Nairo Quintana (Movistar) clinched his first ever grand tour win at the Giro d'Italia in May and is now preparing to add a second grand tour to his palmarès. Having enjoyed two-and-a-half months of training at home in Colombia, the 24-year-old returned to racing at the Vuelta a Burgos as the defending champion in preparation of his challenge for overall victory at the Vuelta a España later this month.
Having not raced since his Giro victory, Quintana told BiciCiclismo what his expectations are of his return to racing.
"Right now I do not have a reference, [but] I hope to be fine," he said of his form. "We have come to the Vuelta a Burgos to know what level we are at. The idea is that we try to win, but we must first check our physical condition and, if I'm a little short of pace, I'll help my teammates to compete in the race."
Quintana is racing the five-day event as he prepares for the Vuelta, which he rode in 2012 and finished 36th overall as he made his grand tour debut.
"As always, I trained very seriously and strongly in Colombia," he said. "But racing gives you a point you do not get in training.
"This race is to see what level I am at, as I had more than two months without competing and that is a lot compared to other rivals who have maintained their level and have competed in the Tour de France for example."
Quintana added that while training and staying in Colombia he is often at high altitudes.
"Whenever I'm at my house or my parents' house, I sleep at 2,800 meters and train almost at the same altitude," he said. "And when I stay with my parents, sometimes I like being in my room which is at 3,100 meters. Yes, you can say I'm always highly concentrated on training [while in Colombia]."
Having placed second overall at the 2013 Tour de France, won a stage and claimed the best young rider and king of the mountains jerseys, Quintana explained his feelings about this year's Tour which he only watched when it didn't disrupt his training.
"It was a difficult and different Tour," he said. "I was surprised by all the falls and bad luck of the team leaders. But in the end he [Vincenzo Nibali] won as he was the strongest of the race. The truth is that when it started I really wanted to be there. After the Giro I was eager, I wanted to be there but I was committed to the Vuelta. In the coming years, I will be present."
With the world championships taking place in Ponferrada, Spain in late September, Quintana is unsure if he will line up for the road race but told BiciCiclismo of his late-season goals in 2014.
"I probably will compete at the Worlds but nothing is fixed yet," he said. "And I would like a good result at Lombardy, I love ridding in Italy. The two years that I have ridden the race has been as a domestique and I think this year the team will give me the opportunity [to be a leader.]
"I liked it even though the two I have ridden have been in very bad weather, but, well, I'm a bit masochistic and I like it."