With nine mountain stages and two uphill time-trials characterising this year’s Tour de France, Nairo Quintana has the destructive climbing skills and solid form to deny Chris Froome a third title.
Twice a runner-up in France – in 2013 and 2015 to Froome – this is all set up to be the year where the diminutive Colombian will prevail.
Quintana has demonstrated some scintillating early season form, winning the Volta a Catalunya in March and Tour de Romandie in May – a race that Froome finished in 38th.
The Swiss race is considered as a strong reference marker in deciding which rider goes on to win the Tour, with three of the last five winners lifting the title in Paris – Cadel Evans (2011), Bradley Wiggins (2012) and Froome (2013).
Quintana skipped the Criterium du Dauphine and Tour de Suisse to focus on altitude training back in Colombia as he bids to win his maiden Tour crown. He knows his preparation has to be absolutely spot on.
Ignore the talk of the apparent psychological advantage the Briton holds over him, he knows the mistakes he made 12 months ago and what is required to dethrone Froome.
Time-trialling remains the major asterisk when discussing his Tour ambitions; he was 57th in last year’s stage one but the two ITTs on this year’s route are hilly.
He has also finished first, sixth and second in his last three ITTs at the Route du Sud, Romandie and Tour of the Basque Country. Granted they are weaker fields than what the 26-year-old will encounter in France, but it doesn’t seem as much of a weakness as in previous years.
With that addressed, climbers like Quintana have every reason to be satisfied with the route and will be a significant threat to the 31-year-old Froome’s ambitions.
The reigning champion has branded this year’s race “a climber’s Tour”, so much is expected of the likes of Alberto Contador and Quintana who favour the punishing mountainous stages, sections of the race where huge time advantages can be gained as well as lost. The nine climbing days – starting with stage five at Le Falgoux on Wednesday – will offer many challenges and only the toughest riders will be able to navigate the many peaks and troughs that the route offers.
Regarded as the best pure climber in the world, Quintana developed his technique many years ago while cycling to school in Combita, the Northern Colombian town which has an altitude of 10,000 feet. And at 58kg – 13kg lighter than Froome – Quintana’s slender physique could give him the upper hand when meandering through France’s highest peaks.
One of the stages he’ll be targeting is Mout Ventoux, where the illustrious climb through Bedoin returns after a three-year absence.
With a gruelling 15.7km ascent to greet the riders at the end of this 184km stage, the Colombian will be bidding to showcase his stunning, nimble abilities in the mountains.
Should the race go down to the wire, Stage 20 from Megeve to Morzine is the final mountainous leg where Quintana could very well stamp his credentials as the first South American winner.
Strong support is needed, and he is blessed to be assisted by his superb Movistar team-mate Alejandro Valverde, who also finished on the podium last year. Valderde is now 36 and knows his own chance for Tour glory has passed so should be more tuned-in than ever in helping his colleague.
Quintana’s early season form suggests he could go one better this year, and with many demanding climbs to suit his strengths, expect the Colombian to be sporting the yellow jersey come July 24.
Know more about Sport360 Application