Nairo Quintana's season will ultimately be judged on how he fares in his attempt to win both the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France, but the Colombian was pleased to pick up victory at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, one of the first stops en route to his destination. The Movistar man's pre-Giro programme will include the Abu Dhabi Tour later this month and Tirreno-Adriatico in March.
"My fitness level at this point of the season is similar to what I found last year," Quintana said. "We've got two big goals ahead, the Giro and the Tour, and we know that finding the correct approach will be key to our success. For the time being, we're on the right path to get there at 100 percent, but should any other opportunities come along the way, we'll chase them."
Quintana cleansed his palate for the new campaign by racing a couple of days at the Mallorca Challenge last month, and then delivered something approaching a vintage performance on the Mas de la Costa climb on stage 4 of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana. He put 40 seconds into second-placed Merhawi Kudus (Dimension Data) to win the stage and take the overall lead, beating a field that included Wout Poels (Sky), Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) and Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo).
The Colombian’s overall victory came despite incurring a deficit in the tough opening day team time trial, where Movistar placed fourth, conceding 1:02 to BMC on the rolling, 37.9-kilometre course.
"After so many months without racing, the TTT was really hard for us," Quintana said. "Considering the gaps created by the team time trial, we were thinking it'd be sort of an impossible feat to reach the leader's jersey. The other days weren't easy, either, as we suffered with strong winds, lots of stress. Saturday might have been a bit less difficult, because the team's work helped me to get to the foot of the ascent much fresher, and I could finish it off well. It's all about my teammates' work: they covered me perfectly all week."
Quintana came home safely in the main peloton on Sunday's final leg, which was shortened due to high winds. He finished 13 seconds clear of Ben Hermans (BMC) in the overall standings, while Manuel Senni (BMC) took third, at 32 seconds. "We knew it wouldn't be easy today, and indeed it turned out to be very nervous due to the strong winds we had to face," Quintana said.
The victory in Valencia was the 13th stage race win of Quintana's career, a haul that includes the 2014 Giro and last year’s Vuelta a España.
"I'm one of those who likes winning in January or February, and I also try to be in good condition up until the end of the season," Quintana said. "Now it's time to have some rest and prepare for the Abu Dhabi Tour and Tirreno-Adriatico, my next two races."