Cycling fans aren’t the only ones struggling to predict the winner of the 2020 Tour de France.
Nairo Quintana has no clue what will transpire over the next three weeks.
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“I think the Tour will be very wide open, with a big favorite in Egan Bernal. The real battle as always comes down to the mountains,” Quintana told reporters on Friday. “It’s going to be an atypical Tour, with the COVID-19 issues and the changes in training and racing. No one really knows how they will react and how they will be in the third week of the race.
“We’ve never done a Tour in these days, so I don’t have a reference of how the body will react,” he added.
Quintana spoke to reporters via a Zoom call on Friday ahead of Saturday’s Grand Départ in Nice. The Colombian ace is riding his first Tour de France for French outfit Arkéa-Samsic after racing the first seven years of his professional career with Movistar.
While Movistar often gave Quintana the luxury of the strongest domestiques in the race, this year Quintana enters the event with far less firepower. Top climber Warren Barguil shares leadership duties at Arkéa, while Quintana’s cast of domestiques includes veteran and up-and-coming pros. Diego Rosa and Winner Anacona will help Quintana in the mountains, while Brit Connor Swift and French riders Clément Russo and Kévin Ledanois will pull on the flat and hillier terrain.
“I’m very happy with the riders that we are bringing to the Tour,” Quintana said. “We have riders for every kind of terrain. We brought a team perhaps not as strong as Ineos or Jumbo, but the truth is we have riders who are very strong, and who will be very strong. We’ll see day by day how things will go.”
Quintana was perhaps the strongest rider in the peloton when racing shut down in early March. The Colombian vaulted into the early season of 2020 riding a wave of top form, and he seized impressive victories at early-season events in Southern France in February and early March.
His original racing schedule called for a steady build-up to the Tour de France, however, the COVID-19 shutdown forced him and other riders to break from racing for four months. Then, in early July, he was struck by a car while training. He suffered minor injuries in the dust-up.
Quintana returned in August and seemed to lack the winning form he had in February. That, or maybe the rest of the peloton just got stronger.
“We come here in very good condition, and the team will always give the maximum,” Quintana said. “That gives us a bit of tranquility. We have riders who have to carry the race in the key moment, and we’re ready for that.”
Quintana pegged countryman Egan Bernal as the favorite to win this year’s tour. Last year Bernal etched his name in the history books as the first Colombian to win the Tour de France. That accolade came after Quintana twice finished second place at the event.
Quintana lacked his top climbing legs at the recent Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge, where he finished 8th place on the summit of southern France’s famous climb. Then, he battled Bernal and Primož Roglič at the Tour de l’Ain, where he rode to third place overall.
Quintana looked to be a few watts shy of Roglič at the Critérium du Dauphiné through the first four stages. Then, the Colombian dropped out of the race due to a knee injury before the final stage.
Despite the injury, Quintana said he is approaching his top form.
“A blow like this is far from ideal,” Quintana said. “I am recovered and I am here to the Tour in nearly 100 percent condition, and we’re going to fight. We hope that it doesn’t give us problems throughout the race.”
Even though this Tour will be raced under the shadow of COVID-19, and at a strange time in the season, Quintana is taking his usual approach to the race: Ride hard and hope for good luck.
“We prepared the best we could, and the final result will come, it will depend a bit on what kind of luck we have,” he said. “And if we can stay healthy, if those two happen, we can aspire for the maximum.”