SAUMUR, France (VN) — The opening week of the 2016 Tour de France holds nothing but danger for Movistar captain Nairo Quintana. The Colombian cannot wait to get to the mountains, where he hopes to take it to Sky’s Chris Froome.
So far, the Colombian climber has steered clear of the setbacks that handicapped his Tour last year, and he started the Tour’s longest stage Tuesday tied with arch-rival Froome.
Movistar is hoping to keep it that way, all the way to the Pyrénées looming on the Tour horizon this weekend.
“If we make it to the Pyrénées on equal time as Froome, it’s a victory,” team manager Eusebio Unzué said. “So far, so good. The team is working well to keep Nairo out of trouble.”
There’s a quiet sense of relief around the Movistar bus after Quintana escaped the crosswinds and crashes of the opening two stages across Normandy. Others were not so lucky, such as Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) and Richie Porte (BMC Racing). Unzué said Quintana is safely negotiating the landmines so far in the Tour’s first week.
“I’ve never seen him so relaxed and calm,” Unzué continued. “It’s his experience. We have to remember this is only his third Tour, and he is only 26. His first two Tours have helped to manage these first nervous stages.”
Unzué breathes easier the closer the peloton pedals toward the mountains. Last year, Quintana lost 1:28 when he was caught in echelons in the second stage, a time difference that haunted him all the way to Paris.
A major goal for this year’s Tour is to deliver Quintana into the mountains without crashes, mechanicals, or other instances of bad luck that everyone knows can strike in an instant.
“The Tour is borne from this constant stress. Until we reach the mountains, it never ends. It’s so fast, so dangerous,” Unzué said. “When you talk to the riders, they say, ‘How can we keep doing this? We are going to die someday!’
“With the peloton riding 65-70 kph through villages, with the traffic circles, people taking photos, the narrow roads, the risks are multiplied. It’s too much. Simply to make it to the finish line in one piece is victory each day.”
Agreeing with comments raised by sprinters, Unzué echoed that the dangers of crashes are heightened in the sprint finishes because the GC riders fight for position all the way to the line.
Despite the UCI race jury saying it will take a lenient hand in imposing time splits in sprint finales during this Tour (the 3km rule), the GC riders are leaving nothing to chance.
“We need to shed ourselves of these old ideas of cycling. In a modern sport, let’s let the sprinters have their moment. It’s dangerous enough as it is,” Unzué said. “We can be more lenient in looking at the splits in the peloton in the sprint stages. It’s easy to understand why it provokes stress. The seconds count. Look at last year’s Tour; it was decided by 1:12.”
“Cycling seems condemned to live with this danger.”