Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is adamant that Chris Froome (Sky), Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) all believe they can still win the Vuelta a España. The red jersey is 3:37 clear of Froome, with Chaves and Contador just behind the Briton.
"Until we reach Madrid, nothing is set in stone. And I will try to increase my overall advantage, if I can," Quintana said at his press conference during the Vuelta's second rest day.
Regarding Friday's time trial in Calpe, where the risk of losing time to Froome is at its most extreme, Quintana said, "I will try to limit the gaps, I'm in good shape and I don't think I'll lose so much time in the time trial I'll lose the jersey." Somewhat contradicting his idea of bulking out his time gap where possible, Quintana added, "This week I will ride on the defensive."
Considering the buffer he currently holds over Froome, Quintana is the favourite for final overall victory in Madrid. "My chances of winning are good," he said.
While Quintana was not instrumental in forming the stage 15 breakaway that has considerably increased his chances of overall victory, the Colombian said that at the start of the stage he had been "watching Contador closely, to see if he planned anything. That's what happened and we knew how to play it out well to profit from the situation."
There are still obstacles ahead at this Vuelta after the tough weekend in the Pyrenees, including Wednesday's stage to Mas de la Costa. "I'm sure it'll produce some kind of surprise, particularly with the very hot weather that's forecast to continue," said Quintana, who also warned of the difficulty of the race's penultimate leg on Saturday.
"Aitana is the climb that concerns me the most, not because it's dangerous for me, but it's a difficult climb. I know I'll get a lot of attacks there."
As for Froome's opinion that the 93 riders who were reinstated from stage 15 after missing the time cut should have remained excluded from the Vuelta, Quintana saw the question from various angles. "There are lots of different points of view, and the best one was that they continue. Without 93 riders, the Vuelta would have lost a lot of its potential for dramatic racing," he said. "But [missing the time cut by so much] showed a lack of respect for the sponsors."
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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