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Speaking in advance of Tuesday’s important time trial, Vuelta a España general classification leader Nairo Quintana has said that he doesn’t think he will give up much time – if any – to his rivals.
The Colombian is a climbing specialist rather than an expert against the clock, although he did win the uphill time trial in the Giro d’Italia en route to overall success. He believes that gains made in that discipline should help him in the undulating test, which includes a third category climb topping out at kilometre 11.2 and then a gradual descent towards the finish.
“I made slight improvements in my TT performance and I think I’ll be close to the competition tomorrow,” he said. “Should I lose any time, it’s obvious that it will be because they’re better specialists than me on time trialling. I don’t think I’ll lose much, though.
“I’m having good legs now and I hope to keep them that way tomorrow and ride to my best.”
Like many of the riders, he’s hoping that temperatures are more balanced that previous days, being neither too hot nor too cold. If that happens, he believes it will suit him better.
Quintana won the Giro d’Italia and then took a long break from competition. He returned in the recent Vuelta a Burgos, winning a stage plus the overall classification and also taking the best climber award.
Despite that, he said that he was lacking sharpness in the Vuelta, but inherited the race lead when his Movistar team-mate Alejandro Valverde was distanced on Sunday’s stage nine.
“I wasn’t really thinking about taking the lead yesterday,” he said, explaining that he would have been happy to wait longer. “I thought I would snatch the leader’s jersey during the last week, where I think I’ll be doing better and the team will perform at its best into the mountains.
“The opportunity to take it just came along by the race situation, but I’m not leading by a huge gap either.”
He holds a three second advantage over Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo) and is eight seconds up on Valverde. Stage nine victor Winner Anacona (Lampre-Merida) is one second further back in fourth, while Sky’s Chris Froome – who is regarded by some as a big threat for the time trial – is 28 seconds off red in fifth.
Quintana is taking nothing for granted, but pledges to battle. “We’ll fight to keep the jersey until the end if everything goes right, but we know it won’t be easy by any means. Still, we’ve got a strong team and that keeps us calm for what’s to come.”
Sizing up his rivals, he believes that there was an element of bluff prior to each contenders’ cards being fully revealed. “We knew that many things our rivals said before the race were just words, with no value. The reality was what we all could see in the last few days: every single favourite who came to this race was at 100% before starting the race.
“We saw yesterday who will be the real GC contenders: we had the strongest favourite, Contador, doing really well; despite his crash in the Tour, he might be doing even better than we could predict, though I already thought before the race he’d be the biggest favourite, and I’m not mistaken up to this point.
“Then, there’s Purito [Joaquim Rodriguez], who’s also showing great form, and also Froome. We’ll see how he does tomorrow in the TT so we can predict how far he can get in the race.”
Movistar has one advantage over the other teams, namely two GC contenders who are both riding well. Quintana and Valverde can play off each other and he suggested that a strategy has been worked out to make the most of that.
“It will be a bit more difficult for our rivals – we know we must be intelligent and play our cards in the most appropriate moments, both Alejandro and I.”
He suggested that personal ambition must be set aside if and when necessary. “The important thing for us is having the team win the race. We must keep our commitment, stay calm and profit from every chance, though the last week will be more demanding and might probably be decisive. Still, anything could happen.”
Valverde echoed this, saying that whatever the time trial result, both riders will remain focussed and stay determined. “It doesn’t matter what result we get. We’ll keep fighting to win the Vuelta and let the fans enjoy. The most important thing for us, above all, is to keep enjoying with what we do and achieve: me, Nairo and the whole team.
“We came into this race with a clear idea in mind, which was winning the Vuelta, and at the moment we’re in first and third place. We’ve got a strong team for the two weeks left in this race and we’re stronger than our rivals, since there are two of us.”