Quintana enjoys rare chance to race in South America

Colombian kicks off Tour de France build-up in San Luis

Four months on from the fractured shoulder blade that ended his 2014 season prematurely and less than six months before he lines up at the Tour de France as perhaps the number one favourite for overall victory, the Tour de San Luis stands as a significant milestone on Nairo Quintana's itinerary.

Last year, the Movistar rider seemed to win the Tour de San Luis almost as a matter of course, delivering an early statement of intent in the first installment of his build-up to the Giro d'Italia. This time around, the Colombian arrives in Argentina in a rather more uncertain position.

Quintana has not raced since he crashed out of the Vuelta a España while holding the overall lead last September, however, and speaking to reporters at the Vista Hotel on Saturday morning, he said that he could offer no guarantees of his ability to mount an overall challenge this week.

"I'm looking forward to the race," Quintana said. "I don't feel bad but I'll have to see how I adapt to the rhythm of racing again and then I’ll see if I can be competitive here.

"I will approach the race with tranquillity, because I've got a young team around me and I haven't raced in fourth months either, so we’ll have to see how it goes."

Though Sergio Godoy, third overall last year, provided the local interest at the pre-race press conference, Quintana was the natural centre of attention for both the Argentinian and foreign media. His sole previous competitive outing in South America since joining Movistar in 2012 came at this race last year and he explained that it formed part of his motivation for starting his campaign so early again in 2015.

"In Europe, it's colder right now so this is a better race to start the season, although I have other objectives later on. It's good to race in January as that gives you the opportunity to prepare a little better," he said, before nodding towards Carlos Betancur, who was seated alongside him. "Because Carlos and I are South Americans, we feel at home racing here."

The parcours provides Quintana with an early opportunity to test his mettle on the climbs with summit finishes at the Mirador de Potrero (stage 2), Alto El Amago (stage 4) and Filo Sierras Comechingones (stage 6), as well as a 17.4km work-out against the watch on stage 5.

Racing so early should also benefit Quintana ahead of his first head-to-head clash with his principal rivals for the Tour de France at the Ruta del Sol next month, where Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali are also pencilled in to compete.

Quintana will hope, too, that the race provides something of an augury for the year still to come. "Last year, this race brought me to a high level. It brought my race rhythm early and it was very good preparation for a tough Giro d'Italia," he said.

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