Nairo Quintana (Movistar) has said that he believes that Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) will be the big favourite for this year's Vuelta a Espana, both because of Contador's recent race history and because of the way the route is designed in this year's Vuelta.
"The terrain in this year's race really suits Alberto, it's got good time trials for him," Quintana said - referring to stage 19's very technical 37 kilometre individual time trial, run along exposed Meditteranean coast roads from Xabia to Calp, a town and area well-known to many riders for its popular off-season training roads and hotels.
"In a way, he's rested up after the Tour, too" - where Contador crashed out injured at the end of the first week - "and he'll be extremely motivated, For me, he's the big favourite."
As for Quintana himself, following his third place in the Tour de France, the Colombian said that a second top-three finish in 2016 - and his first in the Vuelta - would be "something I'd settle for, [although] winning would be really special. Finishing on the podium in the Tour and Vuelta in the same year would be great." Indeed, the last rider to take podiums in both races in the same season was Carlos Sastre in 2008, when the Spaniard won the Tour and finished third in the Vuelta a España.
"I've been taking it fairly calmly after the Tour, at home and a little bit at altitude," Quintana observed. "I'm back now and will make a big objective out of the Vuelta," he said, before quickly pointing out that "I've done a lot of races this season, the Tour was very tough. I'm in good shape, but we'll have to wait and see how I'm going to perform."
Quintana echoed Chris Froome's words about how he saw the upcoming Vuelta when he argued, "I'm not really sure what my form is like. I've not raced since the Tour and whatever tiredness you have, at this point in the year, it's going to show."
Would he be planning to hit the race hard? "If my legs are there, then of course I willl," Quintana - who came within a whisker of abandoning last year's Vuelta with illness before bouncing back to move up to fourth in the last week - said. Perhaps with last year's rollercoaster performance in mind, he argued, ""after such a tough Tour, we're hoping for a good Vuelta."
Key to that performance, though, will be how Quintana and Alejandro Valverde work together, although just like in the Tour, Quintana's team-mate will not be going for a top gc result. On a personal level, the Spaniard and the Colombian have always seemed to work well together, and Quintana was quietly confident that would be the case in the Vuelta, too.
"We've got a good squad, good riders for the flatter stages and together with Alejandro (Valverde) we'll be strong in the mountains," the 2014 Giro d'Italia winner predicted. "I get on well with Alejandro and each one of us knows what we've got to do. But we won't settle on an overall strategy until we see what kind of condition our rivals are here in the Vuelta. Then we'll take it from there."
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