Saying that he believes he is returning to the type of form he started the Giro d’Italia with, Nairo Quintana has said that he hopes to finish on the podium, if not take the overall victory in the race.
The Colombian rider finished second in last year’s Tour de France, but thus far hasn’t seemed like the same rider. However Saturday and Sunday’s stages showed flashes of strong form and he lopped 25 seconds off his compatriot Rigobert Uran’s lead.
He is sitting fifth overall heading into the final third of the race, but still needs to make up two minutes and 40 seconds to get level with the Maglia Rosa.
Quintana said that the problems he had earlier in the race complicated things for him and put him in his current situation.
“I can’t compare my physical level to the one I had in the Tour last year. I had got to the Giro in very good form, willing to do well, in perfect weight, with good training… but a problem came by after another, with the crash, the flu,” he explained during Monday’s rest day.
“They played a massive effect on my condition. With all problems I had, it was a situation more to go home and recover than staying here. I had high fever in many stages… Despite everything, I never thought of withdrawing. I always fought to recover and fight for what we came for, especially because I have a strong team behind, which helps me out to carry on.”
However Quintana has said that things are looking up as regards his health and, as a result, his condition is improving.
“I’m getting past that flu, also the infection in my throat… that also takes energy out of you. The pain, too. I really hope that the rest day helps me to overcome it,” he said. “At least, I’m feeling my legs better with every single day passing by, and I hope to fight for the podium, at least.
“Despite all problems I had, I’m still here. I’m sure I would have lost much time less than I did to Rigo if I had had good health – yet he still did a spectacular TT. It’s beautiful, this rivalry between Colombians. Both of us have our own fans and ride differently. If I don’t win, I prefer him to do it, and for Colombia, the important thing is having a countryman winning, I think.”
Tuesday’s 16th stage is one of the toughest in this year’s race and crosses three major peaks. Each are over 2000 metres; the Passo Gavia is the first and reaches 2618 metres, while the subsequent Passo Dello Stelvio is 2758 metres and the highest point of this year’s Giro.
The third climb is the 2059 metres Val Martello Martelltal and will conclude the stage.
There is however the possibility that the stage will have to be modified if snow falls or the road freezes. As of Monday the race organisers believed that the three climbs would be passable; Quintana hopes this is the case, describing it as the perfect scenario if he can fight his rivals on the scheduled parcours.
“The best for me would be riding all the climbs tomorrow,” he said. “Should it be on my favour or not, the gaps won’t be the same at the finish if you only climb Val Martello. But it’s obvious I can’t do anything for the stage to be covered as planned or not. If the roads are in bad condition, the first thing for us is safety.
“With all three climbs things become different: riders will be more tired at the end, whereas all of them will feel like they have a chance with only one climb, even more with the rest day in between. Cold weather? I don’t prefer it to heat, but it doesn’t do really bad for me either.
“I have made up time in these last few days, and I feel physically better – our idea for tomorrow is gaining as much time as possible. If Urán loses just twenty seconds every day, it’s obvious we don’t have space enough for him to lost all the advantage, but you can see that everyone is having a worse day every stage: you saw Evans losing time, also Pozzovivo… he might fade someday, even myself.”
While the latter had a bad stage on Sunday, Uran said that he still continues the Italian climber to be a big threat. He’s not sure if the rider in second overall will continue to ride as well as he has.
“Evans lost more time and seems like he’s losing his strength,” he said.
“Ever since the first Giro press conference I said there would be some surprises and that has been Aru so far – though he might not be for his team. Seeing how he rode yesterday, I’m sure he will be more controlled by the rest, but he will be up there for the podium, as well as Majka. Riders on form, like Rolland, can also change the race strategies with their attacks, and become a good ally for some favourites.”
Quintana said that if he can recover his full health, the mountain time trial should suit him better than Uran and help him to recoup as much time as possible. However he noted that the Omega Pharma Quick Step rider is in strong form right now while he himself is not yet there; it appears that Quintana’s chances of winning the race hinge on how well his health is in the next few days.