Nairo Quintana has subtly criticised the Movistar team management, suggesting his responsibility for winning races throughout the year has hampered his chances at the Tour de France. In a long interview with Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, Quintana also addressed the issue of the team's signings for 2018, notably a certain Mikel Landa.
Quintana has been a prolific winner of week-long stage races since he turned professional, with two titles apiece at Tirreno-Adriatico and the Vuelta a Burgos, along with wins at the Tour de Romandie, Volta a Catalunya, Vuelta al País Vasco, Volta Valenciana, Tour de San Luis, and Route du Sud.
Despite victories at the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España, he has fallen just shy of his so-called sueño amarillo – yellow dream – at the Tour de France, where he finished on the podium three times in a row between 2013 and 2016. Last year, Quintana finished down in 12th place after attempting the Giro-Tour double, which prompted his father, Luis, to scald Movistar for 'burning him out'.
Quintana's comments in the El Tiempo interview chime with those made by his father, as he explains that this year he'll have a reduced programme and that the only race he'll worry about is the Tour.
"We wanted to let the body recover, allow it some respite, because I approached every year with the blessed bad habit of competing for everything. The boss says, 'it's because Nairo's ambitious'. No, Nairo isn't, Nairo does what you want and what you order," Quintana said.
"I go with a sports director and with teammates. They want to win the race and when they have a leader like me, well, they want to earn respect, show courage, and win."
Quintana made his season debut on home soil at the Colombia Oro y Paz last month but instead of trying to defend his Tirreno-Adriatico title this week, he won't race again until the Volta a Catalunya in April, followed by the Vuelta al País Vasco. He will race one cobbled Classic as preparation for stage 9 of the Tour.
"The objective is to arrive at the Tour in good shape. If I realise I'm strong, and it's possible to win, well we'll do that, but the idea is to be more conservative," he said. "If I sense an opportunity I'm not going to let it go to waste. If I win races it'll be because there's a way, not because I have to, not through some sort of obsession. We're focused on the Tour and there's no need to figure in other races."
Regarding the team's signings for 2018, Quintana said that there are other riders coming in who can take on responsibility for the races where the onus previously fell on his shoulders. However, he did not sound overly convinced when talking about the current roster.
"It's a group which is still lacking people for what we really want and need. They've made important signings but we have to work and discover how they can be important," he said.
"I wanted to keep hold of some of the guys who left, friends who were with me for a long time, because we already understood each other. They were people who were interested in doing their jobs well."
The signing everyone is talking about, of course, is Landa. The Spaniard joins the team after growing frustrated at a lack of leadership opportunity at Astana and then Team Sky and he's made no secret of the fact that he, too, wants to target the Tour de France.
Some have suggested that Landa being Spanish might hold sway in a team with a Spanish sponsor, but Quintana has already subtly tried to underline his status as leader. In the interview with El Tiempo he was asked repeated questions about the Landa signing.
"Landa is a rider that Eusebio Unzué has always liked, and he signed him. He has his qualities and I like him," said Quintana.
"He's a different rider. He has his personal objectives and they're very respectable – because I have them, and so does Valverde and others. Everyone wants to win it [the Tour]. Every thought, every objective is respectable, whether it's possible or not. He's going to try, we're all going to try.
"The team has confidence in him. From here on out we don't know if it's going to go well, average, or badly, but the team is backing him, as it is me, and Valverde. We have to work in harmony, as a team. The road will define everything."
Quintana repeated that last message when insisting that having three leaders at the Tour de France can really work.
"In the moment when one of us has to work for the other, well, it's the team that has to decide," he said. "And obviously the road, which puts everyone in their place."