Nairo Quintana (Movistar) brought the curtain down on the first part of his season by landing overall victory at the Tour de Romandie on Sunday, laying down an important marker for the Tour de France in the process.
In recent years, the Tour de Romandie has often proved a reliable indicator of pre-Tour form – Cadel Evans, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome all won the Swiss race before their first Tour de France wins – though Quintana warned that July is still some way off.
Having won the Volta a Catalunya and placed second at the Tour of the Basque Country already this year, however, it is clear that Quintana has enjoyed the best Spring of any of the top Tour contenders. His Movistar team, too, was particularly strong at the Tour de Romandie, with Ion Izagirre placing third overall.
“You ask me about the myth about winning Romandie and going on to win the Tour – I hope that legend is true, so we can make the 'Yellow Dream' become real,” Quintana said after Sunday’s final stage.
“The Romandie win gives us confidence and calmness, and the whole group is strong, so no matter who we bring to the Tour, we'll be well protected. However, things can change before July and our rivals will certainly bring powerful squads to the Tour. We will be just one team among many contenders.”
Quintana began Sunday’s final stage with a 19-second buffer over Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) in the overall standings, having repelled the Frenchman’s determined volley of attacks on the road to Villars the previous day. Despite the wet conditions for the final leg to Geneva, Quintana finished safely in the main peloton to secure overall victory.
Quintana’s teammate Izagirre was among the fallers in a crash in the final kilometre, and though he retained third place overall, his injuries were such that he had to miss the podium ceremony.
“It wasn't a calm day at all. I was feeling a bit nervous due to the weather. It was so cold in the early morning, we even woke up to snow in our hotel,” Quintana said. “It's not easy to defend yourself in such a situation, you start the stage unprepared and require more time to warm up. However, the team was at the correct place all the time, the forecast changed a bit and things ended up well.
“It's a bittersweet day, since Ion crashed and couldn't join us for the podium. Let's hope it's nothing serious for him.”
As per usual, Quintana will spend the month of May training at his home in Boyaca, Colombia, before returning to Europe in mid-June for his final build-up to the Tour de France. Last year, Quintana chose the Route du Sud as his final preparation race for La Grande Boucle, but he has not ruled out riding the Tour de Suisse this time around.
“Now I'm heading home to stay with my family for some weeks and train in Colombia before the Tour and later on, we will decide which race suits me best for the month of June,” Quintana said.
“Why not ride the Tour de Suisse? I like this country, they've always treated me well here. I've still not decided what to do, though. What is clear is we've got a goal, we know how to work for it and we don't have to worry about what the others do. We'll do our thing as best we can so we can reach the start of the Tour in the best possible condition.”