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Although he was the strongest rider on stage six of the Vuelta a España, winning the stage and taking over the red jersey of race leader, Alejandro Valverde has pledged his full support for his Movistar team-mate Nairo Quintana.
Valverde underlined his form when he did much of the driving at the front on the final climb, yet was able to mark an attack by Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and then drop Chris Froome (Sky) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo) and take the stage win.
Quintana was tipped by many to challenge but instead he faded inside the final kilometre, finishing a dozen seconds back in fifth place. Despite that, the race leader has accepted a secondary role in the race.
“Our tactic consisted in riding strongly to control our adversaries. I’m working for Nairo Quintana,” he said. “I don’t know if he had the legs to attack but when Purito did it, I followed Froome and Contador and I eventually won.
“The goal remains the same [after taking the red jersey]. For me, the main leader of the squad is still Nairo, though I don’t rule out my own chances of staying high on GC. I keep really clear in my mind he’ll be doing better and better, and he showed today he’s up for the fight. Many mountains are ahead for him to do great.
“We get on really well with each other and I worked my heart out for him today. If I keep feeling well, I’ll try and go for some more stage wins, though I keep faith GC-wise. The important thing is that one of us Blues can win the race.”
Valverde is coming to the end of his current contract with the team but indicated this week that he will sign a new deal for two or three seasons. It is unclear if a condition of that contract will be to ride for his younger team-mate, but the post-stage reactions of both appear to show a good relationship bereft of rivalry.
“I’m extremely happy for Alejandro,” said Quintana. “He’s a great rider. He did great work for me in the finale and still was able to win the stage – that’s something not many riders can do.”
The Colombian won the Giro d’Italia earlier this year but has done little racing since. He took a long break from competition back at home, then returned this month and won the Vuelta a Burgos. He believes that his form should improve.
“I’m still lacking some pace, you could see in the final kilometre,” he said. “I’m not yet in my top condition, but I hope to keep progressing in the next stages. The important thing for us is to keep the win within the team, no matter if it’s him or me, and for the time being that goal is being fulfilled.”
Both riders hope that Movistar can take the final overall victory at the end of the race. However, according to Valverde, the Tinkoff Saxo leader is a big danger.
“Alberto Contador never comes to the Vuelta as a fun rider,” he said. “He’s had a big crash at the Tour. He’s not back at 100% yet but at about 90%.
“As everyone, I knew he was going well and today, it’s obvious. We know him well. We always have to be careful of him.”