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Nairo Quintana (Movistar)
“We knew there would be crosswinds in the finale”
He must have been feeling a palpable degree of relief that a trying day had come to an end without consequence, but Nairo Quintana (Movistar) was as implacable as ever when he fielded questions from reporters immediately on crossing the line after stage 8 of the Vuelta a España.
The straight, exposed run-in to Albacete was historically been prey to crosswinds, and so it proved yet again. Quintana had safely made the initial split that took place with 30 kilometres remaining, but he was caught on the wrong side when the leading echelon divided in two in the final 10 kilometres.
All of the other podium contenders, including his stable-mate and overall leader Alejandro Valverde, were in the group fifteen seconds ahead of him, but after a tense pursuit, his Movistar squad was able to seal the fissure and Quintana finished the day without conceding any ground.
Within seconds of wheeling to a halt at the roadside, Quintana took a bottle from his soigneur and then calmly set about recounting the tumult of the closing kilometres for a group of reporters that had huddled around him.
“We were already warned before the stage that there could be crosswinds in the finale, so we knew that we had to stay alert,” Quintana said. “When we got to the unprotected zone, the bunch was so nervous, very stretched out, and lots of splits started to form everywhere.”
Quintana had looked to take advantage of such turbulence in the opening hour of racing on Friday, when he had sown panic among the overall contenders by trying to infiltrate the day’s early break.
At Albacete, however, the Colombian was caught on the back foot in the closing kilometres, and he risked conceding a significant clutch of seconds in the battle for overall honours – and the unspoken contest for leadership of the Movistar team.
“I had to close a gap but I couldn't keep the wheel in front into the second. I got boxed in for a bit, my teammates were left behind and Alejandro [Valverde] was the only one at the front,” he said.
If Quintana was fortunate that he had such a cadre of teammates for company in the second group, he was blessed to have such a stout ally of circumstance as Giant-Shimano to help with the chase. The Dutch squad was keen to pilot John Degenkolb back into contention for the sprint, and their common cause ensured that Quintana latched back on.
“When the split was formed, we worked on the front with the Giant team, because they were interesting in getting back on to contest the stage,” Quintana said. “Fortunately, we got back up to the peloton.”
Speaking by the podium area after receiving a fresh red jersey, Valverde insisted that he was not aware that his teammate had briefly been dropped. For his part, Quintana was careful to stress that the day had ultimately been a success for both Movistar riders. “We achieved our goal today because we didn’t lose any time,” he said.
Quintana remains in second place overall, 15 seconds down on Valverde, ahead of Sunday’s mountaintop finish at Valdelinares. On the steady eight-kilometre haul to the summit, he will doubtless aim to be on the front foot.