Nairo Quintana will line up in Mont-Saint-Michel on Saturday for the beginning of his quest to win the overall title at the Tour de France. Under his Movistar team's motto sueño amarillo – yellow dream – the Colombian says he and his team are stronger and better prepared, compared to previous years, to bring home the maillot jaune come July 24 in Paris.
"I'm much more mature and calm, and I've got a strong team by my side, which helps me out wherever they can," Quintana said of his personal and athletic progression since joining Movstar in 2012. "A thousand things have changed, all for the better."
This year, Quintana started the season in Argentina at the Tour de San Luis where he was second in two stages and finished third overall behind his brother Dayer, who won the title. He went on to win two WorldTour stage races at Volta a Catalunya and Tour de Romandie, while also placing third overall at the Vuelta al País Vasco. He sealed his top form ahead of the Tour de France with an overall victory at the Route du Sud this month.
"We did things right [this year], rode well in all stage races we took part in since January, winning three of them and making the podium in San Luis and País Vasco. We're well-prepared for this challenge [at the Tour de France]," he said in a team-released, pre-Tour video.
In a team press release, Quintana described some of the changes he made to his season preparation, which has always had the Tour de France as his main focus.
"I rested up a bit more than normal in the winter to come into the racing season fresher, and it's been proven during it that we were right. Winning two WorldTour races, that weren't yet on my palmarès, was so exciting, and made me more confident.
"The team is growing more adapted to my needs, I feel better and better with them, and always offer my best," he said.
Opponents, teammates, and parcours
During his six-year term with Movistar, Quintana has raced in six Grand Tours; three times at the Vuelta a Espana (2012, 2014 and 2015), he won the Giro d'Italia in 2014, and twice placed second overall at the Tour de France (2013 and 2015), beaten both times by Chris Froome (Team Sky).
Quintana is certainly one of the top favourites heading into this Tour, alongside Froome and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), but he did not discount the other contenders who will be racing.
"Froome and Contador will be the biggest rivales, but many others are to follow and be aware of," he said, pointing to Fabio Aru (Astana), Richie Porte and Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ).
As for the route, Quintana says there are several key stages that he hopes to do well in. Cyclingnews highlighted some for the most important stages of this year's race beginning with stage 7: L'Isle-Jourdain – Lac de Payolle, stage 9: Vielha Val d'Aran – Andorra-Arcalis and stage 12: Montpellier – Mont Ventoux.
There is also the stage 13 time trial: Bourg-Saint-Andéol – La Caverne du Pont-d'Arc, followed by stage 17: Bern – Finhaut Émosson, and a second time trial on stage 18: Sallanches – Megève, then back in the mountains for stage 19: Albertville – Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc and lastly, stage 20: Megève – Morzine.
"I like the mountains on this year's route," Quintana said. "The Tour's mountain-top finishes are ones I enjoy so much. Andorra will be already pretty hard and make some gaps.
"Mont Ventoux … I hope to do better than in 2013 and get closer to the win. And then there's Morzine, a place I hold dear in my heart as I took my first big pro win there in the 2013 Dauphiné."
As for the time trials, Quintana said he doesn't particularly like them, noting, "La Caverne's requires strength of mind, and will be extra tough coming after Ventoux and the Pyrenees; Megève's won't be so decisive nor a real mountain TT, because the mountains will come afterwards. However, someone in bad form could lose the race there."
Quintana will have the full support of Alejandro Valverde, a GC contender in his own right who has set his personal goals aside to help Quintana win the title this year. He also has a strong team that includes Nelson Oliveira, Winner Anacona, Imanol Erviti Ollo, Gorka Izagirre, Daniel Moreno, Jesus Herrada and Ion Izagirre.
"[I have] a powerful team, with plenty of good rouleurs plus talented climbers," Quintana said. "[Alejandro Valverde] is respected by our rivals [and a] huge addition, which makes me so happy. We know he will give his 100 per cent for the #SueñoAmarillo."
Watch the latest video interview with Quintana ahead of the Tour de France. The Colombian reflects on his feelings, the route, contenders and teammates before heading towards the Mont-Saint-Michel.
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Kirsten Frattini has been involved in bike racing from the grassroots level all the way to the World Cup. She is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. Kirsten has worked in both print and digital publishing. She started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006, and was responsible for reporting from the US and Canadian racing scene. Now as a Production Editor, she produces international race coverage for all cycling disciplines, edits global news and writes features.
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