Nairo Quintana searched out his Movistar teammate and close friend Winner Anacona on Friday to congratulate him on his stage victory and to celebrate putting Deceuninck-QuickStep to the sword on the queen stage of the Vuelta a San Juan.
The two usually play inverted roles, with Quintana the team leader and Anacona the loyal domestique. However, at the 2,656m-high summit finish of Alto Colorado, Anacona was the big winner after he surprised Deceuninck-QuickStep and distanced race leader Julian Alaphilippe with an attack on the lower slopes of the climb and then had the strength and speed to stay away.
Quintana hugged Anacona and soon took to Twitter to praise him, writing: “When a compatriot wins, when a friend wins, when a teammate wins, it makes us happy. When Anacona wins and you know that he always leaves everything out on the road for you and your team, it's even greater and well deserved.”
Quintana had even more praise for his teammate when he spoke with Cyclingnews after the stage.
“Winner a great guy and he’s riding strong at the moment. He was especially strong today,” Quintana told Cyclingnews after signing numerous autographs and posing for selfies with the crowd that swarmed around the Movistar van at the finish area.
“We worried about Alaphilippe marking me, and so we raced with Carapaz and Winner too," Quintana said. "We thought we could do something and we did it. We won the stage, which was perhaps the lesser goal of the day because we were racing for the overall classification. We all raced well to split the group and set up Winner’s move. It was a good strategy, and everything worked out perfectly.”
Vuelta a San Juan stage 5 winner and overall leader Winner Anacona (Bettini Photo)
Winner by name, domestique by nature
Winner Anacona’s victory atop Colorado was his first since taking a stage at the 2014 Vuelta a Espana, bringing a wide smile of personal satisfaction to his face after years of loyal hard work as a domestique for Quintana and Movistar.
It is widely known that Anacona is called Winner because his father is a cycling fan and named his son after 1980s Tour de France stage winner Peter Winnen, with a mistake when registering his birth leaving him as Winner. He revealed that his second name is Andrew because his father also admired US rider Andrew Hampsten.
“My name was registered incorrectly when I was born, but perhaps I’ve honoured my name now,” Anacona joked. “I’ve had a lot of placings since that 2014 Vuelta a Espana stage win but never managed to win. It feels good."
Anacona usually sacrifices his chances to help others, but on the slopes of Alto Colorado the dice fell in his favour when Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) failed to get on his wheel when he opened up Movistar’s offensive with 12km to race. That gave him the freedom to charge clear across to the break of the day and keep going all the way to the line, where he beat Medellin pair Cesar Paredes and Cristhian Montoya.
“We knew we had to take advantage of the only mountain-top finish. It was the last chance,” Anacona explained.
“My attack was part of our plan to test the waters, to see how our rivals were doing, and I didn't think I could go too far. However, once I’d built a decent gap, Nairo was telling me through the earpiece, 'Go on, everything's alright here, everything's under control, no one is really chasing behind.' He looked after me, he covered the attacks, making our rivals' work more difficult, while we tried to make Alaphilippe suffer.
“I was feeling great, even if the long attack made for a very hard final kilometres. Alto Colorado is not a really steep climb, you're always at nearly 30kph, but there's not much shelter, and the wind became an enemy.
“I was only thinking about aiming at the GC and thought one of the two Medellín riders would beat me into the sprint. But I had good legs in the end and took what is a surprise victory for me. I'm so happy to have claimed both the stage and the lead.”
Anacona now leads Alaphilippe by 41 seconds, with Oscar Sevilla (Medellin) third at 57 seconds. Only two flat stages remain, and Anacona is quietly confident that he and Movistar can defend his race lead as the sprinters take over for the finish on the Circuit San Juan Villicum motor racing track on Saturday and then on the circuit stage around central San Juan on Sunday.
“You don’t win until you cross the final finish line,” Anacona warned. "I have a good margin on my rivals and the stages shouldn’t be difficult, but we shouldn’t underestimate our rivals. I have to be clever and ride at the front to avoid crashes. Fortunately I’ve got a good team.”