PAMPLONA, Spain (VN) — Nairo Quintana says he’s not washed up yet. In fact, the Movistar climber laughs at critics who suggest that Quintana’s best days are behind him.
“The fire hasn’t burned out yet,” Quintana said. “I am still here and I am still fighting. You’ll have Nairo around for awhile yet.”
Quintana, 28, seems relieved to be pedaling into the off-season after what was a rough and tumble 2018. He won two big stages — one at the Tour de Suisse and another at the Tour de France — but fell well short of his target of challenging for the yellow jersey with a 10th-place finish. And perhaps it’s a reflection of Quintana’s stature and consistency in the peloton that anything short of the podium is considered a disappointment.
“I finished the year without realizing my objectives,” he admitted. “It’s frustrating but I was always there fighting. It’s obvious that it wasn’t the year we were hoping for.”
What happened? Quintana said it’s not for a lack of trying. Going into the Tour, he hit podiums in three of the four stage races he started.
“We tried some new stuff with training, and it didn’t work out,” he said. “We’re not entirely sure, but it’s pretty clear that we messed up.”
Movistar isn’t ready to give up on Quintana yet either. Even with the arrival of Mikel Landa in 2018, team management is backing Quintana for another push at the Tour next season. Racing schedules will be outlined in the coming weeks, but it’s already confirmed that Quintana will target the 2019 Tour.
“Nairo has been so consistent over the past several years that people really took notice when he was a bit off his best this season,” said Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué. “Even with Nairo not at his best he managed to win that big stage in the Pyrénées. His class doesn’t disappear in a blink of an eye.”
Quintana admits that he hears the critics who say he lost his attacking style or that he cannot beat back the Sky machine.
“People often say no one attacks, but when Sky is at the front at a very high level, it’s very hard to make a difference,” he said. “When they go at their high rhythm, they know no one can attack them. It’s their big advantage.
“I am an attacking rider,” he continued. “Cycling today is so controlled and it’s often the rider who throws the first punch ends up losing. Everyone knows they can hold a certain level. It’s hard to break that control, so you need to be at the absolute best to do it.”
And that’s what confounds Quintana. He said during his approach to the Tour that he posted some of his best ever numbers in training. Once the Tour started, however, he fell flat. A crash didn’t help and Quintana was in the unfamiliar position of getting dropped in the high mountains.
“During tests this season, I had some of my best numbers ever in my career,” he said. “I just lacked that extra spark I needed on a few key days to be able to challenge for the podium.”
“It just makes me laugh. Because if you can’t, you can’t — it’s that simple,” he continued. “Why attack to help someone who just sucks the wheel their whole lives? We don’t know why, but I clearly wasn’t at my best.”
Quintana shrugged off suggestions he was unhappy at Movistar and emphasized he’s not thinking about switching teams just yet. He also downplayed the perceived rivalry with Landa.
“Of course I would like to be the solitary leader and have the entire team at my disposal, but that is not what the team wants,” he said. “Having two options can be a good thing. Look what happened at Sky this year at the Tour. People talked about tension between us, but in the end, we got along well and we are friends.”
“Froome might like to call me the favorite, but it’s Froome who is the [Tour] favorite,” he said. “I think Froome is very motivated to win a fifth Tour. He is the man to beat.”
And Egan Bernal? Any growing rivalry to be the top Colombian favorite? Quintana laughed again.
“Of course he will be a great rider but we still don’t know how well he will go as a grand tour leader,” Quintana said. “There is no problem. We hope that there are 50 more Egans and 50 more Nairos.”
That yellow jersey dream still burns bright inside Quintana even if some critics have already written him off.