PARIS (Reuters) - Nairo Quintana has flown under the radar in the build-up to the Tour de France and although his team manager has cautioned against his inexperience, the Movistar rider could become the first Colombian to win the Grande Boucle.
The 25-year-old spent about six weeks in his home country training at altitude while other big guns were checking out Tour stages and racing in the Tour de Suisse or the Criterium du Dauphine week long races.
It was a program that suited Quintana well in 2013, when he finished second overall on his Tour debut before going on to win the Giro d‘Italia a year later.
He skipped the Tour that year and this year’s race seems tailor-made for the swarthy-faced climber who should relish the mountain stages.
Looking to ease the pressure on his protege, Movistar team manager Eusebio Unzue told Reuters that Quintana was still learning.
“You could say Nairo, after what he’s achieved in the past two years, is the favorite for the Tour de France, having won last year’s Giro,” he said.
“But the truth is that the Tour is something else. The three big favorites are Alberto (Contador), (Vincenzo) Nibali and (Chris) Froome. They have something fundamental that Nairo does not have: experience on the Tour de France.”
Defending champion Nibali has four Tour starts (for a total of 12 grand tours) under his belt, 2013 champion Chris Froome has four (9), and double winner Alberto Contador has seven (13), while Quintana only has one Tour start (four in grand tours) to show for himself.
The Colombian tried to make up for his lack of experience by riding on the cobbles -- which will feature on the first week of the Tour -- in racing conditions by taking part in the Dwars door Vlaanderen and GP E3-Harelbeke races in March, impressing with his bike-handling capacities.
Another concern is that he could have to share the leadership with the seasoned Alejandro Valverde, who at 35 has not given up hope of winning the Tour.
“Alejandro is available for Nairo,” said Unzue. “The whole team will be built around Nairo.”
The Spaniard, however, hinted Valverde could play his card.
“But if Alejandro wants to go for it, I won’t stop him. It’s a chance to go with two riders able to gun for GC (the general classification).”
Movistar have named a team who should also be able to put Quintana in a good position after the team time trial (stage nine) with time trial national champions Alex Dowsett, Jonathan Castroviejo and Adriano Malori.
Editing by Justin Palmer