Quintana: Winning Vuelta a Espana gives confidence for Tour de France

Colombian will wear red into Madrid on Sunday

Barring last-minute disaster, Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) will ride into Madrid on Sunday to claim the first Vuelta a Espana victory and second Grand Tour win of his career.

For Colombia, this is the nation's first victory in the Vuelta since Lucho Herrera 29 years ago and for Movistar, Spain's only WorldTour team, the 2016 Vuelta is their first three-week tour since Quintana won the Giro d'Italia two years ago. It is also their first victory in their home Grand Tour since Alejandro Valverde in 2009.

The leader of the Vuelta since he won stage 10 to the Lagos de Covadonga, Quintana's chances of victory were seemingly severely dented by his failure to gain time on his main challenger, Chris Froome (Sky), in the race's toughest mountain stage to the Aubisque. But when he and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) combined forces on the stage to Aramon-Formigal the very next day – and Sky suffered a stinging collective defeat – the cushion of time gained by Quintana proved enough to fend off the Briton.

Froome's blistering time trial victory in Calp on Friday saw the Briton, previously more than three and a half minutes back, regain traction in his bid to become Britain's first ever Vuelta winner, but after Quintana steadily closed down each attack on Saturday's final ascent to Aitana, final victory in the Vuelta is now a near certainty.

"I'm very proud of having been able to beat him," Quintana said after crossing the finish line on the Aitana in tenth place, just ahead of Froome. "He's the biggest rival out there, he fought incredibly hard, and you can't let him gain a single metre on you."

Quintana sprinted to ensure he finished ahead of Froome at the finish line but offered an apology afterwards. "I'm sorry if I have offended him for what I did at the end of the stage, it was just a spur-of-the-moment action."

Asked if he thought privately that he had the overall win in the bag after Sky's defeat at Aramon-Formigal, Quintana said: "I thought it was possible, but I knew there were some very hard stages to come. The team did a great job defending me, but I was very worried about the time trial.

"I knew I would lose time, but I didn't want to take too many risks. What really changed things was winning in Lagos de Covadonga. That gave me a lot of confidence."

Quintana recognised that his Vuelta victory would enable him to "get over what happened in the Tour," but he still insisted that taking third overall in July was "no failure. I'm still learning a lot, and it was a very tough race, and I have to go on learning."

The Colombian went on to pay tribute to the collective strength of his Movistar team. "I also have had a brilliant team here, and my thanks to them for being so supportive throughout. Unfortunately we lost Jose Joaquin Rojas today [in crash – ed.] and I want to send him a big hug from here."

In his first rest day press conference, Quintana said that he was toying with the idea of racing all three Grand Tours in one year, and in his winner's press conference he repeated that one season he would try the to win the Vuelta and Tour in a single year. But for now the more pressing question for Quintana is another one: having defeated Froome and Sky in the Vuelta, is it possible to do the same in a rather bigger race next July?

"It's very hard," Quintana recognised. "Froome is strongly protected but we have to try to take advantage of all kinds of different situation. Above all, winning here has given us the confidence to try."

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