“Personally, I am very satisfied,” Unzue said on a broadcast on El Leñero this weekend. “He is a guy I admire and I can’t help but recognize what he has reported to the [Movistar] team in his eight seasons. We have had great moments, and I personally feel a level of friendship with him.”
Quintana rode to the forefront of the peloton in his early Movistar years, bagging wins at the Giro d’Italia, and Vuelta a España, and taking three podium finishes at the Tour de France. Every time Quintana stood on the podium in Paris at the end of the Tour, it was Chris Froome (Sky/Ineos) who took the top step. After a fallow few final seasons with the team, Quintana waved an emotional goodbye to Movistar. Unzué continues to back the Colombian nonetheless.
“The Tour has not done justice to Nairo,” Unzué said. “And I think he has been the one who has been able to put Froome in the most difficulties. I think Froome without a team would have had a very bad time. He never had to face one on one.”
For Unzue, there is still time for 30-year-old Quintana to take that elusive yellow jersey. Having started this season on a tear with his new Arkea-Samsic team, netting a stage win at Paris-Nice and winning Tour de la Provence and Tour des Alpes Maritimes, a rejuvenated Quintana could still take that top step he’s so far been missing.
“Why not be a Tour de France winner? Who is going to bury him? He is in his 30s and has more experience than ever,” Unzué said. “I do not have any doubt. I do not know if with the regularity of yesteryear, but I am sure that we will see great days of Nairo in the grand tours.”
Unzué has admitted in the past that there were times when Movistar’s trio of leaders of Quintana, Alejandro Valverde, and Mikel Landa misfired, miscommunicated and missed opportunities. The desire to ride as the sole leader of a team was one of the reasons that led Quintana to exiting the Spanish team as he looked to return to his former grand tour glory. For Unzué, that clash of priorities was “something that we were not going to be able to solve in any way.”
Now Nairo has flown the Movistar nest, Unzué speaks like a proud father when talking of the rider that forged his European career under his wing.
“This step he has taken has [moving to Arkea-Samsic] been magnificent for him, to free his mind and to be lucky to be the best in the first races he has competed,” Unzué said. “This year he has been that Nairo killer, not only a good rider but also a finisher.”