Nairo Quintana (Movistar) was surrounded by huge numbers of cheering Colombian fans in the lower roads of Montjuic Park, stage 7, as he slowpedalled back to the winner’s podium of the Volta a Catalunya. He had a huge smile across his face as he reflected on conquering one of cycling’s biggest week-long stage races.
Already victorious in the Vuelta al País Vasco as far back as 2013, Quintana has also conquered week-long stage races as important as the Vuelta a Burgos inside Spain in 2014, and in Italy at Tirreno-Adriatico in 2015. But with such an impressive line-up in the Volta a Catalunya this year - of the biggest stage racing names arguably only Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Thibaut Pinot (FdJ), and teammate Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) were missing - victory in the Catalan race had an added degree of difficulty, and brought, one imagines, a special sense of satisfaction.
The leader since stage 4’s summit finish in Port Ainé, runner-up Contador was only eight seconds back and he and the rest of the opposition piled on the pressure in the three days that followed, despite the terrain being none too tricky. Contador finally shaved off a second at one time bonus to finish seven seconds back, but despite an avalanche of attacks on the last day through the Montjuic circuit, Quintana kept his cool - and his lead, the fourth smallest in the Volta a Catalunya’s lengthy history.
There had been other complications, too. Later, the 25-year-old revealed that Movistar’s line-up in the Volta a Catalunya had been suffering from a minor flu epidemic. Although he was not affected directly, his teammates were not so fortunate. After Ruben Fernandez pulled out sick with the flu earlier in the race on stage 3, “Jesus Herrada [a non-starter on stage 7] and Marc Soler were both ill and we had to defend the lead with five riders,” Quintana said.
“This last day has been as hard-fought a stage as the whole race has been. I’ve won this Volta with just seven seconds advantage, which is hardly a huge difference and which shows that my rivals are in very good shape. Contador rode very well, and Froome’s condition is improving, clearly. But we’ve won.
“I’m very, very pleased and proud with this win, beating some of my rivals for my next objectives. I have started the year very well, it’s been an incredible win, one of the toughest of my entire career.”
Quintana will cross swords again with Contador in the Vuelta al País Vasco, but he does not feel that he is “ahead of him or my other rivals at this point in time. This is one race, and it’s now over. It’s just good for my self-confidence and shows I’m on a good road for the Tour de France.”
After País Vasco he will race Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and then the Tour of Romandie.
“I’ve been training well, but there’s a long way to go for the Tour, so I have to be cautious. But I am ready for the challenges.” He did not, he said, think he had to make any switches to his build-up for July, although he recognised that with Movistar fighting on the backfoot, “today we had to race as much using our head as our legs.”
Quintana dedicated his win to two teammates who are currently recovering from major injuries, Jonathan Castroviejo and Adriano Malori.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 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. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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