Movistar co-leaders Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde recognised in a press conference on Tuesday that - like almost everybody else in the Vuelta a España - the toughest Vuelta stage on Wednesday represents a voyage into the truly unknown.
Each of the two Movistar champions has relative strengths and weaknesses as the Vuelta reaches its decisive stages. Whilst Valverde has considerable experience in racing two Grand Tours, he is still recovering from his crash and shoulder injury on stage 9. Quintana has come through a fraught first 10 days in better shape, but this is the first time the Colombian, 10 years Valverde’s junior, has tackled both Tour and Vuelta in the same season.
“We have to make the most of our joint leadership, that’s what we did in the Tour de France but here we’re not at the same level [as in July],” Quintana said. “We’ll have to take things step by step.”
The Tour this year was exceptionally tough, Quintana recognised, “and those who have done the Tour will be affected by that.”
“The important thing is we’re motivated and the stage favours us,” the climber claimed. “But I’m waiting to see how my body reacts to doing two Grand Tours and so far it’s proving difficult. I didn’t have much time to recover after the Tour.”
In the overall classification, Quintana is in sixth place overall, Valverde in seventh, both 1:17 down on leader Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin). Both are excellently placed, therefore, heading into the mountains, but are aware that if they reach the second rest day next Tuesday without having gained an advantage on the time trial experts like Dumoulin and Froome, it will prove exceptionally hard to regain the upper hand in a much more straightforward final week of racing. The Movistar duo’s time to strike, therefore, is between here and the Burgos time trial.
Although Chris Froome is regularly name checked as the rider to beat, Quintana pointed out that Fabio Aru (Astana), fifth overall, should benefit from having much more time to recover between the Giro and Vuelta - as Quintana himself did last year.
“Froome, too, will be fighting very strongly with his team,” Quintana pointed out, “and Dumoulin has surprised everybody so far. Purito [Joaquim Rodriguez] is racing on home soil here, too.” The Katusha leader, second overall at 57 seconds, has Andorra as his residence and helped design the stage 11 route.
Discussing his injury, Valverde said he felt “well, although it could be better. What really hurts me is raising my arm over shoulder height.”
“Still, we can’t make excuses and we’re confident about our chances. Both of us are doing well and we’ll fight for success.”