FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Nairo Quintana (Movistar), twice second in the Tour de France, has inspected all the important stages of the 2018 edition — what he called “a difficult, a hard route.”
The Colombian is lining up as a race favorite with teammates Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde. They will face four-time Tour winner Chris Froome (Sky), Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Rigoberto Urán (EF Education First-Drapac), Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) as they contend for the yellow jersey.
To be ready, Quintana rode the Roubaix cobbles of stage 9, climbed in the Alps and Pyrenees, and mounted his time trial bike for stage 20.
“The first week is one which instils respect, but it’s all the same for everyone,” Quintana said.
The race starts July 7 in Vendée with a flat sprint stage. The first phase continues with a team time trial. Stage 9, before the first rest day, the peloton will face 21.7 kilometers over the cobbles as they ride into Roubaix.
“There’s no better or worse rider for such terrain before stage 9, because it’s mainly about good or bad luck. You can struggle, you can suffer from misfortune, but it’s all the same for all competitors,” Quintana said.
“We already saw how Froome was sent home by a crash in 2014, and Contador also falling down and leaving the race a few days later. We know the Tour could come down to such things this year, making you withdrawing or maybe losing much time and having to rekindle your goals for the remainder of the Tour.”
Team boss Eusebio Unzué said the first nine days should probably sort out who will lead Movistar in the overall classification fight. After that, they will need to take control in the big mountains.
“The second half of the Tour — for those climbers who have gotten safely through week one and have good legs — could be good for us, because it’s all big mountains,” Quintana added.
“The strategy will be important, because there will be riders with time losses and things to prove. For any team trying to defend themselves from a leading position it will be harder, because we’re all one man down from previous editions.”
In April, Quintana previewed the Roubaix stage cobbles with Valverde and Landa. After returning from Colombia, he rode some of the climbs he had not yet seen.
The race features a tough new climb, the Plateau des Glières midway through stage 10. Its gradient averages 11.2 percent and it includes pitches of 20 percent. From the HC point at the plateau, the stage continues another two kilometers over lighter gradients on hard-packed gravel to the Col des Glières.
Quintana needed to inspect that climb and some of the others to give himself the best possible chance of taking on Sky and Froome.
“I’ve been able to inspect almost all important stages — I’ve ridden all Alps and Pyrenees stages as well as the time trial on the penultimate day,” Quintana said.
“It’s a difficult Tour, a hard route, where the most important thing will be staying safe and lucky on the first half and strong on the second.”
Quintana is racing his first grand tour after last year’s Tour de France. He finished second in the Giro d’Italia behind Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), but he suffered in the Tour and finished 12th.
“We really focused our efforts this year on tackling the longer climbs and also improving our consistency on time trials. The main goal was to reach Tour time with fresher legs,” added Quintana.
Quintana won the 2014 Giro and the 2016 Vuelta a España.
“Our goal is winning the Tour. It’s the grand tour I’m still missing in palmarès, one that I’ve always dreamt of,” he said. “We’ve got a great team. Let’s hope we can get safely through the first few days, working together as we’ve always done, and hopefully best our rivals for the victory.”