After weeks of speculation, rumours and counter-rumours, Movistar have confirmed that Nairo Quintana, runner-up in the Tour de France last year, will be giving the Grand Boucle a miss in 2014
Instead, the young Colombian will focus on the Giro d’Italia, with Movistar co-leader Valverde targeting the Tour de France. The two are then provisionally due to race in the Vuelta a España, which Valverde won in 2009 and where he finished on the podium again in 2013.
Quintana’s presence at the Giro d’Italia will be a big boost to the line-up of top contenders for the Italian race, and allows him ample time to recover prior to the Vuelta a España. Valverde, meanwhile, has proved himself capable of riding the Tour and Vuelta back to back and will repeat his 2013 program of Grand Tours.
There can be no doubt that Valverde has ‘unfinished business’ with the Tour. He was on the provisional podium of the Tour after strong rides in the Pyrenees in 2013 and a solid time trial at Mont-Saint-Michel, but on stage 13 he dropped out of contention because of a mechanical that came just as the pack was splitting apart into echelons on the plains of central France.
Quintana, on the other hand, raced more and more strongly throughout the Tour, finishing second overall in his debut race, as well as taking the king of the mountains and best young rider titles, and a stage win to boot. However, Movistar are opting to keep Quintana from the pressures of being the rider who – to judge from last year’s Tour – could have been Chris Froome’s closest challenger in 2014. Riding the Giro without Valverde to back him up also enables Quintana to gain valuable experience of riding as a single leader – and major favourite – prior to hypothetically returning to the Tour in 2015.
Already the winner of a stage race this year, the Tour de San Luis, Quintana had expressed interest in racing either the Tour or the Giro, but said that it was up to the team to make a decision.
In a press release issued on Tuesday, team manager Eusebio Unzue said that “I don’t think taking Nairo to the Tour at his age, plus the pressure of improving on last year’s result, is interesting for his future.”
Quintana will spend February in Colombia, where his first child is due shortly, and then return to racing at the Vuelta a Murcia, which he won in 2012, and the Clásica de Almeria. He will then take part in Roma Maxima and Tirreno-Adriatico before racing the Volta a Catalunya and the Tour of Asturias immediately prior to the Giro.
Valverde, meanwhile, will head Movistar in the Dubai Tour before returning to Europe for the Challenge Mallorca, the Vuelta a Andalusia, which he won last year, Murcia and Almería. After taking part in Milan-San Remo – a race which could favour him with its new, hillier finale – he will, unusually, be taking part in two Belgian Classics: Dwars door Vlaanderen and the E3 Prijs Harelbeke. After that, his big pre-Tour target will be the Ardennes Classics.
Explaining their decision to send Quintana to the Giro and keep Valverde as their main man for the Tour, Unzue said “Alejandro's presence in the squad also had its influence, having a solid leader for the Tour [in] him. He has full backing from us - he's earned it. He already proved last year that he was perfectly capable reaching the final podium despite that mechanical.”