Quintana: I live for the challenge

Colombian accepts comparison to Pantani as he targets the Giro-Tour double

Nairo Quintana (Movistar) has happily accepted comparisons to Marco Pantani as he attempts to become the first rider since the Italian to win the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France in the same season.

"I suppose I'm similar to Pantani, we're even built the same," Quintana said in a long interview conceded to Italian sports newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport, knowing that getting the Italian tifosi on his side could be useful when when he takes on Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru in May.

"I was only eight and hadn't started cycling in 1998, but I can remember Marco. Our sport has always been widely followed in Colombia and his epic achievement stuck in my mind."

Pantani achieved the double in 1998. A year later he was suspended from the 1999 Giro d'Italia when a blood test before the mountain stage revealed his haematocrit level was above the accepted 50 per cent limit. The Pirata never overcame the disgrace and feeling of victimization of that day in Madonna di Campiglio, with his career and then his life spiraling out of control until his tragic death on St. Valentines Day 2004.

Few riders have tried to do the double since Pantani. Alberto Contador was the last but he suffered and only finished fifth at the Tour de France after winning the Giro d'Italia in 2015.

Quintana turns 27 on February 4 and is arguably entering the peak of his career. He is quietly spoken and a family man but also emotive and competitive.

"My childhood was always accompanied by taking risks and by challenges, by being competitive and wanting to win. I'm one of three brothers and we grew up driven by energy and did some crazy things," Quintana points out.

"Going for the double is a challenge, a complicated challenge, because things are different compared to 1998. I don't know if things were more difficult back then because I never experienced that era but I'm sure it was different," Quintana said, without clarifying if he was talking about the widespread use of EPO in the 1990s or simply a change in the way Grand Tours are now raced.

"The impression I have is that in the past the time gaps at the end of a Grand Tour were bigger. Perhaps you only needed a stage to open a good gap. Now every day is a fight and the stages are decided by just a few seconds. That's why the Giro-Tour double is extra motivating. It's a challenge that grabbed our attention and so we decided to take the 'risk' involved."

Maths and emotions behind the decision for the double

The Movistar team claims the physiological data they have on Quintana’s performances backs up their strategy of taking a risk and targeting the Giro-Tour double in 2017. However, Quintana claims the final decision was emotional as much as it was mathematical.

"We made the decision in our hearts and with passion," he suggested. "After winning the Giro, we felt morally obliged to ride the 100th edition: I felt I couldn't miss it because it was so important, it was a sign of recognition towards what is a great race, that gave me my first big win.

"The team and I also owe the Tour de France a lot and it's an important race. We chose to target the Giro for the sheer emotions of the race, we chose to also target the Tour because of links to the race. We’re perfectly aware of the difficulties and of the big rivals that we face such as Nibali and Aru in Italy and Froome in France. But we think we can take advantage of the moment, of my age and my form, and so try to do such a huge thing."

Movistar team manager Eusebio Unzue is perhaps more logical than emotional after helping several riders, including Miguel Indurain, win Grand Tours for over the past 30 years. His decision to go for the double is based on two numbers: 40 and 33.

"Forty is the days of racing I'll have done before the Tour starts, and 33 is the numbers of days I have between the Giro and the Tour to recover," Quintana explained.

"Forty days of racing seem the right amount. It's not an excessive workload and it's been planned so that I'm at 100 per cent for the two Grand Tours. We've planned things using the experience from the past. I'm used to starting a Grand Tour without a lot of racing in my legs. And it worked out. The Giro is hard and so I can't start it having done too much racing, otherwise that would compromise the Tour de France."

Back to the Stelvio

Quintana's victory at the 2014 Giro d'Italia was built on his stage win to Val Martello that included the mighty Stelvio. Despite a snow storm and strong winds, the stage climbed to the 2,757-metre summit with riders struggling in the freezing conditions.

There was confusion about if the race organisers neutralised the racing over the summit but Quintana attacked on the descent, joined up with several other riders and went on to win the stage. He gained three minutes on his major rivals and took the pink jersey. Five days later in Trieste, he was crowned the first ever Colombian winner of the Giro d'Italia.

"It was a day of suffering, a lot of happiness and a lot of polemics," Quintana said, stone faced and immovable about any wrong doing, just as he was on the day and when he won the Giro d'Italia.

"We were never worried because the race organisers knew exactly what happened that day and knew that we behaved correctly. I happily remember the emotions of that and I can't wait to be in the area in a few months time."

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