Sitting eighth overall and just over two minutes down on Sky's Chris Froome as of the first rest day at the Tour de France, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is not playing down his struggles so far in the race. However, he's not throwing in the towel just yet.
"So far it's been more about will than might. We're still up for the fight, though, and we'll try to keep improving," he said at the Movistar team press conference on Monday. "We have lost some time until yesterday, and to be honest, it was only due to lack of energy. However, there's still a long way to go in this Tour, and we're so determined to do great things in what's to come. I'm not going through my best moment as a pro, that's obvious, but I still hope to go through some 'brilliant' days in the remainder of the race."
Quintana, twice a runner-up at the Tour de France and third overall last year, decided to attempt the Giro-Tour double this season. He came up short in the first leg of the challenge in Italy, finishing as Giro d'Italia runner-up to Sunweb's Tom Dumoulin.
Pulling off the win in the second half of the double became even more of a challenge over the weekend as Quintana was dropped on the hors-categorie Mont du Chat and finished 1:15 down on the GC leaders. He acknowledged that things hadn't quite worked out as expected.
"I felt good yesterday and I continue to do so today, but it's evident that I'm not finding the same watts on my legs as I expected to do before the race," he said. "We all were convinced about my chances to shine right from the start, but at the end, it's only about the 'here' and 'now', and I didn't respond well."
In past Tours, however, Quintana has shined in the third week, and he remains hopeful of the possibilities to climb the leaderboard in the mountains to come.
"It's true that I've got many racing days on my shoulders, considering I completed the Giro. I don't know if I'll get better during the next two weeks or not. But I'm really hopeful about finding my best legs, even for one day, and I can just hope it's in an important stage," he said.
"It might look as through Froome is doing slightly worse than in previous years, and many riders are quite close to each other. That's why I don't consider it's a big gap already for me behind them. If I find that great day, anything can still happen."
Despite his current position a bit further down the overall standings than he or his team had hoped Quintana refused to second guess his decision to ride the Giro d'Italia.
"I'm not regretful at all about having ridden the Giro. It was a gamble, something different. We still have a lot to learn in cycling, and we will draw many positive and negative conclusions about these months in order to improve in the future," he said.
"It's true that I have ridden all of the last four Grand Tours, but I also enjoyed some good breaks, had a winter between them, stayed weeks away from competition between all of them - there's of course many things we can improve, though. It's the first time we ride both the Giro and the Tour in the same season – the Giro was really hard and the pace here at the Tour hasn't been slow, either."
Movistar's Tour camp might be in higher spirits had their most successful rider of the season not crashed out on the first stage of the race. Alejandro Valverde, third at the Tour in 2015, looked primed to play a pivotal role as a lieutenant or possibly even an alternative to Quintana coming off a brilliant spring, but abandoned the race after a serious fall in the opening time trial. Quintana was sure to spare a thought for his recovering teammate in the press conference Monday.
"It's evident that we are really missing Alejandro," he said. "He's left a big void inside this team. We have really lacked help like his at many points of the race, also from a strategical point of view. His absence forces everyone to work even harder to make up for it."