Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is one of the smallest riders in the peloton but when the weather turns nasty, he seems mentally and physically tougher than his rivals, somehow finding extra inspiration and aggression in the harsh conditions.
While Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) was dropped mid-way up the 16km Terminillo climb and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) was unable to distance the other climbers with repeated attacks, Quintana was on a different level, despite Tirreno-Adriatico being his first race in Europe and after crashing hard at the Colombian national road race championships.
Quintana speaks quietly off the bike but his character and determination are easy to see. He is as hard as nails.
“I don’t know if I’m the hardest, my rivals have shown they are good in extreme conditions too,” he said modestly in the post-stage winner’s press conference. “Nibali is called the shark for this reason and Alberto is good in the heat and the cold. In the end when you are the leader, you have to be mentally strong and have strong legs in the heart or the cold.
“I knew it was going to be very cold but I was focused. The team took great care of me in the last few days and before the final climb, I was a little bit tense but I wanted to try. When I saw I had a good advantage, I pressed on and finished alone.”
“In Colombia, I live at nearly 3000m. Some days in the mornings, it’s just four or five degrees, it can be very cold. Sometimes it even gets to zero degrees. At altitude, it’s a different cold, but in other races here in Europe it’s been cold and we’ve gotten used to it. It’s not the first time, it was as cold in the Giro d’Italia last year, at the Vuelta and in Catalunya.”
Quintana said the conditions were not too dangerous because the finish was at the summit and all the riders quickly jumped into team buses and cars to get warm. However, like many in the peloton, he wants an Extreme Weather Protocol to be established and respected as soon as possible.
“I think we have to look better at race conditions, above all at our safety,” he said. “I mean when there’s great heat or cold, and also when there are circuits that put our lives in danger. We’re human beings, and I invite all organisers to put their hands on their hearts and think of the riders. Today it was okay. It was a simple climb and so it didn’t harm us. But climbing and descending all day in the rain is different and some consideration for us would be good. After all, we entertain the people.”
Quintana followed on from fellow Colombian climber Lucho Herrara, who won a stage of the Giro d’Italia on Terminillo in 1992 and proudly waved a Colombian flag on the podium.
He explained that he opted to ride his own race on the climb to the finish. He jumped away alone with five kilometres to go and didn’t look back. He finished 41 seconds ahead of Bauke Mollema (Trek Factory Racing) and 55 seconds on Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and most of the other overall contenders.
“I wasn’t watching Contador today but I saw that they (the others) were looking at him,” Quintana said, explaining his race tactics. “The Sky riders took advantage when we were looking at each other. I saw that there was a slowing down and I wanted to try, so I went for it. I felt good and had energy all day, so I tried to attack.”
Quintana admitted that he suffered in the early stages of Tirreno-Adriatico after a lack of racing since crashing in the Colombian national road race. He has clearly found his form after just a few days of racing in Italy.
“I had a hard season last year after my Vuelta crash and shoulder fracture. It took me time to recover and I still have some pain. Then I crashed again in the Colombian championships and I was sad that I couldn’t race at the Ruta del Sol. But thanks to my family, the support, my wife, parents and daughter, I came through it, got back into my training rhythm, so I could get get here to my first race here in Europe and be ready. Everything is good now.”
The overall classification looks good for Quintana. He now leads Mollema by 39 seconds with just a road stage to Porto Sant’Elpidio on Monday and then the final 10km time trial in San Benedetto del Tronto on Tuesday.
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