With a daunting Giro-Tour double attempt on tap, Nairo Quintana has made some changes to his training approach this season. The Movistar rider may have two Grand Tour victories on his career palmares already, but this year, he's aiming to extend his form across two demanding races. It's a tall order, but according to Quintana, his build-up has been just what he'd hoped for ahead of the impending trip to Italy.
"My season so far has been really good. I've claimed two overall victories, with a stage win in each, and all of my teammates' performances as well as mine have been satisfactory. We couldn't have asked for more before the Grand Tours and we hope to continue with that streak in the Giro," Quintana said in an interview published by his Movistar team Thursday.
The 27-year-old Colombian, who will ride the Vuelta Asturias this weekend as his final race appearance before the Giro, has enjoyed excellent results in a somewhat limited racing calendar thus far in 2017, taking GC victories and stages, too, in both the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and the WorldTour-level Tirreno-Adriatico.
Considering the results, Quintana is content with his 19 days of competition leading into the Giro. "I think it's enough," he said. "I feel I'm where I was supposed to be – because you can never forget that there's the Tour after the Giro. You can't add too many days to your racing schedule, otherwise you'd end up cooked. It's all about keeping the momentum, after some good racing and training. I feel well at the moment."
In any case, the new challenge of targeting two three-week stage races has warranted a change of approach for Quintana in his race preparation. He trained for more than a month at home in Colombia, with his coach joining him there to help get him locked in for the run at the double. As part of that training, Quintana spent time working against the clock, an effort that remains ongoing with the Giro featuring serious chrono mileage this year and the Tour offering a pair of individual time trials as well.
"I took things easier in the offseason, but the first part of the season really got me in good fitness from early. We've tried to just fine-tune that form with some quality work in Colombia, not too much because of the road ahead, with both the Giro and the Tour, will be a long, tough one," he said.
"It was all about the Tour in previous seasons and the Vuelta was only an afterthought, we didn't base our efforts on saving energy for it. This time, though, we knew we had to aim at both of them, and the preparations have changed. It has also meant I wasn't racing the exact same courses I did in previous years - the plan was getting to Colombia earlier, rest up, train more and approach the Giro fresher. Happily, I could take advantage from my stay there and have some fresh air before those two Grand Tours.
"We also took on some more TT training during my stay in Colombia, as we kept in mind that the Giro has included a longer time trial in this year's course. We've also made some changes on our TT bike setup, and that will require some more late training to get used to it."
Building a buffer in the mountains
The Giro's two time trials come on stages 10 and 21. The first involves a fair bit of climbing, putting more into Quintana's comfort zone. While he noted that a few rivals like Astana's Vincenzo Nibali and FDJ's Thibaut Pinot are strong against the clock, stage 10 won't provide as clear an opportunity for them to pull ahead of Quintana.
"It's a long, hard course. I don't think it should play much against me, because it has some slopes that could help me limit my losses," he said. "I should defend myself well against the specialists. It could also be good for me that the GC contenders are not-so-strong time trialists."
The time trial finale, on the other hand, will be a serious challenge for Quintana. Purer time trial talents will have a clear advantage on the speedy 29.3km course, meaning Quintana will need to pad his lead in the mountains prior to the last day of the race. The Colombian circled stage 16, which ascends the Mortirolo, the Stelvio and the Umbrail Pass, as the queen stage of the 2017 Giro.
"It's going to be special also because of the high altitude, almost reaching 2,800 metres above sea level – that could take its toll on many riders," he said. "We'll also have to pay attention at that final descent to the line."
Quintana has tipped Nibali as his top rival for the race, considering the Italian's all-rounder skill set and history in the Giro, but also rattled off several other names to watch, while sparing a thought for an injured Fabio Aru too.
"Aru's absence obviously means I'll have one less rival to face, but I deeply regret he won't be racing," he said. "He's one of those competitors who really make a race great. He's been fighting a lot for the overall wins in the Giro and that spices up any race.
"Looking at the rest, the biggest rival should be Nibali. This is 'his' race, he's at home, it's the 100th Giro. Surely he'll reach the start in very good shape, and with his team racing it together for the first time, they'll surely want to make their mark.
"The other main contenders have pretty much equal chances, and we shouldn't rule out any one. Pinot is a strong climber, one who copes well with the toughest courses, a real fighter. Kruiswijk - well, everyone could see he'd have won the Giro if not for that bad crash. Landa has also come close to winning this race, and the course always suits him well because of the long, steady, tough climbs. The Yates brothers have also been close to podiums in the Tour and many other races. All of them have got more mature year by year, and that will make extremely difficult to beat them."
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