The slopes of Porte Ainé in stage four of the Volta a Catalunya saw Nairo Quintana (Movistar) produce his first major show of strength in the 2016 season, in the shape of an all-out attack that left the formidable line-up of rival contenders reeling - and himself in the lead.
Quintana’s devastating surge away from Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) in the closing kilometres of the Porte Ainé climb saw him take second on the stage behind Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), and a good 15 seconds clear of Contador and Richie Porte (BMC Racing).
Sixth on the La Molina climb the previous day when he lost seven seconds to Contador, Quintana is now the overall leader of the Volta a Catalunya and with three relatively straightforward stages remaining, he will be very difficult to dislodge from that position.
“We had Immanol [Erviti, Movistar team-mate] ahead in the break of the day and we wanted to respect his chances first of all,” Quintana said afterwards. “But then the race was moving very fast behind and once it all came together, I launched a really big attack.
“I’ve been taking good care of myself and I am satisfied, because this leader’s jersey is the reward for all those sacrifices.”
Quintana did not, he said, make his move when he saw that Contador was struggling, rather the Colombian was convinced of his own chances and knew that if he wanted to take the lead, he had to go clear.
“I don’t know what problems Contador might have had,” Quintana said. “He, too, attacked and then I took my own opportunity.”
Fifth in 2014 and fourth, when he won a mountain top stage, in 2013, Quintana argued that the margins were too tight for him to be certain yet of outright victory. “It’s going to be a stressful race right up to the last day,” Quintana argued, “that last stage [with multiple ascents of Montjuic] is extremely nervous and I hope we’ll be able to keep things under control.”
Nor is he looking at the two riders - Contador and Porte - right behind him on the overall, but Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), too, is a rival Quintana said he will be watching closely.
“Alberto and Richie may be the two biggest rivals I’ve got, but on the climb van Garderen’s attack was the most powerful,” he pointed out. And for all the toughest climbs are now behind the Volta a Catalunya peloton, Barcelona, too, is still three hard days racing away.
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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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