Nairo Quintana (Movistar) has provided much of the excitement in this year's Tour de France, with his relentless attacks and his ability to make riders look like they're pedalling in slow motion in the mountains.
The 23-year-old Colombian rider arrived at the Tour on good form and much was expected of him. He came to the race with the intention of helping his teammate Alejandro Valverde but, when his leader lost over 10 minutes on stage 13, the main focus of the team became Quintana. As the race has progressed, the Movistar rider has been slowly moving up the general classification, especially after his attack on Mont Ventoux.
Quintana currently sits just over two minutes down on Saxo-Tinkoff's Romain Kreuziger, who moved into third after Wednesday's stage 17 mountain time trial. Despite the proximity to a possible podium position, Quintana isn't focussing about that just yet. "I'm not really thinking about Paris," said the Movistar rider at the finish. "I'm just trying to stay calm."
"I am fighting to maintain my place and I am fighting against [Michal] Kwiatkowski for the white jersey." Quintana increased his lead in the competition to, what looks like an unassailable, 4:12 gap. Quintana isn't counting his chickens yet and would like a larger buffer in the young riders' classification. "I extended my lead on Kwiatkowski in the white jersey. I hope that I can get a bit more time to make things less stressful."
With two ascents of the mythical Alpe d'Huez due up on stage 18, for many it is a question of when and not if Quintana will attack. The Movistar climber didn't give any hints if he would try to get the jump on his rivals. He has slightly more modest ambitions.
"It is a hard climb and I want to get up there with the favourites and not lose any time."
Rumours have been spreading around that we may not see both climbs of the Alpe d'Huez if it rains, due to the nature of the Col de Sarenne descent. Riders such as race leader Chris Froome and time trial world champion Tony Martin have complained about its inclusion, saying that it is too dangerous. Alternative routes and shortened stages have both been suggested, but the decision remains up in the air.
"I don't really know it," said Quintana. "But you can make it dangerous if you take too many risks."
Whatever the organisers' decision regarding the route, it's hard to imagine Quintana not having a go as they make their way by the Alpe's 21 hairpin bends.
Born in Ireland to a cycling family and later moved to the Isle of Man, so there was no surprise when I got into the sport. Studied sports journalism at university before going on to do a Masters in sports broadcast. After university I spent three months interning at Eurosport, where I covered the Tour de France. In 2012 I started at Procycling Magazine, before becoming the deputy editor of Procycling Week. I then joined Cyclingnews, in December 2013.
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