Nairo Quintana may be the name on many pundits' lips when they speak about their favourite to win the Tour de France, but the man himself is playing down his chances to follow up his Giro d'Italia victory last year with a maiden Tour victory.
"There are lots of different riders in with a chance, I don't think I'm the only one, and I don't think I'm the top favourite," he said. "It's clear I'm feeling really good right now, and I'm on the right path for the Tour. But there are other riders who are also going well, and we'll have to keep a close eye on what they're capable of doing."
When he last raced the Tour de France in 2013, Quintana finished second, but this year's parcours offers up more challenges, including the cobbles on stage 4 to Cambrai which generally do not favour diminutive climbers. However, Quintana has planned ahead, adding some northern Classics to his calendar where he demonstrated how well he can handle his bike, even on wet pavé.
"It's made me feel a lot calmer about it, and I don't think I'll have any problems there," he said.
"In 2013 I won a series of different races before the Tour, and I did a very different race programme. This year I won Tirreno-Adriatico and almost got on the podium in Pais Vasco. I did the Classics, even though it's clear they're not races that suit me. Then, with a top 10 overall in Romandie. I think it was a good chapter in my season and it's put me right on track for the Tour de France."
In the last Tour they raced together, Quintana was billed as a super-domestique on the Movistar squad for Alejandro Valverde, until the Spaniard was left behind in the crosswinds on stage 13 to Saint-Amand-Monrond, and Quintana was given the latitude to ride for his own result. This year Valverde has signed on in a support role for Quintana.
"[Valverde] is going to be someone whose support will be very important. I'm sure he'll be backing me every step of the way, and we'll each have a different strategy so that way we can make the race difficult for our rivals. I'm sure he'll be at a high level in the whole Tour and be right by my side so that the two of us can do what's best for the team."
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