we'll start as co-leaders with equal levels of responsibility. But I'm sure Alejandro is in better form than me, and if I have to help him, I will."

Valverde was less forthright, saying "we're all in good form, and the race will decide what happens. We've got a great team, but the others aren't lacking in top names. Sky, for example, have a great line-up for this kind of Volta, with a lot of climbing in it.

"There are long stages here, no time trial, so it will be very demanding. Plus we have to see what the weather will do, we know it's going to be cold when we reach the north side of Catalunya."

The weather for the first stage, at least, is forecast to be mild, with some heavy rain in the afternoon, but there is a chance of snow in the Pyrenees mid-week.

As for whether he was the top favourite, Valverde was equally non-committal. "I've got the number one [as defending champion] on my back, but it's the race that will decide. Nairo's always in good condition, and I'm sure he'll do well. Marc's in great form, clearly, and having all three riders in good shape is good because the teams will always mark me. The ideal thing is for one of us to win."

Valverde delivered what is potentially an ominous warning to his rivals though, when asked directly if he felt better than in last year's Volta where, despite a time penalty in the team time trial for Movistar, he managed to dominate the Volta in one of the most impressive stage race victories of his 16-year career.

This year, he's on the road back from an appalling crash in the 2017 Tour de France opening time trial, but if Valverde's victories in Abu Dhabi and Valencia are anything to go by, his lengthy spell away from racing recovering has had little effect on his form. "I don't feel worse [than 12 months ago], I'm more or less the same," Valverde concluded. Should that prove to be the case in the 2018 Volta's toughest stages, then, there can be little doubt who will be the man to beat this week.

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