Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana were second and third in the Vuelta entering Tuesday's time trial.
Movistar is in an enviable position going into the final week of the Vuelta a España, with two riders in the top 3. So why all the sad faces?
The Spanish team expected to be in control of the Vuelta by the time the race hit its second rest day. With Tuesday’s decisive time trial on tap, the team still hopes the race will turn its way.
Nairo Quintana, third at 33 seconds behind leader Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), didn’t offer up any excuses. His conservative racing style has dismayed critics, but he admitted he’s not at his best level.
“The criticism doesn’t hurt, what hurts are my legs,” Quintana said in Monday’s press conference. “That’s why I am not attacking. When there is no more strength, there is no more. I’m OK, but I am not superior than the others. Other years, I’ve done what I could and it worked out, but this year, that’s not the case. I am still at a high level.”
Quintana, 28, came into the Vuelta as the big favorite and showed glimpses he was ready to take control of the race. He struggled on Saturday, however, and on Sunday he raced to limit his losses. That brought a wave of criticism against the Colombian, but he quickly clarified that Movistar is not giving up the fight.
“We came here after the Tour, which was very hard, and others are here after racing the Giro,” he said. “We can see it with [Richard] Carapaz, who was fourth in the Giro and he’s very fresh. We are still in the fight.”
It’s Movistar co-captain Alejandro Valverde who is looking stronger going into the final stages of the Vuelta. The veteran came to the race vowing to help Quintana and hone his form for the looming world championships.
Racing without pressure, Valverde has already won two stages and has been racing steadily to stay with the best. He was due to start Tuesday’s time trial in second place, 26 seconds behind Yates.
Valverde, 38, is expected to ride better than Quintana in the 32km time trial and could even take the overall lead if Yates falters. Quintana said he’s ready to ride in support of Valverde if it comes to that.
“It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve done it,” Quintana said. “We have a good understanding between us. It all depends on the situation of the race.”
Valverde, meanwhile, continues to insist Quintana is the team’s best option with three mountaintop finales looming in the closing days.
“Sure, it would be nice to win [the Vuelta] again, but that’s not to say that it’s going to happen,” said Valverde, the 2009 Vuelta champion. “There’s too much drama going on about who is the leader. We are racing a great Vuelta and that’s what’s most important.
“We have to keep going like this. We want to win the Vuelta with Movistar, it doesn’t matter with who it is.”