After a stressful first week, the Tour de France finally heads into the mountains of the Pyrenees, where Nairo Quintana's team say his race will truly begin
Team Sky’s Chris Froome leads the 2015 Tour de France as it heads into the first mountain day on Tuesday, but Nairo Quintana will have his chance to take control with physiological characteristics.
The Colombian in his first Tour placed second when Froome won in 2013 and in 2014, he won the Giro d’Italia. For 2015, he set his sights on the Tour. This morning, when the Tour restarted after its first rest day, he sat 1-59 minutes behind Froome in the yellow jersey.
With his build, standing at five-foot-six, and his homeland above 3000 metres, his Movistar trainer explained how Quintana is naturally suited to riding in the Pyrenees and Alps.
“Because of characteristics, his watts per kilogramme ratio, the mountains suit him,” trainer Mikel Zabala told Cycling Weekly about the 55kg rider.
“Now he should be at his best. The others can suffer.”
Given the dangers of the first nine days, Quintana had a successful ride. His big loss came from stage two, when he was caught in the crosswinds when Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo rode on the front.
With the help of Alex Dowsett, Movistar held the big teams within arm’s reach on Sunday. They finished only four seconds back on BMC Racing and put 24 seconds into Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and 31 into 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
One question is whether Quintana’s schedule leading to the Tour was smart. After the Tour de Romandie at the end of April, he spent his time at home in Colombia at altitude. He only returned to Europe in mid-June to race the Route du Sud, where he placed a close second to Contador.
“He’s accustomed to training, his routine, with his family, and to have less pressure than what he has in Europe,” Zabala said. “He doesn’t need to race a lot to have a good rhythm.
“We wanted his base fitness not to be so well at the start of the Tour. The first week was enough to get rhythm. Sometimes athletes who were going [well] in the first week pay in the final week.”
“It’s a matter of evolving in the next days. It has to do with recovery, with the physio response to daily loads. You never know how the body is going to respond to answer this stimulus. The theory was not to have a really super start, but to evolve in the second and third week.”
The Tour climbs to its first high-mountain finish today, with stage 10 finishes at La Pierre-Saint-Martin at 1,610 metres after 15.3 kilometres of climbing.
And it does not end after today. The Tour’s menu includes 26 climbs of category two or above before the race reaches Paris on July 26.
“Can he drop Froome? It depends on his feeling and what he thinks Froome is feeling,” continued Zabala. “Sometimes a hard attack only gives you small gains, but those based on rhythm, making the rival worse and worse smoothly, that can give you a big gain.
“There are stages where hard attacks work better, hoping Froome has a bad day, and then by rhythm, you can hope to gain.
“It’ll be difficult, I haven’t seen any problems with Froomey. Just once in the last  Tour de France, when he took a gel from Richie Porte on the Alpe d’Huez. That was not a bad day, but almost.
Zabala receives and reviews Quintana’s numbers daily even if he is not at the Tour. Even with his knowledge and expert insight, he admits that he is unable to predict what will happen in the coming two weeks.
Tour de France 2015 Pyrenees preview