Quintana promises to defend Tour de France King of the Mountains lead to Paris
With GC battle forgotten, Colombian makes Tour polka-dot jersey his new target
Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) has confirmed that his focus in what remains of the Tour de France will be maintaining his lead in the climber's classification all the way to Paris.
Off the front nearly all day on stage 9, Quintana was definitively dropped by Ben O'Connor (AG2R Citroën) and Sergio Higuita (EF Education-Nippo) shortly after the leading trio had begun the ascent to the summit finish in Tignes.
Despite that setback in one arena, Quintana's impressive performances mid-race – where he took maximum KOM points on the Col du Pré and Cormet de Roselend as well as a second place on the earlier first-category Col des Saisies – have propelled the Colombian into the top spot overall in the mountain classification.
To judge from the massive hug he exchanged with team manager Emmanuel Hubert afterwards both he and Arkéa-Samsic were delighted with that particular outcome, even if the stage win eluded him.
Quintana has already taken the Tour's polka dot jersey overall once before, way back in 2013 in his Tour de France debut. But that achievement as well as the best young rider win in 2013 was all but forgotten in the excitement of his second place overall, which opened up a series of GC bids that only really ended with a bad crash and injuries during the 2020 race.
This time round with the yellow jersey battle no longer a priority, Quintana has said that he will focus exclusively on keeping the polka-dot jersey within his team for the next two weeks.
"I am happy, the overall classification was always hard for me this year because of the two time trials. So I'm going to fight for the mountains jersey and see if we can get a stage win with Warren [Barguil] or Nacer [Bouhanni]," Quintana told French TV following stage 9.
"I had a bit of a crisis on the last climb. It was a big effort right from the start of the race, and I was pretty much dead when we started to go up it."
"It's a very prestigious classification. It's important for the sponsor and for the team. We've been looking for it, we've got it and now we'll defend it, with as much energy as we can muster."
The Colombian did climb 13 places on GC to 16th on Sunday thanks to one of his best Tour performances in the mountains since he won the stage 18 to Valloire in 2019, which included the Col d'Izoard and the Col du Galibier. His last Tour de France win before that came on the Col du Portet in 2018 – a climb which coincidentally the race will revisit next week as another summit finish.
The reality last year was that Quintana has gone from being an integral part of the GC battle to a disinterested observer with a ringside seat of the fight for the overall. With a 25 minute gap on overall leader Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) the Colombian has considerable room for manoeuvre on the climbs, and his rising form will make him a force to be reckoned with in the mountain stages to come.
"It's a very interesting GC struggle, but I'm focussed on my own fight for the King of the Mountains classification, and it won't be easy to do that," Quintana recognised.
"You certainly don't just pick this jersey up by chance on the road to somewhere, and sometimes it's even harder than a stage to win. But we'll do our best."
Quintana currently has a narrow eight point lead in the ranking over Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation) in the classification, with former mountain classification leader Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious) now dropping to third with 39.
The battle for yellow may look to be more than decided but the battle for the polka-dots is only just getting underway.
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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 Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.