Just moments after Vincenzo Nibali left the Tour de France's press centre having picked Nairo Quintana as his favourite to win the yellow jersey, the Colombian arrived and immediately pronounced the Italian as his favourite for the title alongside Alberto Contador.
"Everyone has their favourite, and all of the riders likely to be in contention for the yellow jersey are very strong. But when you look at things seriously I think you would have to pick out Nibali and Contador as the biggest favourites," said the Colombian.
Sitting alongside Movistar's co-leader, Alejandro Valverde, Quintana admitted the Tour route offers him plenty of reason for optimism. "I've prepared well and like the parcours a lot. I'm well prepared to get through the tests that lie in wait in the opening week. Beyond that, this is a course that's very favourable to me," he said.
It didn't take long for the issue of Nibali's questioning of Quintana's whereabouts during last month's Critérium du Dauphiné to come up. "I think what he said was misinterpreted and didn't put across what he meant. I was training in Colombia, which is my home country and where my family lives," Quintana asserted. "I've had at least five doping controls in Colombia over the past year," he then explained.
Having skipped over that hurdle, he moved on to answer the question of the hierarchy at Movistar. He described Valverde as his idol when he joined the team in 2012 and his great friend. "When he was the leader I was always there to help him, and we always rode well together. I hope it will turn out to be a great race for both of us," he said.
Valverde immediately underlined the point that Quintana had made rather more delicately. "The Tour route really favours him. He's the strongest climber in the race. I will do everything possible to help him with the objective of winning the Tour," said the Spanish veteran.
If that wasn't clear enough, he added: "Our one clear objective is to win the Tour with Nairo. There may well be some opportunities for the rest of the team, but nothing will stand in the way of our goal of seeing Nairo wearing the yellow jersey in Paris." And if that wasn't enough, he reasserted, "If I have to sacrifice myself for Nairo, I will do it."
Asked to compare himself today with the rider who rode off with the King of the Mountains and Best Young Rider jerseys plus second place on GC on his Tour debut in 2013, Quintana commented: "I'm totally different now. Back then I was quite nervous, but now my mentality is very different. I feel more laid back, I've got more experience, I'm well prepared and completely ready to be the leader of a very good team."
Quintana said nothing should be read into the decision to give him a relatively early start at 3pm in Saturday's time trial, two hours ahead of his three most likely rivals for the Tour title. "It's just to give some of my teammates the chance to do well in the time trial," he said, although early weather forecasts for tomorrow's opening stage suggest it might rain late in the afternoon.
Continuing in his unflappable manner, Quintana also suggested he's not overly concerned by the stage 4 encounter with Paris-Roubaix's cobbles. "I've done some racing on them and trained a couple of times over them, and I like the pavé. It's something different and, even though it's not my terrain, I think I shouldn't do too badly. Helped out by my team, I feel like we might emerge quite well from it."
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