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GENT, Belgium (VN) — Many are still scratching their heads over Movistar’s insistence to send Colombian sensation Nairo Quintana (Movistar) to the Giro d’Italia instead of the Tour de France.
Quintana was the revelation of the 2013 Tour, winning a stage, two jerseys, and pushing Chris Froome (Sky) to his limit in the mountains en route to a South American-best second overall.
Despite a strong start to the season and a Tour route well-suited to Quintana’s abilities, Movistar is sticking to its decision to steer the Colombian clear of France this summer.
Movistar confirmed to VeloNews this week that there would be no mid-season adjustments, and Quintana will not race the Tour.
“What is sure, if Nairo races the Giro, he won’t race the Tour,” Movistar sport director José Luis Jaimerena told VeloNews . “OK, if something happens, and he cannot race the Giro, we’ll see, but what he certainly will not do is race the Giro and then the Tour.”
Why not strike while the iron is hot with Quintana?
Movistar made its rather contrarian decision not to return to the Tour with Quintana last fall, something that appeared to catch even the team’s budding star by surprise. Even into January’s Tour de San Luís, which Quintana handily won, he was still holding out hope that he could race the Tour again, as he would like to.
The Colombian wants to become the first South American to win the Tour, but Movistar officials had to work hard to convince Quintana that the best path to a future Tour win included first racing to win the Giro.
“The easy thing would be to say, ‘yes, the Tour, Tour, Tour,’ but we believe we must also go forward with a bit calm,” Jaimerena said. “Because if we go back to the Tour, well, after second, you have to win … that’s a lot of pressure.”
In February, Movistar publicly revealed that Quintana would race the Giro, a decision that eliminates one of Froome’s most dangerous rivals from the startlist.
Since then, especially in light of a few Sky hiccups in early 2014, many hoped, especially in Colombia, that Quintana might be cut loose on the Tour after all. Movistar is sticking to its plan, however. Jaimerena insisted this week that Quintana, who is only in his third pro season, still needs space to grow, and the best place to do that, he says, is the Giro.
“Nairo is still very young, he is still developing his skills, his strength,” Jaimerena said. “Some say, ‘well, look what they did, they don’t take him to the Tour.’ He has a lot of road ahead of him. He is only 24.”
And the team has other ambitions as well. With a climbing-heavy world championships course waiting in northern Spain, Quintana will also race the Vuelta a España, with one eye on GC ambitions, and the other on hitting peak form in time for the worlds.
No Colombian has ever won the elite men’s rainbow jersey on the road, and the Colombians will bring a stacked team to Ponferrada, with Quintana playing a key role.
The Valverde factor
And then there’s Alejandro Valverde. The veteran Spanish rider has been Movistar’s franchise man since 2005. The team stuck by him during his controversial two-year ban for links to the Operación Puerto doping scandal, and it wants to give Valverde one last shot at the Tour.
Quintana’s rise last year was in part thanks to bad luck suffered by Valverde in stage 13 at the Tour, when a mechanical cost him 10 minutes and all hopes of the podium, despite riding out of the Pyrénées seemingly secure in second behind Froome.
That opened the door for Quintana, but Valverde still managed to finish eighth. Movistar and Valverde both believe that if the Spaniard, who turns 34 in April, can avoid similar disaster, he has the legs to reach the podium in Paris.
With Quintana waiting in the wings, Valverde also knows this could be his last shot at the Tour podium.
And as much as this year’s course might be good for Quintana, it favors Valverde even more. With only one time trial, slotted in on the penultimate day, and with all the hard climbing packed into the second week, Valverde could be this year’s dark horse for the yellow jersey.
To make sure he’s prepared for the pavé waiting in stage 5 of this year’s Tour, Valverde was one of a few Tour GC favorites who decided to skip the Volta a Catalunya, instead racing in Belgium for a taste of cobblestones.
Valverde raced both Dwars door Vlaanderen and E3 Harelbeke last week, with Jaimerena telling VeloNews that Valverde, who rode into a late breakaway in the former, “passed the exam with honor.”
Quintana racing to win the Giro
According to team management, Movistar brass simply believe it’s a better for Quintana’s young career to send him to the Giro, where he can race to win what would be his first grand tour, rather than return to the Tour with too many expectations, and face off against an ever-confident Froome.
“It’s going to be a great Giro,” Jaimerena said. “Nairo is not the only favorite. It’s a great field in the Giro. And I think it would be wonderful if Nairo could win the pink jersey. The Giro is a beautiful race, too.”