While the cobbled Classics contenders clash at the Tour of Flanders this Easter weekend, many of the Ardennes contenders and Grand Tour riders will also be in action at the Tour of the Basque Country and before that the GP Miguel Indurain and the Vuelta a La Rioja.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is the favourite to win the tough six-day WorldTour stage race in the hills and country roads of the Basque Country. His Grand Tour rivals Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Chris Froome (Team Sky) have opted to train at altitude at Teide instead of pinning on a race number but Quintana will face some serious competition from Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), world champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin).
The Colombian climber won Tirreno-Adriatico thanks to his aggressive ride in the snow on Terminillo mountain and is hopeful of taking his second victory in the Basque Country after winning in 2013. He will also ride the GP Miguel Indurain on Saturday, alongside Alejandro Valverde, who will also ride Sunday’s Vuelta a La Rioja but will skip the Tour of the Basque Country.
The Movistar team backing Quintana for the WorldTour stage race includes Igor Antón, Jonathan Castroviejo, José Herrada, Beñat Intxausti, Gorka Izagirre, Ion Izagirre and Giovanni Visconti. Next week another Movistar team will also ride the Circuit de al Sarthe stage race in France, including Alex Dowsett, John Gadret, Adriano Malori and Australia’s Rory Sutherland.
“I have good memories (of 2013),” Quintana said of the Tour of the Basque Country. “The truth is that I like and know this race and many of my teammates know this race well too. That gives you peace of mind. With the team we have we should have no problem, and the course suits my form. Of course, we’ll have to consider the rivals too.”
Quintana got a taste of the Belgian cobbles at the recent Dwars door Vlaanderen but has been training for the Tour of the Basque Country since then. He also checked out the steep La Antiqua climb that will be covered twice during stage three of the Tour of the Basque Country.
"I had a steady week, including travel and the Classic. I tried to recover and avoid the pollen that gave me a few problems but I feel pretty good,” he said. "There’s a lot of climbing that day and you’ll have to have good legs otherwise you could lose a lot of time. Of course I like it.”
Quintana picked Kwiatkowski as his biggest overall rival.
“He’s the world champion and so that says it all. He’s very strong and a complete rider. He’s good against the clock and the climbs are not very long, so the race route suits him. We will have to try to find a strategy to beat him.”
After the Tour of the Basque Country, Quintana will head to the Ardennes for Fleche-Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Lieg before targetting the Tour de Romandie in Switzerland.