The mist and the cold of Alto Campoo Fuente del Chivo, at 1980 metres in Spain’s north, is probably the worst place to shake a cold, but Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar) did just that.
Quintana, runner-up to Chris Froome (Sky) in the Tour de France one month ago, attacked on the 18km climb at the end of the 215km 14th stage north of Burgos. He marked race leader Fabio Aru (Astana) and made a move of his own.
He did not make huge gains, moving ahead by seven seconds and clawing his way to ninth overall, but showed he is back after gastroenteritis and a fever.
“My cold has passed,” he said wrapped in blue and green team Movistar gear at the top of the climb where the temperature was around 10°C.
“The race is not over for me. I want to fight for the podium, there are a lot of mountains to come in this Vuelta a España.”
Quintana edged closer to Froome as the Tour de France moved into its third week. On the last mountain day, he closed to 1-12 minutes behind to finish second overall.
After what the team called a conservative ride in the Tour, Movistar and Quintana plan an aggressive final third week to this year’s Vuelta. If Quintana has his chance, he plans to ride free of Aru and his other rivals in one of the coming four mountain stages.
On Sunday, the Vuelta climbs to Alto de Sotres at 1230 metres. Quintana sits ninth at three minutes behind Italian Aru, second in the Giro d’Italia this spring behind Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo).
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The Vuelta title was supposed to be there for Quintana to take after Froome pulled the plug due to a crash in stage 11 in Andorra last week. However, just days before the stage, Quintana came down with a fever. Instead of gaining time, Quintana struggled to keep up.
“I felt empty and I almost felt like stopping [on Wednesday],” Quintana said on Thursday. On Friday, he suffered too, but bounced back during the stage and finished “in good condition.”
Quintana now sees a light at the end of the tunnel, or in this case, in Madrid when the Vuelta ends next Sunday.
“If it goes as it did today,” he said in the mist at the finish, “then I can fight back and take time on Aru and the others.”