Movistar's Nairo Quintana comes back to Europe this week for his quest to conquer the Giro d'Italia.
Despite his young age, he turned 24 earlier this year, Quintana has not returned to Europe without high ambitions. In what will be his first grand tour as a team leader the Colombian is aiming to finish top of the general classification.
“We can win, but we also have to be realistic. Not winning will result in more frustration for me and for the people,” he said, just hours before flying to Spain.
“If I don’t finish in the first three it will be a little frustrating,” he added. “But I am young, I am learning and I will continue to work every day so that I can arrive at the Tour de France with my best form.”
After his performance at last year's Tour de France where he made a big impression, Quintana will enter the Giro as the favourite. Quintana knows what he can do but realises that there are plenty of other contenders gunning for the Maglia Rosa.
“You can lose it in the first week, so you have to be very attentive,” the Movistar rider said. “Joaquim Rodríguez is possibly my biggest rival. He had some difficulty in the Ardennes, with two crashes, but without consequences. He will be very good. Rigoberto [Urán] will be very hard. He has trained very well and will be a competitor I have to keep in mind.
“Cadel Evans has been a quite superior to many other rivals and he won in (Giro del) Trentino. I know that he can do good things. I also have to think about (Domenico) Pozzovivo from AG2R, who has been on good form in Trentino and also did well in Liège.”
Alejandro Valverde has had the pleasure of having Quintana as a supporting rider since the Colombian signed for Movistar two years ago.
The team has given him opportunities to lead at some of the smaller stage races, but his biggest chance to date occurred when Valverde fell out of contention after stage 13 of last years Tour de France due to a puncture at the least opportune moment.
With Quintana the only Movistar rider with a chance at the general classification he grabbed the opportunity and a second-place finish.
Since the podium finish almost a year ago, it was widely expected that the diminutive climber would get a chance to lead Movistar at a big race before to long. In January, the team duly confirmed that he would lead a nine-man team at the Italian grand tour.
Quintana has had to undergo big changes to tackle the development from domestique – a supportive rider – to team leader.
“To train to be a leader of the team is not easy, but you have to be when you have good legs,” he explained. “Before they would say go here or go there. Now I am the one who does that. I have improved in this, but day by day I am learning things that you thought you knew, but in reality you didn’t.”
Quintana has been training in his homeland and has not participated in a race since the Volta a Catalunya, owing to the cancellation of the Vuelta a Asturias due to financial reasons.
Adding to that, the Colombian became a father for the first time early this year and makes no attempts to hide that he has found the balancing act leading up to the Giro a tough ask.
“I am good, I like the roll of father, although it also changes a lot. They [his family] are helping me a lot in the house,” he said. “It has been difficult to enjoy my daughter, a beautiful girl. I have done a very demanding preparation and always with risk that I arrive at the house and I can’t relax well, but I have luck because she behaves very well.”
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