Vuelta a Espana leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar) says that he will be satisfied with his performance if he loses around a minute to Chris Froome (Sky) in Friday’s crucial 37 individual time trial stage between Xabia and Calp.
Quintana, currently with a 3:37 advantage over Froome, was speaking on the eve of the time trial, one of two stages, together with the Alto de Aitana summit finish on Saturday, that will decide the overall outcome of the 2016 Vuelta.
The Colombian had previously said that if he started the time trial with an advantage of more than three minutes on Froome, he would feel secure that he could maintain the lead afterwards. Quintana lost 2 minutes and four seconds to Froome in the Tour's 37 kilometre time trial this July. Losing a minute would therefore still leave the 2014 Giro d’Italia winner with a strong advantage for the final challenge of Aitana.
Quintana argued after safely completing stage 18’s rolling course to Gandia that “more than a minute would maybe be too much, but I’m in good condition.”
"I would say that this is not a course for specialists, either, and that's the kind of course that suits me better."
"Friday is a one-to-one struggle and we'll have to see who has the legs. Starting last, too, as the leader, gives you an added advantage."
Quintana has raced strongly in shorter distance time trials this year, finishing 10th in the hilly Megeve test in the Tour, winning the flat individual time trial in the Route du Sud, taking sixth in Romandie's hilly time trial in Sion and second in the hilly time trial in the Vuelta al País Vasco. All of these courses, though, were less than 20 kilometres, far shorter than Friday's 37 kilometre test in the Vuelta.
In Burgos last year, at the Vuelta, probably the best reference point for recent time trials, Quintana finished a solid sixth, 1:33 down on winner Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) in a 38.7 kilometre technical course. In the longer Tour de France test this year, Quintana lost 2:05 to Froome over 37.5km.
The last time that Quintana had to defend his top spot overall in a medium-distance Grand Tour race against the clock, in the 42.2 kilometre time trial in Barolo in the Giro d'Italia in 2014, he performed far worse, losing 2:41 to stage winner and new race leader Rigoberto Urán. On that occasion, though, Quintana had been both ill, with a cold, and was injured.
"I have done a lot more specific time trial training recently," the 26-year-old Movistar rider argued on Thursday, "and my sensations are very good. With some riders, you can see that their performances tend to slip in the third week of a Grand Tour, and that's usually when I'm at my strongest.
"Time trialling is a weak spot I have, but it's not as weak as it was. So I think I'll make a good defence of my lead, and then I'll be able to do the same on the ascent of Aitana on Saturday."
Quintana promised that he would not, he said, be nervous before what is arguably one of the most crucial race days of his career. "We'll see the course in the morning, warm up as best we can, and then we will see how it goes."