ÁVILA, Spain (VN) — Despite falling sick and behind in the Vuelta a España, Team Movistar still considers Nairo Quintana its ace to take on Sky’s Chris Froome in 2016.
After three weeks of racing, the Colombian, who placed second twice behind Froome in the Tour de France and won the 2014 Giro d’Italia, sits fifth overall at 3:02 in the Vuelta. Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) led by a slim six seconds with two stages to race.
In July, however, Quintana nearly upset Froome on his way to his second Tour title in Paris. No other cyclist came as close as he did. He lost what turned out to be a crucial 1:28 in stage 2 in the Netherlands, but pushed Froome to his limit in the Alps. His attack on the Alpe d’Huez stage garnered him 1:26 and put him within 1:12 of Froome.
“No,” team manager Eusebio Unzué said when asked if Quintana, 25, will change his approach to 2016. “We need to see the routes of the grand tours when they are unveiled. Normally, though, the Tour is the one that suits him and takes precedence. To also think about racing the Vuelta or the Giro at 100 percent will be difficult.
“Taking out that Dutch stage, Nairo would be there. But, for sure, we can’t re-do that. In the mountains, he was there. Nairo was truly the strongest in the mountains, that’s clear, but Froome never made a mistake, and he was always well protected from his team.”
When Froome rode to his first title in 2013, Quintana took all the leftovers. He won the final mountain stage above Annecy, the white young rider’s jersey, and the mountains jersey.
Unzué, who worked with riders from Miguel Indurain to Alejandro Valverde, protected his star. In 2014, he took him to the Giro d’Italia so that he would have a chance to win a grand tour prior to returning to the Tour and facing Froome. Quintana succeed to become the first Colombian winner in the race’s history.
This year’s Tour could have gone just as well. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) were off the mark, which put the task of beating Froome in Quintana’s hands. Because he was held up behind a crash, however, Quintana missed the crucial split and lost 1:28 along the wind-swept Dutch roads. He could never recover that deficit.
A rematch at the Vuelta did not happen. Nibali was ejected, Froome abandoned with a broken foot, and gastroenteritis and a fever ruled Quintana out.
Unzué, however, keeps faith in Quintana. “The Vuelta was always something that was an end-of-season thing for him; the Tour took much more importance. Anyway, he fell sick and in Andorra, he let the idea of winning the Vuelta go,” Unzué added.
“Froome can stay at that top level for two or three years, he works well, he is comfortable as a leader. He can be the big boss of the grand tours. Luckily, though, we are seeing new talents all the time, like Dumoulin, who’s probably more suited to the Tour than the Vuelta, and Esteban Chaves, he’s won two stages and improved along the way. You can’t make any guarantees, cycling changes quickly.”