Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué says Chris Froome never had to face Nairo Quintana “one-on-one” during their Grand Tour battles of the 2010s, and if the four-time winner didn’t have his Sky team-mates he wouldn’t have beaten him as often as he did.
“Quintana has collided, like the men who came second behind Miguel [Indurain], with a rider like Froome and not only Froome but Froome plus all his team around him, that was impossible,” Unzué said in an interview with El Leñero and reported in Zikoland.
“Nairo’s level in 2013, 2015 and 2016…the Tour has not done justice to Nairo. And I think he’s the one who has been able to put Froome in the most difficulty. I think Froome without a team would have had a very bad time. He never had to face [Quintana] one-on-one.
“Practically the only time was in the 15th stage of the 2016 Vuelta a España and the next day was that of Formigal. It was an impressive heads-up. A series of 10-12 attacks at 40km/h in the Aubisque. That was really impressive,” Unzué said.
On stage 15 of the 2016 Vuelta, Quintana finished three seconds behind stage winner Gianluca Brambilla, while Chris Froome finished more than two and a half minutes back. Quintana would go on to claim the general classification, his second Grand Tour win after taking the maglia rosa at the 2014 Giro.
“If the rival you are dealing with, and this was our bad luck, is a time trial specialist and every year he had 40km or more against the clock…we knew that we started with the idea of discounting the time three to four minutes that took away from him in the time trial,” Unzué said. “We were doomed in that respect. We only had the chance to counter in the high mountains. Calculate Nairo’s lost time in the time trial and see how much he has lost once he got to Paris and see if he has won a Tour.”
Quintana has now left Unzué’s Movistar set-up and found a new home at Arkéa-Samsic, where he had begun brightly before the coronavirus pandemic shut racing down. The Colombian took the overall victory at the Tour de La Provence, which included an impressive win up Mont Ventoux, while also winning the final stage seven of Paris-Nice.
Unzué also won’t rule out the possibility that Quintana could yet complete his set of Grand Tour victories by winning the Tour de France.
“Why is he not going to be a winner of the Tour de France? Who is going to bury him? He is in his thirties and has more experience than ever. We have already seen that at the start of the season…but his trajectory since the 2018 Giro is that it has not been the Nairo with the solidity and the man who made the difference as the best climber in any of the Grand Tours.
“From the age of 17, if we analyze results, that is the reality. He will continue to be a great rider with that ability as well as great days he has and in which he is capable of doing spectacular things.”
Froome also has a point to prove after injury derailed his 2019 season, and Ineos boss Dave Brailsford thinks the two-month delay to the new, provisional 2020 Tour de France date will only aid the four-time winner.
“He’s not complaining [about the delay], let’s put it that way,” Brailsford told the Times. “The one thing about Chris is wow, the guy can train. What he’s doing in his man cave over there – in the gym in the morning, on the turbo, the hours he is putting in on that thing — that hurts, what he is doing now.
“You don’t have the flexibility of being outside, you don’t have the mental stimulus. So to put himself through what he is doing is just insane, it really is. And I do think he sees it as an opportunity. And it is an opportunity, let’s face it.
“If it gives him a little edge where he thinks he can train harder than the rest, and make up for lost time when he was injured, he sees that as well as everybody else and he’s making the most of it, there’s no doubt about it.”