Currently seventh overall in the Vuelta a España, one minute 17 seconds behind the race leader Tom Dumoulin, Nairo Quintana has admitted that his first attempt at the Tour/Vuelta double has taken a lot more out of him that he expected.
The Movistar rider is just 25 years of age and, after finishing second to Chris Froome (Sky) in the Tour de France, hasn’t yet found himself in the same form in the Vuelta.
He was speaking on the race’s first rest day, one day before what many regard as the toughest stage in a Grand Tour in many years. On Wednesday the riders will slug it out on a daunting day in Andorra, taking in no less than six categorised climbs in just 138 kilometres.
“I think that tomorrow’s stage would have been better for me in another point of the season,” he accepted, speaking about both himself and also his team-mate Alejandro Valverde. “It’s the hardest in the Vuelta, no doubt; we came here after a Tour that squeezed the best out of us and we’re reaching this point of the season tired. But that’s mostly everyone’s situation.
“The important thing here is that we’re both ready to keep pushing in a stage that suits us both. Should we find good legs tomorrow, we’ll try to please the fans. We’ll try to offer the best of us two.
“We’re still waiting to see how my body evolves, since I had never ridden this ‘double’ and it’s being difficult. I kept defending myself until this point and mountains are really coming tomorrow. I hope they’re calling for me.”
Valverde is one place ahead of Quintana in the general classification but is at the same deficit to the red jersey of Dumoulin.
He is suffering the effects of a crash and described what he’s finding toughest. “When not sitting on the saddle, I can stand the pain. I hope it won’t be a problem for tomorrow. What really hurts me is raising my arm over my shoulder, that’s what makes me suffer the most right now. I have no bruises, but the crash was really hard.”
Like Quintana, he too is less sharp than he was when he finished third overall in the Tour de France. Still, he’s remaining optimistic.
“We mustn’t make up any excuses: we’re confident about our chances, both of us are doing well, and we’ll fight for success,” he vowed.
“Tomorrow’s stage is really impressive, a really hard one if you’re at 100%, actually. Also, after a rest day we all know that the body reacts quite unpredictably, even more so after a long transfer yesterday, going to bed late, and resting at high altitude, which is not ideal for your body. Many things will affect everyone’s performance tomorrow.”
Looking at the likely rivals, Quintana named four. The first is Fabio Aru, who he believes could benefit from the big gap between the Giro and the Vuelta. Quintana raced both the Giro and the Vuelta last year and while he crashed out of the latter race, knows that it is possible to be fresher than trying the Tour/Vuelta double.
He also noted that Froome appears to be improving and his team is a threat. He says Dumoulin has surprised many due to the level he has displayed thus far, and also gives a nod to Joaquim Rodriguez, who will be riding on home roads and who designed the route of the Andorran stage.
Quintana notes that the team has two leaders and hopes that they can take advantage of both of them being in a good position.
“We’re not as fresh as we were in the Tour, but I hope we can profit from this advantage to make up some time, which could be really good before the TT in Burgos,” he said.
Valverde also sees the value of having two cards to play. He notes that the stages thus far didn’t give much room for strategy but feels that the upcoming days will be much more conducive to the right tactics on their part.
“Now there will be many [stages] where we can play with attacks by one or the another and try something different, whereas the race so far was pushing with the power we could into the last climb.”