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Rigoberto Uran strolls down the stairs of the hotel, extends a hand to shake and then continues on past the reception and into a vacant dining area. It’s shortly before dinner at the Cannondale team camp but he’s got time for a chat before tucking into his meal.
Uran has recently arrived from the Volta ao Algarve, his first race of the year, and is now starting a block of time at a small hotel on the Teide volcano, high above the clouds.
Located almost 2,200 metres above sea level, the hotel has hosted a plethora of teams and riders in the past, including Chris Froome’s Sky squad and the Astana team of Vincenzo Nibali.
It’s played a part in Grand Tour victories before. Uran hopes that it will do the same for his Giro d’Italia aspirations.
Should that prove to be the case, though, it will be more likely a correlation than a cause. While the altitude is a challenge for the rest of his teammates, it’s a piece of cake for him.
“I live at 2,500 metres in Colombia,” he says, with a smile. “So I don’t really need to come here as I am often in Colombia training. When I come here [to Europe] I come here to race.
“This is the first time I am at this hotel because it is better when I am home, where the altitude is even higher.”
Of course, even if the thin air doesn’t have the same effect on him as it does the other Cannondale riders, it still has more of a benefit than staying at sea level.
Uran is, as you might expect, a climber. He’s got big hair, an expressive face and, under that, a small frame. In casual clothing and jeans he looks very light and it’s not hard to imagine him being at home in the mountains. His palmares attest to that too: in 2013 he finished second in the Giro d’Italia, four minutes and 43 seconds behind Vincenzo Nibali.
He returned the following year and was again the main challenger to the eventual winner, ending the race two minutes 58 seconds off compatriot Nairo Quintana.
Uran also took stages in both editions and while 2015 didn’t go to plan, he’s convinced he can step things up.
“Of course it is possible to win,” he says, in a matter of fact way. He’s not bragging, but simply has faith that he can do it. “Why not? The parcours is really good, there is a long time trial and the team is focussed on the Giro. It is possible.”
Finishing 14th last season was a setback, but he believes he can draw on the lessons he learned then. “The past is the past. I don’t look back,” he says.
“I gained some experience from last year and a few things that happened. So that is going to help me to be stronger and to even better in this Giro.
“I am totally focussed on this Giro. I don’t think much about the past, it was what it was. It was a bit of a learning experience in my life and that should help me this year.”
A fresh start in argyle
After early stints with Tenax, Unibet and Caisse d’Epargne, Uran raced for three seasons with Team Sky and then spent 2014 and 2015 with Etixx-QuickStep. He opted for a change of scenery this season and chose Cannondale over other offers.
His time with other squads has given him a solid level of English, while his South American background gives him an easygoing nature. He seems relaxed and smiles frequently, looking completely at ease when sitting at the head of the dinnertable after our chat.
He’s only been with the squad since the start of the year but appears at home with Cannondale.
“At the moment, everything is okay. Everything is perfect,” he says, reflecting on the environment there. “There are no problems. I am really happy with the team, with the work.
“My first race was in Algarve and everything was great there. For the moment it is perfect for me.”
So, did he consider it time for a fresh start after 2015 and his Giro disappointment?
“It is a new change but my mentality is the same,” he responds. “I am focussed to go to the Giro and to try to win it. I will go for it, this is my main objective.
“I will work for that and I am not thinking about anything else. I am committed to doing it.”
Most of the other riders at the Cannondale training camp in Tenerife will also be doing the Giro. While he could clock up plenty of high altitude training back home, being with the squad allows him to dip in and out of European racing and also to build the understanding and rapport that will be beneficial in May and June.
He knows some of the riders already from the peloton, but spending more time in their company strengthens the bonds and will generate a sense of unity.
One of those present, Davide Formolo, won a stage in the 2015 Giro and seems in good condition at the camp. Young, enthusiastic and motivated, he will be one of those who Uran will be able to call upon in the mountains.
“Formolo is going to be an important rider to help [me],” he says, asked about the young Italian. “But the team have many more people that can help in the mountains and elsewhere.
“I think the team is not just good because of one or two guys, but the entire team is riding well and with ambition for the races. I am confident in them.”
The Italian obsession
Of course, the Italian Grand Tour is still quite some time away. In the immediate future Uran will continue training in Tenerife and then head to Tirreno-Adriatico. That race runs from March 9 to 15 and will be followed by the Volta a Catalunya and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
He likes the latter, believing it is one Classic that plays well to the strengths of general classification riders, and would grab a result there if the opportunity presents itself.
However he makes clear that the Giro is his number one focus. Clocking up a win beforehand would be good for morale, but it isn’t necessary for the legs. Instead, being at his best at the start in the Netherlands is the priority, not least because of what will be a nervous first few days.
“The start is in Holland and that will be crucial as the problem is there is too much wind. It is crazy,” he said, wary of the echelons that could form.
Once the race gets into the mountains he will be much more in his element. He is one of the best climbers in the bunch and when the road pitches upwards he can expect to be there. Even so, he’s most excited about a different type of stage in the race, and believes it could do his campaign a lot of good.
“I like the time trial. It is long, it is really good for me,” he smiles. “The parcours of it is hard. I think this day is really important for me.’
Uran already took a Giro time trial stage, winning the 41.9 kilometre Barbaresco to Barolo test in 2014. When on form he is quick against the clock and sees this year’s ninth stage, a 40.4km race to Greve as being of major importance.
He references that time trial on two separate occasions during the interview and it is clear it is on his mind.
Providing he avoids any time splits in the opening days and then rides well once back in Italy, he knows that the solo test could put him back in pink. That’s what the time trial did for him in 2014 and while he eventually conceded it to Quintana, he’s convinced he can take the overall this time.
If that happens, he’ll have ticked off a massive career goal. “At the moment I prefer the Giro to the Tour because Italy is special for me,” he said, speaking about the race’s importance.
“I have good friends in Italy and the cycling there is special. So I prefer to focus on the Giro rather than the Tour.
“I arrived twice on the podium and I really want to win.”