Longstanding sports director Eusebio Unzue, who guided both Pedro Delgado and Miguel Indurain to Tour de France victories in the 1980s and 1990s, has likened Vuelta a Espana favourite Tom Dumoulin to Indurain.
The Giant-Alpecin rider is currently rated top favourite to win the Vuelta - which curiously enough, Indurain never did - which would be his first Grand Tour. However, Unzue feels that there are echoes of Indurain’s racing style in Dumoulin.
“There are certain similarities,” Unzue said during a rest day press conference for his Movistar co-leaders, “Miguel was a great time triallist who could defend his options in the mountains and that’s what Dumoulin has done here. Now we’ve got to see if Dumoulin’s time trialling is still as good as it was before he started climbing so well.”
Unzue pointed out that the Vuelta has often acted as a scenario for riders to make their breakthrough in Grand Tour racing, as happened with Chris Froome in 2011, and that Dumoulin “is now in the club of those contenders.”
However, should Dumoulin pull back the time on race leader Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) as expected in Wednesday’s race agains the clock, Unzue does not expect the climbers to sit on their hands and automatically let the Dutchman take the red jersey all the way to Madrid without counter-attacking.
Asked if the Vuelta could expect a battle similar to that of the 1985 Vuelta in the sierras of Madrid - where overnight leader Robert Millar succumbed to Pedro Delgado’s last-minute attack - Unzue predicted that Saturday’s trek through the same mountain ranges “could be the big stage of this year’s Vuelta. The battle for the overall is going to be very close.”
Quintana is currently lying eighth overall and Valverde in ninth, at 3:11 and 3:58, with Valverde’s stage win in Vejer the highlight of the race so far for Movistar. Both the Colombian and Valverde pointed out they have had a very long season, with some great results earlier in the year, and Quintana’s illness has taken its toll, too.
“I’m satisfied because I could perfectly well have abandoned by this point in the race,” Quintana said. “Fortunately I’ve got over those complications and I’m close to the top favourites.”
“It’s been a very tough race because of the health issues and because I was at 100 percent in the Tour, and in the Vuelta the tiredness from the entire season has begun to have its effect.”
Quintana said he would almost certainly not take part in the World Championships, given the course did not favour him, whilst Valverde said that despite his tiredness he should have no problem in recovering in time for Richmond. “After that, I may go onto Lombardia,” Valverde concluded.
Asked if he would not be better off resting rather than racing for a relatively low position in the overall, Valverde pointed out that he had other goals, such as the WorldTour - which he is leading - and the teams classification as well as his own individual objectives. “Tomorrow [Wednesday] is a good opportunity for me,” Valverde, a former national time trial champion, said, although he did not specify whether for a placing or the outright stage win, “and it’s just in me to keep on trying.”
Quintana said that he would race Wednesday’s time trial “with the idea of at least holding onto my position overall, because everybody in the top 10 is a similar kind of racer, [non time-triallist] except for Alejandro [Valverde] and Tom [Dumoulin].”
Asked if he thought Rodriguez would keep the leader’s jersey on Wednesday, Valverde answered, “Shall I be honest? I think it’ll be very complicated. I was surprised by the course, it’s not the long, straight roads I was expecting, but it’s still very good for Dumoulin.”
Movistar also announced that they would be donating part of the Vuelta prize money to UNICEF’s campaign to help Syrian refugees and invited the other teams and members of the cycling community to take part. More information is available on Movistar’s website, www.movistarteam.com
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, 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. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.