Eusebio Unzúe has confirmed Nairo Quintana's early 2015 race programme and called the Colombian the best climbing talent he has ever worked with.
Quintana, who finished second at the 2013 Tour de France and won this year’s Giro d’Italia, will target the Tour in 2015 and with a climber-friendly parcours, will start as one of the leading favourites.
The Colombian's entire race plan leading up to the start in Utrecht has not been finalised, with some questions over his final preparation race but Movistar team boss Unzúe told Cyclingnews that a number of short stage races would form part of the rider's preparation.
"He will start in San Luis in Argentina and then do Ruta del Sol. Then it's likely that he will do Tirreno and Pais Vasco. He will not do Paris-Nice and the second part of his Tour de France build up is not 100 per cent confirmed so we don’t know about something like the Dauphine. He may go back to Colombia, but it's possible that he could do the Dauphine or the Tour de Suisse. We will see," Unzúe said.
The 2015 Tour de France certainly suits Quintana's characteristics with a distinct lack of individual time trial kilometres and a stack of mountain stages in the second half of the race. However the experienced team manager highlighted the dangers of the opening week in which the peloton will have to navigate through Belgium and take on another bout of cobbles.
"It's a Tour de France for the climbers. So everything depends on how all the climbers arrive at the mountains but all of them must arrive there in a proper condition because the first week is a very difficult one. If they stay safe in the first week then we'll see the climbers fighting it out for the victory.
"There are a lot of risks but it will be dangerous for everyone. The priority is to just survive but there are too many risks for a big tour."
Unzue believes that Quintana is ready to challenge for top honours at the Tour but has been keen to develop the rider at a more gentle pace, despite the climber's natural talent and promise. This year, despite success at the Tour in 2013, Quintana was dialled in for the Giro and came away with his maiden Grand Tour success. Unzue's reasoning for such a selection choice came down to the fact that the Giro would shield Quintana away from the pressures of the Tour, while also giving the rider a chance of leading a team in a three-week race.
"Every year we put together the best calendar for Nairo. This year the best thing was to send Nairo to the Giro d'Italia because of the pressure but next year’s it's fine to go to the Tour de France because he's already got a big tour under his belt. He's got more confidence and more experience, so he's ready."
Ready as he may be, Quintana will need to beat Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali – all previous Tour winners – if he is to pull on the maillot jaune in Paris next July.
"Contador, Froome, Nlibali, and Nairo… the four of them are very similar and they're the four magnificent riders in the peloton. It's a Tour for the four of them and they're all great climbers. They're the leading Grand Tour riders of their generation."
However, for Unzue, Quintana is the most natural climbing talent he has ever worked with - high praise indeed from a team manager who has looked after some of the greatest Spanish riders in the last thirty years.
"For me, Nairo is the better climber out of that bunch but at the same time he's still young and he still has a lot to discover about the Tour de France and he needs to gain experience there. In terms of experience maybe the others are a little ahead of him but like I said, he has a bit more as a climber," he told Cyclingnews.
"He's growing, and we don't know much he'll grow before July but he's certainly the best natural climber that I've ever worked with. We had some great talents on this team over the years but he’s the best climber we've had and the guy with the most ambition. Those two factors are key and higher than in any other cyclist we've ever had."