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Quintana looks to decisive La Molina as a place to capture Volta a Catalunya

Volta Ciclista a Catalunya 2022 - 101st Edition - 1st stage Sant Feliu de Guixol - Sant Feliu de Guixols 171,2 km - 21/03/2022 - Nairo Quintana (COL - Team Arkea Samsic) - photo Luis Angel Gomez/SprintCyclingAgency©2022.
Nairo Quintana (Arkea Samsic) on stage 2 at Volta a Catalunya (Image credit: Sprint Cycling Agency)

In some ways, the scenario is a very simple one: Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) will head into the Pyrenees on Wednesday at the Volta a Catalunya determined to try and repeat his overall victory of 2016.

Yet when faced by what currently seems like a never ending stream of talented new young racers doing their utmost to push aside the older generation of stars, staying ahead of the pack is easier said than done for riders now in their 30s, like Quintana.

But Quintana, who won the Catalan race six years ago, has managed to do exactly that in two early season stage races in France, the Tour de la Provence and Tour des Alpes Maritimes et Var. And that was prior to placing a solid fifth in Paris-Nice two weeks ago.

So is he looking at a possible victory in Catalunya, Cyclingnews asked the 32-year-old at the start of stage 2.

“I always start a race to try and win it,” Quintana confirmed, “We’re working well as a team and whatever happens, happens.

“But logically, stage 3 [to La Molina] will act as a photo of what could happen on stage 4 [the Queen stage to Boi Taull].”

“Either way, it’s been a great start to the year. I feel strong and we have to make the most of that situation.”

Quintana’s re-run of his devastating early season in 2020 is apparently largely due to an injury and incident-free winter where he has been able to train well in Colombia.

And despite the opposition being at least as strong as in France’s Paris-Nice, the Volta a Catalunya route is considerably more favourable for the Colombian climber, his Arkea-Samsic team said. 

“The lack of a time trial means he’s not going to lose time there,” Yvon Ledanois, the Arkea-Samsic sports director, told Cyclingnews.

“So the key stages to winning will be the third and fourth for sure.

“These are key moments for us as a team. Nairo doing so well, and getting fifth in Paris-Nice was a great result and here we’re looking for a similar result, even if Ineos are looking very strong and Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) will be a big challenge for the overall.”

“It’s a very tough Catalunya this year, but with Nairo, this is a great opportunity.”

Quintana’s climbing in Catalunya will only be tested on Wednesday onwards. But encouragingly, the Colombian showed he was in solid form and perfectly positioned for the flat stages at least, when he made it into the 46-rider front group when the peloton shattered in the crosswinds late on stage 2.

“It was mission accomplished,” Ledanois said in a press statement after the stage, “We’d wanted to be sure he didn’t lose any time on the windy stages, and Nairo had teammates with him as well in that front group to look after him. It was a good operation, good work.”

As for Wednesday’s summit finish, in the year he won in 2016 at La Molina, Quintana finished sixth, just nine seconds down on stage winner Dan Martin. 

However, that was just 24 hours before he blew away the field at the much more ‘classic’ summit finish of Port Ainé. From then on, Quintana stayed in control of the race lead, finally beating Alberto Contador by seven seconds overall. 

Should he succeed again, it would be Quintana’s first outright WorldTour stage race victory since Tirreno-Adriatico in 2017 and as such constitute something of a comeback. But after such a strong start to the season, it would be no surprise if Quintana could turn the clock back by a few years on Wednesday or Thursday in the Pyrenees.

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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, 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. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.