Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) endured a tough first day as Volta a Catalunya leader, with his overall advantage slightly reduced from eight to seven seconds on Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) after the Spaniard clawed back time in an intermediate sprint.
Both Contador and Dan Martin (Etixx-Quick Step), fourth overall, were on the alert for the first hot spot sprint of the day, with Martin taking first place and Contador in third. On the final climb, though, Quintana kept a close eye on the front and although Romain Bardet (Ag2R La Mondiale) and Rigobert Urán (Cannondale) both made brief challenges, Movistar quickly clamped them down.
“It was a very tough stage, the terrain was tough and my rivals tried to get their team-mates in early breaks, so it was really fast at the start and then right the way through to the second half of the stage,” observed a somewhat weary-looking Quintana to reporters at the line.
“It was only when that last break went that things calmed down a bit.” There had, Quintana observed, “been more attacks than I thought there would be.”
Of the three stages that remained between taking the lead on stage 4 and Sunday, Quintana confirmed that Friday’s stage 5 was the one he had feared the most. “Possibly it was the most difficult, the run-in was tricky with a lot of corners and there could have been some cross-winds. In other years we’ve had some splits here on this stage, so I had to keep a close eye out on the rest. And hopefully we’ll be able to keep things under control on the last day because the circuit” - round the Montjuic park - “isn’t at all easy.”
Finally, though, on stage 5 Quintana said that the different interests in play - “those teams wanting a break, those wanting a breakaway, those wanted to attack me” - had neutralised each other and he could breathe a little easier.
But only up to a point. “Contador’s already shown he’s going to make his moves, and he’ll do so agian, so I have to watch him. Tomorrow [Saturday] should be a calmer day, let’s hope people are beginning to feel a bit more tired after so many hard stages and things get a bit easier.”
Given Contador’s all-out attack on the last stage of Paris-Nice, Quintana says he is expecting a similar kind of double-or-quits move by the Spaniard on the race’s final day in Barcelona. “We’ll have to keep a close eye on him,” he said. And if Quintana has to start fighting for hot spot sprints and bonus seconds in order to win: “If I have to do that, I will,” Quintana concluded, although for now, at least, he has made it one day closer to outright victory.