As he negotiated the dirt track over the summit of the On crossing the line atop the Filo Sierras Comechingones, Nairo Quintana’s immediate analysis of stage 6 of the Tour de San Luis was a relatively downbeat one.
The race is almost certain to be his sole competitive outing in South America this season, and despite his protestations that he was some way short of his best in Argentina, the Movistar man clearly wished to mark the occasion with a stage victory.
The seemingly interminable haul from Merlo to the summit of the Sierras Comechingones, a climb in two instalments via the natural ledge at Mirador del Sol, seemed well-suited both to Quintana’s natural aptitudes and his condition at this early juncture of the season.
With eight kilometres, Quintana duly launched his anticipated acceleration, but to his frustration, he was unable to rid himself of race leader Dani Diaz (Funvic). He made one further, more tentative effort, before realising that such efforts were futile.
“I attacked strongly once with eight kilometres to go but I didn’t have the strength to go again. It was a tough climb and there weren’t a lot of options to attack, especially because of all the wind, and because my rivals were very strong,” Quintana said. “I’m not happy with how the stage went because I didn’t really do anything.”
By the time Quintana had changed aboard the Movistar mini-bus a short while later, his perspective on the week’s racing as a whole was a more positive one. Although he failed to repeat last year’s overall victory or claim a stage win, he declared himself satisfied with his third place overall.
“I think overall it went very well because I had gone a long time without racing, more than four months so it’s quite satisfying to be on the podium, no?” he told reporters as he leant out the window of the van.
Quintana’s 2014 campaign ended abruptly when he fractured a shoulder blade when he crashed out of the Vuelta a Espana while in the race lead, but he said that the injury had not caused him any further problems on his return to action. “No, no, I think I’m well recovered now,” he said.
Matching overall winner Dani Diaz and his surpisingly strong Funvic team ultimately proved beyond Quintana but he was still the best-placed WorldTour rider in the race. With the Tour de France his major target of the season, that will suffice for now.
“Yes, I’m very happy. Diaz and his team were very strong but my points of reference are with the European riders and in that context, I think I’m at a good level considering what is to come,” he said.