Nairo Quintana (Movistar) has said he fully expects the battle for the overall victory in the Volta a Catalunya to go down to the very last metre of Sunday’s final stage of the race, which finishes with eight laps of the hilly Montjuic Park.
Quintana received more unspoken warnings on stage 6 from his rivals that they will not let him cruise home to victory on Sunday unchallenged. The fast and fraught second day of battle for time bonuses amongst the favourites of the Volta a Catalunya on Saturday saw Quintana strongly defend his lead, though, with Movistar leading the Colombian climber close to the front of the pack whenever needed.
However, the strong winds and frequent changes of direction on a very fast, downhill stage meant there was a definite risk of echelons and on one occasion a prolonged drive at the head of the pack by Italy’s Matteo Tossato with Alberto Contador tucked in on his back wheel made it clear Contador, in second place and just seven seconds back, has no intention of dropping the pressure.
Contador and former leader Dan Martin (Etixx QuickStep) had already shaved time off Quintana’s advantage in a time bonus hot spot sprint on stage 5 and Martin did so again on stage 6, gaining another three seconds in another intermediate sprint. The Irishman is now 18 seconds back, one second down on Richie Porte (BMC Racing), whilst Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) having gained another second, is another threat, 31 seconds back.
Referring to the ultra-close GC classification - and bearing in mind there are two more hot spot sprints tomorrow, too, as well as the bonus seconds on offer at the finish - Quintana said after stage 6, “I hope it’s not going to get too tricky, but of course I’m expecting attacks.
“The Montjuic circuit isn’t that technical, but it can get fiddly. There will be attacks but on other years it’s all come down to a small bunch sprint.”
One factor in his favour, of course, is a strong Movistar squad that proved itself up to all the challenges on stage 6’s long grind across the hills and twisting valley roads of southern Catalunya on Saturday.
“We’ve got good riders here, guys like Winner [Anacona] and Imanol [Erviti] and the team worked well today,” he reflected. He is also, he said, “pleased with how I’ve been able to step up to the mark here in Catalunya, going from racing non-WorldTour stage races this season to bigger events.”
Martin’s move showed that the Colombian cannot sleep on his laurels but history is definitely on Quintana’s side. The last time the top spot in the Volta a Catalunya GC has changed hands on the last day was in 2008, when France’s Remi Pauriol lost the green and white leader’s jersey to Gustavo Cesar Veloso. That though, occurred in rather bizarre circumstances - a torrential downpour wreaked confusion in the peloton and saw a break of three including Veloso go clear. The Spanish rider managed to place second on the stage, ousting Pauriol, although his win was so unexpected it was some time after the finish that it was confirmed by the organisation.
That win back in 2008 was on a flat stage into the Barcelona city centre, and in theory Quintana could have more challengers on the multiple laps over Montjuic’s third caegory ascent. But if the Colombian has proved so strong on climbs in the mountains already, it may well be he is unmatchable on a much shorter ascent at Montjuic, even if - like on Sunday - the riders will tackle it no less than eight times.