Movistar manager Eusebio Unzue is optimistic that Nairo Quintana can break even with many of his general classification rivals at the Tour de France on Wednesday’s 32-kilometre time trial from Embrun to Chorges.
Quintana lost 3:16 to yellow jersey Chris Froome (Sky) over a similar distance at Mont-Saint-Michel last week, but that was on a flat, windswept course along the Norman coast. By contrast, stage 17 includes the category 2 climbs of the Côte de Puy-Sanières (6.4km at 6%) and the Côte de Réallon (6.9km at 6.3%), and barely features a metre of flat, which ought to help the young Colombian limit his losses.
“I think Nairo and Alejandro [Valverde] will both do good time trials. I think they’ll be up there with the best times,” Unzue said.
“It’s certainly better-suited to Nairo’s characteristics than the first time trial, which was pan flat and raced at 55kph. There are two little climbs on the course and they’re very sinuous for a time trial, so that will be easier for him.”
Quintana currently lies fifth overall, 5:47 off the yellow jersey but just 1:22 off a podium place. The 23-year-old Colombian also holds the white jersey of best young rider and increased his buffer in that classification to 3:50 over Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) after distancing the Pole on the Col de Manse on Tuesday.
“It’s a good time trial for him,” Unzue said. “We’ll be happy if he doesn’t lose time on [Bauke] Mollema, on Alberto [Contador] and on [Roman] Kreuziger. If things stay as they were beforehand, it will be perfect.”
A Tour de France debutant, Quintana lined up in Corsica ostensibly as a deluxe domestique for Alejandro Valverde and a possible outsider but their roles were flipped when the veteran Spaniard lost ten minutes following a mechanical mishap on stage 13. Quintana has seemed wholly unaffected by the pressures of the race and his willingness to take the fight to
Froome has seen him roundly heralded as a future winner of the race.
Unzue, who has been part of the management staff for Tour de France wins by Pedro Delgado, Miguel Indurain and, officially, Oscar Pereiro, was reluctant to place undue pressure on his young charge, admitting only that Quintana “will be a candidate in the future.”
“The only objective for Nairo is that he gets to know the race a bit and he understands how it’s raced, because the Tour is very different to every other race
on the calendar and it’s important to get experience,” said Unzue. “But he’s come through a very complicated second week because every day they were racing a bloc, at high speed.”
With a troika of Alpine stages still to come after the time trial, the remaining terrain at this Tour certainly provides a genuine opportunity for Quintana to become the second Colombian to finish on the podium in Paris, bridging a twenty-five year
gap to Fabio Parra in 1988. However Unzue is preaching caution.
“With Nairo, we have to be very prudent and we have to see how he gets through each day,” Unzue told Cyclingnews. “He’s still very young and he could start to pay for the efforts he’s made so far. But for now, he is recovering very well and it’s all gone very well.
“We’ll see in the stages to come. The time trial is hard day, 50 minutes flat out, and then he faces straight into three consecutive big days in the high mountains, so anything could happen.”