FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — “Gracias infinitas,” says Nairo Quintana turning to a new 2018 chapter: a birthday and a supportive super-charged team. And Movistar’s team boss Eusebio Unzué, despite hiring Mikel Landa from Sky, puts the Colombian on top of the pyramid.
Quintana — second in the Tour de France twice and the winner of both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España — celebrated his 28th birthday Sunday by riding the Alto de la Línea at 3,265 meters in the Andes Mountains.
He wrote on Twitter: “The affection of the people surprised me. Thanks a million. #ColombiaLovesYou”
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Unzué traveled to Colombia from the team headquarters for Quintana and for the Oro Y Paz stage race, which begins Tuesday.
Quintana will start his 2018 season at home. Unzué, among the Colombian journalists, confirmed Quintana’s status despite a deal that brought on board Spain’s top stage racer Mikel Landa.
“The interests of the team are normally centered on the strongest man,” Unzué told Marca. “There is no doubt in the case of Nairo, and his history in the grand tours, especially in the Tour. It would take a lot that Nairo does not remain our most important man.”
Quintana looked far from his best in the 2017 Tour de France, placing 12th. He had fought for the Giro d’Italia title in May, battling and losing the lead to finish second behind Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) on the last day.
Landa won the Giro’s mountain jersey and a summit finish stage. At the Tour, his job was to help Team Sky’s Chris Froome win a fourth title, but he appeared to outshine the established British star at times.
Unzué decided for 2018 that he would take Quintana, Landa, and a resurgent Alejandro Valverde to the Tour de France to conquer the Sky juggernaut. Valverde, though 37 years old and out for half of 2017 with a broken kneecap, returned last week to win the Volta a Valenciana.
“When we talk about three leaders, it’s because the three of them have earned that respect. In the races, they work as a team and win individually,” Unzué continued.
“[In the Tour,] it is logically going to be vital to combine the quality of the three with the help of the rest of the team, sometimes this will help us defend ourselves and at other times, they will have strategic power.”
Quintana will race the six stages and travel to his European base in Monaco afterwards. His first European race is Spain’s Volta a Catalunya on March 19.
Heading to the Tour, all three stars could race together in June either in the Critérium du Dauphiné or the Tour de Suisse. Another race, on cobbles to prepare for the Tour’s Paris-Roubaix stage, could be added for the trio.
“We hope that we have made the right decision [with all three in the Tour], for now we are doing very well, we are very excited,” Quintana said.
“It was Eusebio who hired Mikel Landa and he is very much a team player. We hope to work very well and try to win the Tour de France, which is what we lack.”