The voice of the speaker at the summit of the Mirador del Potrero rose several decibels when the grainy images on the big screen behind her showed a familiar figure in a Movistar jersey bridging across to the two leaders. It was not, as she initially thought, Nairo Quintana, however, but his younger brother Dayer, and shortly afterwards, he too fell back, unable to match the pace of stage winner Dani Diaz (Funvic).
It was that kind of day for the Quintana brothers on stage 2 of the Tour de San Luis. The external expectation was that Nairo Quintana would sparkle on the slopes of the Mirador del Potrero, but before the race began he had warned that he was still some way short of his best.
So it proved on Tuesday afternoon. Recognising that attempting to match Diaz’s ferocious surge would have been a folly, Quintana opted to climb at his own tempo and looked instead to marshal his younger brother into a winning position.
Dayer Quintana flew too close to the sun by following Diaz, however, and he wilted in the closing kilometres. Nairo’s decision to channel his inner Daedalus was perhaps a wiser strategy. He finished the stage in 7th place in a group with Dani Moreno (Katusha), 27 seconds down on the startling Diaz.
“It was very hard at the bottom of the climb, the speed was really fast,” Quintana told a group of reporters after downing three bidons of water immediately after crossing the line. “I was hoping that my brother would be able to keep up with the leaders and I told him to try to follow Diaz’s wheel.”
Easier said than done. Diaz and his breakaway companion Rodolfo Torres (Colombia) pulled away steadily from the chasers all the way to the top of the climb. Quintana, meanwhile, was limited largely to following the wheels.
“There were a lot of attacks at the bottom. Dayer suffered quite a bit so he had to ease off,” Quintana said. “I just went up at my own pace, but Diaz has proven to be stronger than the others right now.”
Twelve months ago, Quintana started his campaign in Argentina with a convincing overall victory, the first leg of his build-up to Giro d’Italia victory. This time around, his entire year hinges on the Tour de France in July, but perhaps more importantly, he arrived at the Tour de San Luis on the back of a truncated winter.
Quintana’s time on the bike has been limited in the off-season after fracturing his shoulder blade when he crashed out of the overall lead at the Vuelta a España in September. Despite the excitement that follows his every move here in Argentina, on and off the bike, Quintana was sober in his assessment of his chances in this rare South American outing.
“Like I said before the race, I'm only at 50 percent and I still have a lot to improve and work on before my main goals later in the year,” Quintana said quietly after a soigneur helped him into a jacket. “We'll see what we can do as a team in the remaining stages."
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