With a victory in his first Grand Tour earlier this year in the Giro d’Italia, at the Vuelta España, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is widely tipped to become the first rider to take two three-week stage races in a single year since Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) back in 2008. But as the Colombian stood answering questions to the press late in Jerez de la Frontera on Friday evening, he showed no sign of any interest in being labelled as the favourite.
His absence from the Tour de France, Quintana confirmed, perhaps meant that rivals like Contador or Chris Froome (Team Sky) who had crashed out there had stronger race form. But it also meant that “they’ve got a lot of goals here after their Tours didn’t go so well as they would have liked. They may want to make me and Movistar responsible for controlling the race - in fact it’s up to them to do that.”
Quintana, on the other hand, has ticked the box of a Grand Tour victory this year at the Giro in style, and has also taken a recent win at the Vuelta a Burgos. This perhaps explains why the Colombian seems unfazed at the idea that this year’s Vuelta a España - Vincenzo Nibali’s absence notwithstanding - could be a trial run for the line-up Tour de France in 2015. Or that he will be sharing the leader’s role with Alejandro Valverde in Movistar.
“We’ve got a great team here, but we’re not under any kind of pressure. We’re top squad in the WorldTour, Alejandro’s first in the individual ranking, I’m now fourth. Our rivals, though, are stronger than us, they’ve done part of the Tour and races immediately before that. So for sure they’re strong.”
However, he did not reject the idea that he would be going for two Grand Tours in a single year, a task which proved too difficult (albeit by very little) for Vincenzo Nibali in 2013.
“That [winning the Vuelta] is the idea. If it happens, then that would be great. I know it’s difficult, but if I can manage not to lose time or crash in the first week, then I hope I will be able to pull things back in the mountains in the third,” - a very similar strategy, in other words, to how he raced in the Giro this May.
The mountainous route, Quintana said rather diplomatically, “is good for everybody. The [stage 10] time trial is going to be a key moment, but then we’ll see how the rest of it goes. My team’s very strong and I hope it will keep me out of danger in all the stages.”
The absence of Chris Horner (Lampre-Merida), though, is one that he regrets. “I would have liked him to be here. I’ve yet to understand why he had to leave, but I’m sure we’ll meet up again in other races further down the line.”
As for Valverde and how he will share the role of leader in Movistar, Quintana said there should be no problem, relying on the time-honoured cliché that ‘the race will decide’ to clamp down on any prolonged analysis of the issue. “We’re two top contenders and we’re going to try to ensure the win stays inside the team. The race will decide what happens. If Alejandro is going better than me, then we’ll help him. If it’s the other way round, they will help me. I trust him fully.”