Froome not only held his rivals at bay in the mountains this July, but he also soloed away on a descent and attacked through the crosswinds. Movistar’s boss, Eusebio Unzué, had time to reflect on this and the season at a press conference in Pamplona, Spain.
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“Froome looked more vulnerable in 2013 and 2015 in the last week of the Tour, but this year we saw a different Chris Froome,” Unzué said. “We discovered a different side to Froome. Not only is he strong in the mountains and time trials, and with the team he had at the Tour, he was impossible to beat.”
Froome helped Bradley Wiggins to his Tour win in 2012 and returned to win in 2013. He now counts three Tour titles with the 2015 and 2016 victories. Quintana is edging closer to the 31-year-old Briton, however.
Quintana won the Giro d’Italia in 2014 and this year, wrestled the overall victory from Froome in the Vuelta a España. He attacked with rival Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) from kilometre six in the 118.5-kilometre Formigal mountain stage and gained 2-43 minutes. A week later in Madrid, he said that day made the victory possible.
“It’s clear, in the Tour and the Vuelta, we saw a Froome more solid than ever before. He’s at the best level of his career. He was unbeatable with the form and the team he had,” Unzué added. “We were able to win at the Vuelta thanks to some great tactics. Nairo was strong and the team was very sharp.”
Quintana, now 26 years old, is improving. He broke through with a second place in the 2013 Tour behind Froome. He returned in 2015, after winning the Giro, and placed second again. This year, he struggled due to allergies but fought back for a third place. The Vuelta victory over Froome underlined his grand tour star status.
Unzué said recently how he loves the Giro d’Italia and he would talk to sponsor Movistar about Quintana participating, but it seems clear that the path leads directly to the Tour. As with the Giro, if he were to win, he would be the first Colombian to do so.
“The next big step is the Tour. It’s always difficult to win, but one day it will arrive. We believe he will win it sooner or later, because he has a Tour in his legs,” Unzué added.
Watch: Chris Froome running at Etape London
“With Nairo, we have the luxury that he simply keeps improving as a grand tour rider. What we want to do next year is have five, six or seven key riders who can be with Nairo and bring them together through the major goals of the season.”
The Tour starts in Düsseldorf with a 13-kilometre time trial and only features a short 23-kilometre time trial on the penultimate day. The race travels through the Jura, Alpine and Pyrenean mountains with summit finishes at La Planche des Belles Filles, Peyragudes and for the first time, Col d’Izoard. Many other dangers are hidden in the non-summit finish and mid-mountain days.
“It’s without a script,” Unzué said. “The key days are not so obvious, so it will be an interesting spectacle. It will oblige everyone to improvise more, and it will be a less predictable Tour than other years.”