Tour de San Luis: Quintana remaining calm

Movistar leader sits in fourth place overall

On and off the bike, his every move since his arrival in Argentina has been scrutinised, yet as is his wont, Nairo Quintana seems to keep his head when all about him are losing theirs at the Tour de San Luis.

At stage starts, for instance, his Movistar team is the lone squad forced to cordon off some space around their van, though, invariably, Quintana rolls down the window to salute the local fans and smile shyly for their photos.

Each day, a scrum – or a rolling maul, perhaps – forms around Quintana as he soft-pedals to the signing on rostrum. "I touched Nairo, I touched Nairo!" one teenage girl shouted to a friend at the start in Villa Dolores on Thursday. Only the occasional home rider comes close to matching the cheers that erupt when Quintana's name is announced.

It would be tempting to suggest that the actual process of riding his bike gives Quintana a break from the importance of being Nairo, but there has been precious little that could be classed as relaxing once the road has gone uphill at this race.

On the final haul to the Cerro Al Amago on Thursday, for instance, Quintana looked to shake off some of the cobwebs of his long off-season with a pair of bracing accelerations. The 10.5 kilometre climb seemed better suited to his talents than the explosive Mirador del Potrero on Tuesday, but he was unable to shake Daniel Diaz (Funvic) and then suffered the indignity of being dropped by the race leader four kilometres from the summit.

"There was an incredibly fast tempo at the bottom of the climb, it was very difficult," Quintana said afterwards. "I tried to attack but Diaz came with me, and when he attacked, I couldn't follow. The climb was very hard, as I knew from last year, and there were attacks everywhere."

Quintana finished the stage in fourth place, 56 seconds down and he is now 1:23 off the race lead. Winning the race overall victory, as he did in 2014, was now "unthinkable," he said.

A small group gathered to watch as Quintana sat into the back of the Movistar van and a soigneur began kneading his cramping legs. As ever, his analysis was a composed one as he looked to place his performance in its proper context.

"I had more or less the same strength as I had on this climb last year," he said. "I'm calm because I know the road to the Tour is still long and this race is about building form. The rivals I'm up against are in really good form for this time of year and so today's result does not worry me too much." 

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