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LEON, Spain (VN) — A mountainous ruta, with no less than 11 uphill finales on summer roads in Spain, with just one time trial against a relatively thin field of pre-race favorites: it sounds like the perfect scenario for Colombian phenomenon Nairo Quintana (Movistar) to win this year’s Vuelta a España.
So why is Quintana skipping the season’s third grand tour instead of racing to win?
In an interview with VeloNews, Quintana said the Vuelta was never on his schedule this year.
“We concentrated on the Tour, and things turned out pretty well,” Quintana told VeloNews. “I am still young. I don’t want to spend too much in one season. One grand tour is enough for me right now.”
Quintana returned home to Colombia last week to a hero’s welcome after finishing second on the Tour de France podium as well as winning a stage, and claiming both the King of the Mountains and Best Young Rider’s jerseys.
That performance was the best ever by a Colombian “escarabajo,” and raised expectations that Quintana could become the first South American to win the Tour.
After enjoying some time celebrating with family and friends in his hometown of Cómbita high in the Colombian Andes, Quintana will return to Europe to race the Tour of Britain and the world championships in Italy.
Despite his diminutive frame (5-foot-5, 125 pounds) Quintana stood head and shoulders above the field at the five-day Vuelta a Burgos, which he won two weeks after the Tour before returning to Colombia.
The Burgos field was packed with Vuelta-bound favorites, including Ivan Basso (Cannondale), Giro d’Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), and David Arroyo (Caja Rural), but Quintana dropped them all on the first-category steeps of the Lagunas de Neila climb in the Sierra de Demanda to win the stage and claim the overall.
So why isn’t Quintana carrying that momentum into a Vuelta perfectly suited for his capabilities?
“The most important thing for me is to recover from the effort of the Tour, and reflect upon what I achieved,” Quintana continued. “The Vuelta was never on the schedule. We only focused on the Tour.”
Quintana’s hesitation to race the Vuelta joins other Tour protagonists who are steering clear of the Spanish tour this year.
Tour winner Chris Froome and sidekick Richie Porte (Sky) are both racing this week in Colorado.
Defending Vuelta champion Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) is also skipping the Vuelta, choosing instead to take stock of his Tour drubbing at the hands of Froome.
Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) is an exception. Third overall at the Tour, he will be racing to win the Vuelta following his breakthrough podium ride at the Tour.
With Quintana back in Colombia, Alejandro Valverde, second overall last year, will lead Movistar colors at the Spanish tour.
Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff), Bauke Mollema (Belkin), and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), fifth, sixth, and seventh, respectively, at the Tour, are the only other riders who finished in the top-10 in July who will be racing in Spain over the next three weeks.
Since moving to September, top GC contenders typically hold off on making a commitment before deciding on whether to race the Vuelta or not.
A strong Tour usually means skipping the Vuelta, while a somewhat disappointing Tour can usually change a rider’s mind about racing the Vuelta, as is the case of Valverde, who wants to make up for the disappointment of losing podium hopes at the Tour this year with eighth.
It’s rare to back up a strong Tour performance with an equally impressive Vuelta ride.
Froome, who rode to second in last year’s Tour, tried to race the Vuelta to win, but found his form faded out by mid-September, and could never pose a serious threat to the Spanish favorites, finishing a distant fourth at more than 10 minutes behind Contador.
In fact, since moving to September in 1995, no one has won the Tour and gone on to win the Vuelta. Only Carlos Sastre has reached the podium in both the Tour and Vuelta in the same year, doing it back-to-back in 2007 and 2008.
Quintana hasn’t had an excessive amount of race days this season, at about 55 after Burgos, but Movistar is looking to protect its young star, who is poised to sign a multi-million-euro contract extension to stay with the Spanish team.
Quintana’s first grand tour was the Vuelta last year, when he rode to a discreet 36th overall, but certainly made a few impressive rides that foreshadowed his breakout 2013 season.
Considering his slight stature — he rides a 46cm frame — one might think that the climber-friendly Giro or Vuelta might be next on Quintana’s wish list.
The 23-year-old insists, however, that he is not thinking about building off his Tour ride this year and trying all out to win the Giro or Vuelta next year.
Instead, he says his heart and ambitions lie firmly planted with the Tour.
“It’s all for the Tour for me right now,” Quintana continued. “I think within the next few years I can ride to win the Tour. I need to keep maturing, to keep learning, to improve in the time trial. Perhaps not next year, but by 2015, I can aspire to win the Tour. It depends on how the course is designed. I hope they include a lot of climbs.”
The Giro and the Vuelta are always climber’s paradises, but it appears that’s not enough to cool the flames of Quintana’s newfound infatuation for the Tour any time soon.