Quintana takes over from Valverde in Volta a Catalunya

Warming down behind the winners' podium at Volta a Catalunya and well wrapped up against the fast plummeting temperatures at the summit of Valter 2000, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) gestured to reporters that he needed a little time to gather his thoughts before speaking.

That was perhaps logical, given that there was much to chew over for Quintana - even if, initially when Egan Bernal (Team Sky) launched his first, strongest, attack some five kilometres from the summit only Quintana had been able to go with him.

As Quintana's teammate and the pre-race favourite, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), struggled and ended up shedding over two minutes, effectively knocking him out of the GC battle. It briefly looked as if the top two finishers in Paris-Nice, Bernal and Quintana, would be the top two contenders in the Volta a Catalunya as well.

But when Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) regained contact with the two Colombians, followed by Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana Pro Team) and Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates), the GC battle broadened out again, and it stayed that way to the finish.

With so many contenders still within striking distance of the lead, still held, albeit tenuously, by Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) after stage 3, what is the toughest summit finish of the Volta a Catalunya arguably ended up producing as many questions as it did answers. But as Quintana pointed out, at the very least, he was once again up there with the top names.

"I was trying to go with the best climbers, and it was a good day" Quintana - himself no slouch in the mountains - told reporters after his warm-down and as he added yet more layers of clothing to head down to the team bus.

"Now we'll have to see what effect this tough stage has on the peloton's legs tomorrow, which is another hard day."

"But I'm still up there, I'm still fighting and I hope to finish off this Volta a Catalunya in good shape."

Asked if he would have preferred a tougher, steeper finish to be able to drive off the other contenders who bridged back across, Quintana answered: "no, the finish was what it was."

"Egan is very strong" - although Quintana was able to shadow him on each occasion - "and I held on as best I could. First, we were alone together, then others came across, and then there was the sprint. Now we'll have to see how the team plans to tackle tomorrow's [Thursday's] stage."

Valverde himself did not talk to reporters on the line, preferring to head straight to the team bus, but Quintana said that he had been warned by the World Champion during the stage that he was not having a great day "and that I'd have to do what we could in the finale."

Himself a winner of the Volta a Catalunya in 2016 and the runner-up in 2018, as well as being a winner at Valter 2000 in 2013, Quintana said that he rated both Yates and Bernal equally highly as rivals for the overall victory in 2019. But he pointed out that Team Sky's impressive showing on the lower slopes of the Valter 2000, where Bernal's teammates drove so hard they almost singlehandedly shredded the peloton, "shows just how strong they are."

The Volta a Catalunya, normally decided at its first big summit finish, thus remains unusually open - if , with all due respect, Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) is discounted as a possible winner overall - 13 riders still lie within 90 seconds over the best-placed GC contender, Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott).

Quintana himself is only eight seconds back on Yates, albeit in fifth place overall, and as he put it after the stage, "there is still a lot I can achieve here." Tomorrow's stage to La Molina, in any case, could well see the Colombian star giving his rivals some more food for thought.

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