Quintana puts rivals on notice in Abu Dhabi

Tactics worked against Nairo Quintana on Saturday in the Abu Dhabi Tour, but he appears the sharpest of the stars with the Giro in sight.

JABEL HAFEET, United Arab Emirates (VN) — Tactics worked against Nairo Quintana (Movistar) on Saturday in the Abu Dhabi Tour, but he appears the sharpest of the stars with the Giro d’Italia in sight.

Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates) snuck free for the win, and likely the overall title win tomorrow, while the giants clashed.

Quintana was quashed on the Jebel Hafeet climb by defensive riding from Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), but the 2017 season appears to be swaying in the Colombian’s favor.

“There were a lot of rivals waiting for me to attack, marking my moves, and that was difficult,” said the softly spoken Colombian. “And when other opponents attacked, I had to control them as well.

“In the midst of these movements, other cyclists took advantage and attacked, and since they are high-quality rivals, they were able to make the break stick.”

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A Movistar staff member drapped Quintana in another jersey. He looked over his shoulder for some teammates and they descended the climb together.

Costa won the stage over Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) with Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) in third at 10 seconds. Quintana led the favorites group home at 58 seconds.

The Jebel Hafeet offered views of the vast, empty and aired emirate and a moment for Quintana to reflect.

The 27-year-old has come a long way. He already won the Giro d’Italia in 2014, the Vuelta a España in 2016, and placed twice second to Sky’s Chris Froome in the Tour de France.

This year, he faces his biggest task yet, racing both the Giro and Tour for the overall win. It is a winning combo not seen since Marco Pantani’s Giro/Tour double in 1998.

Judging by his overall win in the Volta a Valenciana earlier in February and his ride today, Quintana is on the right path for the Giro this May 5 to 28.

Lethal rides to Val Martello and Monte Grappa won him the Giro. A similar early-stage attack to Formigal locked in his Vuelta title last September. Watching today, one could sense small Quintana sharpening his axe on the ‘Empty Mountain’ bordering Oman.

Movistar took the race in hand. Quintana attacked at 9.3 kilometres out, 6.1 and 2.8. Each time, he found different scenarios working against him. Each attack, however, served towards the greater goal of winning the Giro this May and setting himself up for the Giro/Tour double.

Giro rival Dumoulin motored away in the chaos. With Contador marking Quintana, Trek teammate Bauke Mollema worked free too.

Quintana, however, kept control. He radioed his team-mate, who came to the front and began pulling to close the gap. It was too late for the win, but a massive muscle-flex among cycling’s A-list.

Doing so, he kept a good grip on Fabio Aru (Astana) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), and left behind others like Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing).

Quintana leaves the UAE Monday. He will travel to Movistar’s headquarters in Spain, regroup and pack for the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race. There in central Italy, he will have another chance and face other Giro rivals like Geraint Thomas (Sky).

“My fitness level at this point of the season is similar to what I found last year,” said Quintana after Valenciana.

“We’ve got two big goals ahead, the Giro and the Tour, and we know that finding the correct approach will be key to our success.”