Quintana the Condor flies again in the Vuelta a Espana
Movistar racer makes an impressive late breakaway
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) has shown his rivals and his team that he is ready to fight for the Vuelta a España with an early show of strength on a stage where few would have expected the GC contenders to come to the fore.
Quintana put down a blistering late attack out of a group of six riders, claiming his first-ever victory from a breakaway rather than on a summit finish.
The Colombian's victory places Quintana into pole position amongst the GC favourites and confirms that after his uneven Tour de France performance, where he won a mountain stage but had little impact on the overall standings, he is now up for fighting for his third Grand Tour.
Quintana's win will be a much-needed boost to Movistar's collective morale following Giro d'Italia winner Richard Carapaz's last-minute withdrawal from the team.
It also means Movistar now have a Grand Tour set of wins this season in the Giro, Tour and Vuelta. At the same time, the questions over where Quintana will be racing next season - although it is all but confirmed he will leave Movistar - will surely intensify should he continue to contend for the overall in his current team's biggest home race.
"I had a chance to rest a bit after the Tour, and I've not done much since then because I was very tired, but I was really motivated here," Quintana said.
"Today, we rode on the front, and we were concentrated. I was able to solve the situation with [Alejandro] Valverde, we divided up the work and we have been able to win thanks to that.
"I knew a small group could get away but the climb was really hard and there were even fewer riders that we thought that got away at the top."
"Everybody in the move, though, was interested in it staying away, so we worked for the maximum time gap. There was a tense moment in the finale because everybody wanted the win, but I could find my chance and I was able to get it for myself."
Quintana's stage win comes exactly one month after his Tour stage victory in Valloire.
Stage 2 was also when Alejandro Valverde managed to win last year in the uphill finish of Caminito de los Reyes - and which became the first of several stellar moments in the seemingly endless debate as to whether Quintana or Valverde was Movistar's 'real' leader in the Spanish Grand Tour.
Quintana denied that his win was a show of authority, saying he simply "took advantage of a moment and a victory gives you extra energy.
"Who wouldn't be happy when there's a win? I see it as a kind of payment for the hard work I've done. There have been some bitter-sweet moments but this makes me happy now and makes me feel calmer about what's coming up."
Once viewed as the most likely winner of the Tour de France for Colombia, Quintana has been overshadowed by up-and-coming South American riders Carapaz and Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) and, 24 hours earlier, by Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) who had taken the race lead, Quintana has put himself back on the map again.
Quintana referred to that indirectly when he was asked if his stage 2 victory salute, flapping his arms as if they were wings, had any particular meaning. "People used to call me the Condor and I wanted to celebrate by showing my aim is to fly as high as possible," he explained.
Quite apart from showing that Quintana El Condor is back, he made it plain that he has no intention of winning a skirmish or two in the GC battlefield and then beating a retreat. That became clear when he explained that rather than taking the lead now, it's long-term that he's interested in la roja.
"It would have been my tenth stage in red, so it'd have been nice to take the lead, but it would have been a lot of work to defend it, from the second day of the Vuelta onwards. Rather we have to think about wearing red in Madrid."
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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.