Quintana: I will be the leader at the Tour de France

Nairo Quintana told reporters on Tuesday that he would be Movistar’s team leader at next year’s Tour de France. Speaking after the route for the 2018 edition of the race was revealed in Paris, Quintana said that the matter had already been decided upon, but added that he would be able to work with new signing Mikel Landa if the Basque rider made an appearance at the French Grand Tour.

“Next season I will be the team leader in the Tour,” Quintana said. “This has been agreed with the directors and they will support me with the right teammates. I don’t know if Mikel will ride, but with Alejandro [Valverde] we had similar situations and together we came together for the good of Movistar.”

Movistar has proved adept at sharing the leadership role, and indeed changing it, in the past. They got both Quintana and Valverde on the podium at the 2015 Tour, although they arguably hedged their bets a bit too much when it became clear that they could achieve a rare double podium. Should Landa ride the Tour, he will expect a certain level of freedom even if he has been brought in as support for the Colombian.

The route announced for the 2018 Tour de France has a little bit of everything for the general classification riders. There will be some causes for concern, but there are also elements to cheer for Quintana and the Movistar team. A strong team time trial outfit, the Spanish squad should be able to protect their rider well on stage 3 and could even help him make time on a few rivals. The plentiful mountains will have raised a smile, and he will be grateful that the penultimate day time trial isn’t any flatter – although he’d definitely have preferred it even hillier.

The downhill run to Bagnères-de-Luchon, which caught Quintana out in 2016 when Chris Froome attacked to win the stage and gain time on his rivals, is back for 2018. Quintana will also have to get past more than just the team time trial in the opening nine days, with a cobbled stage like no other to close out the first week. Quintana has tackled the cobbles before, en route to his second-place finish in 2015, but next year will feature close to double what he saw on that day, and he will need his team to get him through.

“I think that it is a route that favours me because we face a lot of mountains. Neither will there be too many kilometres of time trialling and so I think that I can do it at a high level,” said Quintana. “Without doubt, we must pay a lot of attention to the cobbled stage. I will be surrounded by specialists like [Daniele] Bennati, [Imanol] Erviti and [Jose Joaquin] Rojas to ensure that we get through without any problems.”

This year was Quintana’s worst-ever showing at the Tour de France, scraping into the top 10 after suffering hard in the mountains. His attempt to do the Giro-Tour double had taken its toll and he was visibly struggling throughout much of the three-week race. Quintana has notched it up as a learning experience and says that things will change in his programme next year, with fewer race days and a much more cautious approach.

“Perhaps the word isn’t 'error', as I have learned from it all,” he explained. “Yes, I will modify the plan [for next year]. I will not go to as many races nor compete at the maximum level at every one. I would like to arrive fresher in July, the main objective of the season.”

Quintana was once thought to be Froome’s biggest GC rival at the Grand Tours after twice finishing second to him during his first two appearances. The latter two have not gone quite so well for the Colombian, but he still believes that there is a way around Froome to get that yellow jersey.

“He is beatable, for sure. If he wasn’t then I would have to rethink things.”

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