Unzue: Quintana can use flat stages at Abu Dhabi Tour to toughen up

Colombian will make Middle Eastern career debut in WorldTour race

With his overall victory in the Vuelta a Valencia wrapped up, Movistar team manager Eusebio Unzue has confirmed that Nairo Quintana will make his Middle Eastern debut in the Tour of Abu Dhabi.

And after Quintana's crushing performance in Valencia's toughest climb, the Mas de la Costa on Saturday, Unzue says the Colombian star will be focusing more sharply than usual on the considerably flatter stages in the four-day WorldTour race.

"To become a more complete racer, it will be good for Nairo to toughen himself up a little in the flat stages for sprinters, with stages with wind, sand and echelons," team manager Eusebio Unzue told Spanish newspaper El País.

"The same goes for doing races with team time trials." On the plus side for Quintana, Unzué added, the Abu Dhabi 2017 route also features a summit finish on one of its stages.

Quintana has never raced in any of the Middle Eastern early season events, preferring to opt for events like the Vuelta a San Luis in Argentina, the Colombian Nationals and stage races in Spain as the way of kick-starting his year. One of his first professional career victories, in fact, was in the Vuelta a Murcia, in the spring of 2012.

Quintana's win at Mas de la Costa has netted him the first victory of the season for Movistar and his own first since taking the Vuelta a Espana outright last September.

All of this, too, on his 27th birthday, and against riders of the calibre of last year’s winner Wout Poels (Team Sky), Dan Martin (Quick Step), Steven Kruiswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha), and the Yates brothers (Orica-Scott), both of whom finished more than 20 minutes back.

"I wasn't surprised Nairo won," Unzue told El País, "but I was surprised by the scale of the differences and the way he did it."

Speaking on Eurosport after the stage, Quintana said he had, "made a first attack from the foot of the climb."

"It worked out well and I felt really good on the toughest parts of the ascent. It's a very special win on my birthday and it's a very good sign for the next few weeks. It shows I've done a lot of good work in the winter…but I don't consider this [win] to be a gesture towards my rivals. It's still the early season, but it's a sign that we've done things well, nothing more."

After the Tour of Abu Dhabi, Quintana will head for the more familiar roads of Tirreno-Adriatico, which he won in 2015 thanks to a dramatic attack in a snowstorm on the Terminillo - a climb once again featuring in 2017.

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