Ever since Nairo Quintana (Movistar) began his ascent of stage racing's hierarchy back in 2013, he has never been one to overstate his case. And in Thursday's Giro d'Italia press conference, despite being one of the top favourites for the race, Quintana delivered a master-class in non-committal answers.
The Colombian was asked whether it was possible to win both the Giro and the Tour in the same year. "I don't know, let's see if it's possible, this is the first time I'm going to try it," he calmly batted back. "To do the double, you have to win the Giro d'Italia first," he observed later. "After what happens here, we'll see what I can do."
But it's hardly surprising, perhaps, that Quintana is not prepared to make any gung-ho statements as the Colombian faces what is arguably the toughest challenge of his career to date. Nobody needs to remind him at this point in the game that the Giro-Tour double has defeated riders as illustrious as Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo). To set the bar any higher on such a difficult challenge, therefore, is a pointless exercise when what really counts is performing on the road, not in a press conference.
It was noticeable, too, that none of the Colombian television and radio reporters needed to ask if Quintana was in good form. Rather than being requested to deliver a bland comment about how he's ready to fight for the Giro, the Colombian's victory on a snow-blasted Alto de Acebo, one of Spain's toughest climbs, last Sunday in the Vuelta a Asturias and second place overall very much speaks for itself.
Instead, Quintana was asked for messages for the Colombian and Latin Americans from the Giro d'Italia – "we're here, let's live this race with as much happiness as possible" was his reply – and who his idol was as a young racer. This turned out to be none other than teammate Alejandro Valverde.
More interesting, perhaps, were Quintana's observations that the Giro d'Italia is the Grand Tour he knows the least well. Unlike the Tour, and Vuelta, which he's ridden three and four times respectively, Quintana only raced the Giro d'Italia in 2014, when he won. Also that he feels that the Giro "in terms of the route, will be a lot harder than the Tour de France, but the way the Tour de France is raced is probably tougher."
One factor which will contribute to the Giro d'Italia's toughness – and intrigue – is that it is considered far more open than the Tour, or as he put it "so many teams with GC interests will make the race much more interesting."
In the process of brushing aside whether he will "put his cards on the table of the first week of the Giro at Mount Etna," as one reporter put it, Quintana replied that he expected the Sicilian climb to provide the first real indication of who was really in Italy this May to fight for the overall, and who was making up the numbers.
For a top contender like Quintana, the process of sorting the wheat from the chaff amongst his rivals would not, he hinted, be straightforward, and Etna could offer a first real opportunity to do so. Or as he put it, "It's important to think about whom the contenders really are."
What was clear was that Quintana's relationship with Italy, in terms of cycling results, has always been a strong one. So if his real sense of his chances of taking a Giro-Tour double remained under wraps for now, what did emerge was that he has a great deal of affection and respect for the Grand Tour where he took his first outright win.
"As a past winner, I couldn't miss the centenary edition of the Giro d'Italia," Quintana observed. But as for his future in the corsa rosa, Thursday's press conference made it clear that for now, Quintana will rely heavily on the age-old cliche of letting his legs do the talking. But with Etna on Tuesday, the tifosi surely won't have that long to wait before they begin to speak.
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