While his rivals compete in the Criterium du Dauphine and Tour de Suisse, Movistar's Nairo Quintana is preparing to put the final polish on his Tour de France form at next week's Route du Sud - la Depeche du Midi.
Having won the Tour de Romandie and Volta a Catalunya and been on the podium in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and Tour de San Luis, the 26-year-old said he preferred to train at altitude longer and then do a less intense race before the Tour de France. However he is more convinced than ever about his chances of victory at the 2016 Tour de France.
"We have done a good preparation, I am healthy, and I'm emotionally very well with the family," Quintana said speaking at press conference in Colombia before travelling to Europe. "So far everything is going well. I always say I'm a professional, I've trained one hundred percent to reach the big goal, and then I leave everything in God's hands."
After his victory in the 2014 Giro d'Italia, Quintana was a favourite to win the Vuelta a Espana that year, but he had a terrible crash in the stage 10 time trial, then abandoned the next day. He ended his season with his mind on the 2015 Tour de France, where he came second to Chris Froome (Team Sky) largely in part due to stage two, where he was caught behind the split in the crosswinds. Without that time loss, Quintana might have come close to beating Froome and he won't make the same mistake twice.
This year, he says his level is higher than last year and he is more mature and relaxed.
"This year I rested well, trained well and the spring races were better than last year, I won two and in the other I was third," Quintana highlighted. "My level was higher and I think that I am maturing more every year. I am the same as last year, with more maturity and tranquility, knowing that I have a good team that will help me."
Quintana's decision to race the Route du Sud rather than the WorldTour events this week, he says, "allows me to get race pace without pushing my body to the limit."
"The last races we've done ended a month ago, and we are also facing a tough race in the Tour. I've done the race several times - I won once (2012) and last year I was second (behind Alberto Contador). It has enough French mountain roads, and is good enough to finish the preparation."
The Route du Sud fourth stage heads over the Col du Tourmalet with a finish on the Col du Coraduque, but otherwise it is less severe than the Criterium du Dauphine or Tour de Suisse.
"After the Route du Sud, it is eat, sleep and train and wait for the Tour," Quintana joked.
Tour de France dreams
Quintana has been second in the Tour de France to Froome twice (in 2013 and 2015), and has become a celebrity in Colombia. He is hoping to become the first ever Colombian winner of the Toui de France.
"I want to win and I want to give that joy to Colombians," Quintana said.
"Winning the Tour de France has always been my dream. When I began cycling and told my friends I wanted to win the Tour one day and win stages, they laughed at me. 'Laugh, but I will go there and at least I'll try,' I answered them. And I am, I am being professional, doing things in the best way, and thanks to a Movistar team that supports me, because without them we would not be the artists of this great circus."
The Movistar rider has previewed almost all of the climbs in this year's Tour, either on the bike or in a car, and is pleased with the route.
"The return to Mont Ventoux gives me a good feeling. When I raced there (in 2013), I arrived almost half dead and gasping for air, because I attacked from afar. So this year I will make an attack that far again to see how my rivals respond," he joked.
"There are difficult and very good stages that I like, like that of Mont Ventoux, Emosson, the high mountains, and there is a very special stage that excites me: Morzine - because I won there in the Dauphiné (2012). And the time trial will also be important for the overall standings."
Quintana thinks last year's Tour route suited him but this year's is also suitable as he has made improvements in time trials, as he showed in the Pais Vasco where he was second to Contador by just five seconds, and in Romandie. At this year's Tour de France there is a flat 37km test on stage 13, and a 17km mostly uphill time trial on stage 18.
His big rivals
Watching Contador and Froome battle it out in the Dauphine, Quintana said it is clear the pair will be his main rivals in the Tour de France, but thinks Astana's Fabio Aru has shown himself as a threat, too.
"There are others to consider, such as [Thibaut] Pinot and [Romain] Bardet. Last year, Froome's attacks were very powerful and none could follow."
This year, Quintana says he has delayed his top preparation in order to come good in the third week and be better equipped to respond to Froome's attacks.
His Movistar team for the Tour is taking shape, with 12 on the long list, but Alejandro Valverde, Imanol Erviti, Gorka Izaguirre, Jonathan Castroviejo and Winner Anacona sure bets.
"They are teammates with which I feel comfortable," Quintana said.
"Sometimes they tell me to take a stronger one, but I prefer one who is a little less but that gives me one hundred percent, not the strongest that saves a little for his own performance. I give my opinion to choose the best team. It's hard to choose, because they are all in very good shape, but it will be decided after the Dauphiné and Switzerland."
"Daniel Moreno I think will be key to helping me in the last week. Valverde reached at a high level the Giro d'Italia, and wants to focus on the Olympics and come to the Tour to fully help, and is another great rider we have for the last week. It is regrettable that Malori had the crash in Argentina, and is still recovering. We have not had a good year in terms of falls and injuries, several good riders have been affected, but we still have a good team."
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