Nairo Quintana (Movistar) tipped his hat to rival and Giro d’Italia leader Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb), saying that he is the “best rider in the Giro” after winning two stages and pushing his lead by 24 seconds on the stage to Oropa.
The Colombian began as the favourite to win this Giro d’Italia, but now finds himself nearly three minutes down on Dumoulin after the Dutchman won stage 14.
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Finding peace from the fans and cooling down in a quiet spot after the finish of Saturday’s stage, he spoke about a situation beginning to spiral out of control, while Dumoulin popped open a bubbly Prosecco bottle on the podium.
“I tried, and I’ll keep trying,” he said, microphones and cameras edged closer to pick up his softly spoken Spanish words.
“My legs were good and we have the three weeks to prove it, but now Dumoulin is the best rider in the Giro.”
Dumoulin holds the pink jersey by 2-47 minutes over Quintana, 3-25 over Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and 3-40 over two-time Italian winner Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida).
Watch: Giro d’Italia stage 14 highlights
Quintana won the Giro d’Italia in 2014 and the Vuelta a España in 2016 after defeating Chris Froome (Team Sky). In the Tour de France, he has twice finished second and once third behind Froome. Given his palmarès, experts named him as the favourite to win.
So far, Quintana’s climbing legs have been unable to push him clear of the tall and powerful Dutchman. On the stage to Blockhaus, he rode clear but only by 24 seconds. Today, again, he gained ground, but Dumoulin kept him in sight, pulled him back, and eventually distanced him, adding to the time that he had already gained on the stage 10 time trial.
“I hoped to gain time on him to Oropa, but instead Dumoulin gained time on me,” Quintana said.
“It was harder than I expected. Tom Dumoulin proved his strength. He’s the leader because of his strength, it’s clear that he was the best today. I tried with all my forces and it wasn’t enough. The stage ended in a different way than I expected.
“If I want to see the positive side, it’s that we made a bigger gap to other contenders,” Quintana continued. “So with these feelings I can do very well in the third week.
“I still have a good team and we will try everything possible to try to break Dumoulin, but for sure, he showed to be stronger than before on the climbs. But today is just one climb.”