A series of vicious accelerations on the Mas de la Costa summit finish on Friday have confirmed that Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is a force to be reckoned with in this year's Vuelta a España despite his uneven climbing performance at Javalambre two days earlier.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) may have finally won the stage and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana Pro Team) is the new Vuelta leader but there could be no doubt which rider in the leading break of four had been the most aggressive climber on the brutally steep four-kilometre climb.
"I lost count of the number of attacks I did," Quintana, who won on the same climb in the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana but who had to settle for fourth in stage 7 of the Vuelta, said afterwards.
"I was there to work for Alejandro, he felt good and we'd discussed the tactics. I'd also been looking to see how I really was and I felt like I was strong," Quintana confirmed.
Quintana agreed with Valverde's explanation of the team's tactics on Mas de la Costa, that his role was principally to distance the rest of the GC opponents that were following the four leaders - something his repeated accelerations achieved to perfection - as well as wearing down Roglic and Lopez for Valverde's final charge for the line.
"I wanted to attack to see what happened with my rivals and then Alejandro was there to finish it all off," Quintana said, "whenever he sees a finish line, Alejandro gets transformed."
As for who is the leader, Quintana stuck to the line he had told journalists 24 hours before.
"Alejandro is ahead of me in the overall, he's in better shape and I'm not changing what I've said, but we'll see what happens in the race," Quintana, fourth overall and back in the points jersey lead, said afterwards.
"Two leaders in the team?" he replied to one journalist's question. "We're not throwing in the towel. We're both strong, and if I go on feeling like I did today, we'll see what I can do."
Quintana described Jumbo-Visma's Primoz Roglic, whose second place in the stage has moved the Slovenian back up to second overall, as the "virtual leader for now, as we've got that time trial coming up."
However, Quintana's GC options remain intact, even if he continues to insist that "we're here to work for Alejandro."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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