Ahead of his bid to add a second Vuelta al País Vasco victory to his ever-growing palmarés, Movistar’s Nairo Quintana talked to regional newspaper El Diario Vasco.
The Colombian had more on his mind than just the week’s racing though, most of all his condition. He’s in good shape, he says, but illness has interfered with preparation for the race somewhat.
“At the moment I feel under the weather,” he says. “Catalunya affected the whole team. I caught a virus which left me with chills and a dry cough. And on top of that it has been raining!”
On the eve of the race, Quintana’s team had been depleted as brothers Gorka and Ion Izagirre were ruled out of the race with gastroenteritis.
Aside from the fight to stay healthy, Quintana anticipates tough competition over the coming days. The 24-year-old singled out Sky’s Sergio Luis Henao (second last year) as well three-time winner Alberto Contador of Tinkoff, who he beat to the overall title at the Volta a Catalunya last month.
“My rivals are fit, on track – especially Contador. He looks good in terms of racing and condition,” he says. “What he does, he does well – attacks, climbs, as usual. And Froome was pretty strong in Catalunya – he already has a high level. Come Tour-time they will be in even better form.”
Conversation inevitably turned to the race’s route, which has been widely recognised as one of the toughest-looking editions of recent years.
“It is very hard, unreasonably tough I think,” says Quintana. “The climb in the Eibar time trial is also hard, but I like the time trial – the descent is very fast and has some deceiving corners.”
“The hills are not long but they are hard. [The organisers] have to think a bit about the riders before putting together such a harsh route.”
There’s also the question of the weather – rain is forecast during the week, something that riders from Contador to Joaquim Rodríguez have already commented on. Meanwhile Quintana has a complicated relationship with wet weather.
“If the weather is bad the road grime will complicate things,” he says. “I don’t like the rain – I prefer good, clear weather. But if it does rain my allergies don’t affect me and I feel better. When I won here in 2013 it rained a lot and that actually benefitted me.”
Finally, and inevitably, came subject of moto crashes and rider safety. It’s an issue that has been hard to ignore for months now, one that has been tragically brought back to the fore with the death of Wanty-Groupe Gobert’s Antoine Demoitié at Gent-Wevelgem.
“I’m very sad about what happened to Demoitié. He was just doing his job,” said Quintana. “What happened is outrageous, but it’s not [happening] just now. Already last year there were problems at the Vuelta, Clásica San Sebastián, in the classics and at the Giro.”
Rather worryingly, Quintana went on to admit that it is normal to be afraid of motos, saying “Of course (I have been afraid)! It’s normal.”
A number of solutions have been put forward by a number of people around the cycling world, and Quintana calls for a more thorough licensing system.
“Any oversight can mean a tragedy. It cannot be that in a WorldTour race there are people who drive a car only in that race,” he says.
“Just as the directors have to get a license, everyone in the race should have a certificate to authorise them to follow a race, and not start driving directly in the WorldTour.”