Nairo Quintana and the Giro d'Italia organisers expect a serious race for the Italian Grand Tour's spiral trophy this May. The organisers say that Movistar's Colombian star is not just coming to visit Italy and to build for Tour de France, something with which Quintana agrees.
Marco Pantani last completed the double successfully in 1998. Given modern cycling's specialised approach to specific events, some say the Giro/Tour double is impossible now, believing that Quintana is just using the Giro as part of his preparation for the Tour.
"He's not coming to train for the Tour," RCS Sport Cycling Director Mauro Vegni told Cycling Weekly.
"He's like Alberto Contador, a racer, if he comes, he's coming to win, not to just tour Italy."
Quintana won the Giro d'Italia in 2014 at 24 years old after placing second to Chris Froome the year before in the Tour de France. Since, he turned his focus on the Tour. He placed second again in 2015 and third 2016.
Redemption last year came in the Vuelta a España, where he upset Froome with an early attack in the Formigal mountain stage. Now, with two Grand Tour titles, he says he is confident enough to race for the Giro and Tour victory in the same year.
"Yes, for sure, the Giro d'Italia is an important goal," Quintana said as he adjusted his Canyon bicycle.
"It's clear that I still have unfinished business in the Tour de France, but I care much for the Giro d'Italia."
Watch: Giro d'Italia essential guide
The words are music to Vegni's ears. This year for the 100th edition, he has been able to convince every top rider except for Chris Froome (Sky), Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott). They will focus specifically on the Tour de France.
"These are today's racers, who respect the organisers," Vegni continued. "If someone makes the scheduling decision to skip the Giro, I'm sad about it, but I understand. Above all, I don't want riders in the Giro just touring around the country.
"Why shouldn't Nairo be serious about the Giro? I think that he feels a special connection for the Giro given what he's done in the past. The passion from the fans and the 100th edition, in some ways, that pulls him in. I expected that for everyone. For some, it's a special one-time occasion."
At the stage start in Abu Dhabi, Alex Dowsett strapped his shoes tight. The Englishman looked up to see Quintana standing for photographs and selfies among 20 brightly dressed Colombian fans.
"I'll likely race the Giro," Dowsett said.
His goal, just like in 2013, would be to win one of two time trials. The final test against the clock start's on Monza's Formula One's race track, providing inspiration for Dowsett whose father was a racing driver. Inspiration also comes from Quintana's drive for another Giro title.
"If I'm there, I want to be part of a team going for the win," he said.
"He [Quintana] is a racer. He went to the Tour of Britain in 2013 and tried to win it. He shows time and time again that he's a racer."
And if he wins the Giro, insiders question if he can recover enough to face Froome in the Tour.
"There's a strong team of guys crunching numbers behind the scenes at Movistar," Dowsett added. "No decision would have been taken, no chances are taken without calculations."
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