Nairo Quintana headlines the Giro d’Italia, which starts tomorrow in Belfast. Last year’s Tour de France surprise – second behind Chris Froome at 4-20 minutes – aims to win overall. If the five-foot-six climber does so, he would become the Giro’s first Colombian winner.
“It would be very exciting and very important for the team because of all the work we’ve done to try to take the pink jersey,” Quintana said. “It would also be huge for my home country and for those that support me in Colombia.”
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Quintana became the surprise package at last year’s Tour. He came the closest to defeating Froome, won the young rider classification, the mountains classification and the stage in Annecy.
His worked highlighted the Colombians’ success. First racing in support of Brad Wiggins at Sky, Rigoberto Urán rode to second overall at the Giro d’Italia. Another Colombian, Carlos Betancur won the young rider classification. The Colombia team helped Fabio Duarte to fifth place on the Galibier stage and second on the stage to Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
Though they have won stages and other classifications, the Colombians have yet to take home the Giro’s spiral trophy. That could change this year with Quintana. He appears ready given his ride at the Tour de France, his climbing abilities and consistency.
This year before returning home for the birth of his girl, Quintana won the Tour de San Luis. In Europe, he placed second to Alberto Contador in Tirreno-Adriatico and fifth in the Tour of Catalonia.
“I feel I’m on a different level this year,” added Quintana. “I’ve raced and in Colombia, I trained hard to be ready.”
Quintana spent the month of April at home altitude training. He had planned to race the Tour of Asturias in Spain beforehand but the organiser cancelled the race. Instead, he spent the last week in Pamplona before travelling to Belfast with his Movistar team.
“I hoped to test myself in Asturias,” Quintana said. “However, the Giro d’Italia will start and we’ll know soon if I’m at the level I need to be at to win.”
Yesterday, Race Director Mauro Vegni said that the winds and weather could cause troubles for the overall classification riders even before the race enters Italy. Forecasters predict 14°C and 25kph winds tomorrow and this weekend.
“You have to be careful in Ireland and not throw away your Giro before you arrive in Italy. I can’t afford to lose too much time in the team time trial or the windy stages along the coast,” Quintana explained.
“I’ve previewed most of the route, not the whole thing, but the tough mountain stages in Italy. I’m prepared. I’m prepared to make the differences in the mountains.”
The 97th Giro d’Italia features a few tricky mountain-top finishes early on – Viggiano, Montecopiolo and Sestola – but it saves its best for last. This year, Quintana will have to conquer Martello, Panarotta and Zoncolan in order to become Colombia’s first Giro winner.
We pick out the main contenders for this year's Giro d'Italia, starting on Friday May 9
Three stages in Ireland could create significant time gaps, says Giro d'Italia organiser