Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) is continuing with his dream to win the Tour de France regardless of the pressure and critics.
The Colombian won the 2014 Giro d’Italia, 2016 Vuelta a España and placed second twice in the Tour, in 2013 and 2015. In the last couple of years, however, he has suffered for various reasons.
“More than an obsession, it’s really a dream,” Quintana said of winning the Tour de France overall. “At some point I have to realise it. I still think I can win. At least I want to keep trying.”
Much was made of the 28-year-old when he first placed second in the 2013 Tour behind Chris Froome. Then he won the final mountain stage, the young rider and mountains classifications.
In the last Tour, he could not reach his top end for various reasons. He shined briefly, winning the stage to the summit of the Col du Portet, but finished 10th in Paris. Colombia’s attention fell more on Team Sky’s Egan Bernal, who helped Geraint Thomas win.
“Lately I have had many complications for different reasons but I know I have to keep trying. At some point it could happen, [a win] is possible,” he added.
“To improve, you look to what may have been missing or what can be changed, but there are things that you cannot change because they are in the hands of others.
“The critics? There are times that it comes based on your performance or just opinions. Sometimes, they are just resentful.”
Quintana begins his season this week at the Vuelta a San Juan, which climbs to the Alto Colorado at 2,565 metres on stage five. The team made a few changes for 2019. British/Italian sports director, Max Sciandri joins the team and Italian Michele Bartoli is now trainer for Quintana.
The Tour remains the goal. This year, the route favours climbers like Quintana with three of its five summit finishes over 2,000 metres and only one individual time trial of 27 kilometres.
“I hope this year I want to start the season well and continue like this all season,” Quintana said. “I made a few changes, but it’s pretty similar to last season.
“The Tour is the obvious clear objective and that’s what we’re working for. The course? It’s a good course for me, it has a lot of high altitude mountains, and that’s something that I like, since I was born at altitude.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Quintana will be overcoming Team Sky. He took on Froome head-to-head and won in the 2016 Vuelta a España, but in the Tour, the super-team dwarfs Quintana.
“Clearly, the pressure is there, in different ways. A couple of years ago it was Nairo against the Sky. It is no longer just Nairo, there are other rivals that have to attack and use their bullets,” he said.
“It’d be good in cycling if all the teams were like Sky in cycling. I think the team works well.”
In 2018, Movistar took three leaders with Quintana, Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde to try to win the Tour. Landa this year is aiming for the Giro d’Italia first before the Tour, but plans could change as he fractured his collarbone yesterday in the Challenge Mallorca.
“I like it that way, just with one leader. In many of the races where I’ve gone well, that’s the way it was. In this team we have three leaders and one boss, and the boss decides,” he explained.
“It’s a pity what happened to him [with the crash]. He wanted to do things well this season after the fall he had in the Tour. He seemed fine, and he returns now with this bad luck. He’s going to be f**ked for quite a few days.”
Quintana continues with the Tour Colombia, Paris-Nice, Volta a Cataluyna, the Ardennes Classics and then decide, likely racing the Critérium du Dauphiné in June. On his home turf in Colombia later this month, he will face Froome.
“We’re ready, we’re in good condition,” Quintana continued. “I don’t what condition that Froome is in right now, but I am sure we’ll make a good race.”