Nairo Quintana has made it clear that he and Movistar will be gunning for outright victory in the Vuelta a España, an objective which many of the other nominal favourites during the race countdown have diluted with their World Championships goals.
"I'm here to go for the overall victory," Quintana told Spanish sports daily AS on Friday in no uncertain terms. The Colombian also made it clear, AS said, that he preferred to be sole leader of the team, as he will be in the Vuelta a España, rather than sharing that status with other teammates, as he did in the Tour de France.
"I like this approach more and I will assume the position of overall leader every time the team ask me to do so," Quintana told the paper.
Although Quintana won a prestigious mountain stage of the Tour de France this July, he did not have a major impact in the battle for the overall, let alone win. But rather than be discouraged by this below-expectations result in July, Quintana has gone for 'double or quits', saying that his and Movistar's objective is to set their disappointing Tour de France record straight in the Vuelta.
"We couldn't win [the Tour] and that was the big goal, even though we got a stage and the teams classification, and I'm here [in Spain] to go for the victory," Quintana said.
Rather than avoid pressure, as many of the other contenders seem to be doing, Quintana shrugged off the extra-high level of expectations that automatically brings. "I don't mind being tipped as favourite," the former winner of both the Giro d'italia and Vuelta a España said.
Quintana had kind words for teammate Mikel Landa, who was set to be a Movistar leader - as in the Tour de France - alongside the Colombian in the Vuelta before the Basque rider crashed out injured in the Clásica de San Sebastián and those plans were wrecked. "We knew he was looking forward to this race, his crash was a misfortune," Quintana argued.
Quintana's teammate Alejandro Valverde will be racing the Vuelta - the one Grand Tour he has won, way back in 2009, but in which he has regularly made the podium - with one eye on the World Championships, in a year where the Worlds' road route favours the Spaniard greatly. The option of a two-pronged leadership with Quintana in the Vuelta appears to have been quietly binned by Movistar, with Valverde acting instead as something of a free electron.
"I'll have freedom of movement," Valverde said to AS, though his room for manoeuvre may well be limited by Movistar's rivals. After all, Valverde's chances of a top result on stage two's grinding uphill finish at Caminito del Rey are excellent and, in the past, most notably 2014 in the first week, a strong early result has enabled the Spaniard to pole vault into the arena of GC contenders - and alongside Quintana that year, too, until the Colombian crashed out - almost without trying.
Without making too many predictions, Valverde, whose experience means he has often had an unofficial role of Movistar's team captain inside races, recognised that it would likely be up to Movistar to shoulder the responsibility of controlling the Vuelta a España.
"That's always been the way but here there are a lot of top names and if we don't get the leader's jersey, we'll have to let other teams use up their resources as well," he told AS.
He pointed to Landa's substitute Richard Carapaz, the young Ecuadorian who made some explosive attacks during the recent Tour de Pologne and who won a rainlogged uphill stage of the Giro d'Italia, as one teammate who will "be helping a lot".
But rather than Carapaz or Valverde, it will be their teammate Nairo Quintana who will be seeking a longer spell in the limelight on the roads of Spain this summer.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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