Tour de France

‘Just a matter of time’ until Quintana beats Froome at Tour

Movistar coach is confident that a yellow jersey is in Quintana's future as the Colombian anticipates steady improvement ahead.

Movistar’s pre-season 2016 team camp came and went last month, and the feeling is that it is just a matter of time until its star, Nairo Quintana, will be able to beat Chris Froome at the Tour de France.

The small, 25-year-old Colombian climber from the Cordillera Oriental mountain range placed second twice already behind Froome in the Tour: once in 2013 when he debuted and again in 2015, after winning the Giro d’Italia in 2014. This July, he came close to toppling Froome with a last-ditch attack on the Alpe d’Huez stage, one day before the race closed in Paris. Quintana dropped Froome by 1:20 and gained enough to move within 1:12 of the overall win.

“The last season was good enough in terms of tools for training and so on,” Movistar coach Mikel Zabala said. “We got what we wanted out of the year; the only mistake was that Froome was too strong! Nairo’s still young, so we can expect improvements working year by year. Sometimes it’s just a matter of time.”

Movistar met at its team camp last month in Pamplona, Spain, where it went over the 27 riders’ schedules. Zabala explained that Quintana will skip the Giro, and race the Tour and the Olympics.

He will start in the Tour de San Luis with a focus on getting to the Tour on July 2 and minimizing his losses there ahead of the mountains. This July, he lost a critical 1:28 in the flat and windy stage on the Netherlands’ west coast. Had it not been for that loss, he would have been fighting for the yellow jersey on the final Alpe d’Huez stage three weeks later.

“We always tried to fight and attack, but at the same time, it was not suicide. Sky is not a group of kids — the same with team Astana and team Tinkoff. They are also good teams. We used all the tactics and attacks that we could do, but then we are not the team to wait and wait for something to happen,” Zabala said.

“We learn everyday. Also during a grand tour. Circumstances change much during a grand tour. Sometimes you think your strongest aspect is one or other, but it changes. The same with the others. You think they are strong in one area, but then see that they might crack.

“The thing is Chris Froome is good in all types of terrain. It’s so difficult to beat such a good rider with such a good team. You must be at your best and at the same time, use all the positive circumstances that you may find. You never know. Look at Bradley Wiggins in the Giro when he cracked on the wet stage [in 2013 to Pescara].”

It is a game of time for Movistar against 30-year-old Froome. Zabala explained that he will keep training Quintana with the idea that improvements will come naturally for his star each year. The rest is for Quintana to manage on the road, when he sees any sort of weakness in his rival, he could find his moment to shine.