Cycle//Vuelta a España
by Marcus Leach
Most teams would be happy to have one rider in contention for general classification at a Grand Tour, yet Movistar have the luxury, after the opening week of the Vuelta a España, of having two riders in the top three.
In Nairo Quintana, the current race leader, and Alejandro Valverde, the man who lead before his teammate took control, the team have two genuine contenders for the title. Any doubts that the competition between the two is negative for the team, or their relationship for that matter, has been cast aside by the strong bond the two riders share.
Obviously both have ambitions to win but there is an ease about the two of them that teams such as Sky failed to foster when Chris Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins were riding together. With an individual time trial to come today (Tuesday) both riders are looking forward to getting back on the bike after a rest day.
"I wasn't really thinking about taking the lead on stage nine," Quintana said. "I thought I would snatch the leader's jersey during the last week, where I think I'll be doing better and the team will perform at its best into the mountains.
"The opportunity to take it just came along by the race situation, but I'm not leading by a huge gap either. I made slight improvements in my time trial performance and I think I'll be close to the competition; should I lose any time, it's obvious that it will be because they're better specialists than me on time trialling - I don't think I'll lose much, though.
"I'm having good legs by now and I hope to keep them that way and ride to my best. Let's hope temperatures are a bit more 'normal' in the upcoming days, neither too hot nor too cold. We'll fight to keep the jersey until the end if everything goes right, but we know it won't be easy by any means. Still, we've got a strong team and that keeps us calm for what's to come.
"We knew that many things our rivals said before the race were just words, with no value. The reality was what we all could see in the last few days: every single favourite who came to this race was at 100% before starting the race. We saw on stage nine who will be the real general classification contenders: we had the strongest favourite, Contador, doing really well; despite his crash in the Tour, he might be doing even better than we could predict, though I already thought before the race he'd be the biggest favourite, and I'm not mistaken up to this point. Then, there's Purito, who's also showing great form, and also Froome, whom we'll see how he does tomorrow in the time trial so we can predict how far he can get in the race.
"We've got a race strategy - which we obviously won't be sharing in public - but our main strength and advantage is that we are two. It will be a bit more difficult for our rivals - we know we must be intelligent and play our cards in the most appropriate moments, both Alejandro and I. The important thing for us is having the team win the race. We must keep our commitment, stay calm and profit from every chance, though the last week will be more demanding and might probably be decisive. Still, anything could happen."
Alejandro Valverde shared Quintana's sentiments, and either the two are very good at hiding any potential animosity, or, as many suspect, they really are happy to ride together and sing from the same hymn sheet.
"The time trial is a very tough one. The first 11 kilometres are really difficult, with many pace changes. It's not a steady climb, and it's really hard in the final kilometres. The rest of the parcours goes through windy roads, which favour a time trial specialist," Valverde, who is currently third, said.
"Froome might be a strong rival, maybe the strongest candidate for the stage win, but I think as well Nairo as myself and many other contenders might be in the mix and do well. Still, it doesn't matter what result we get - we'll keep fighting to win the Vuelta and let the fans enjoy. The most important thing for us, above all, is to keep enjoying with what we do and achieve: me, Nairo and the whole team.
"We came into this race with a clear idea in mind, which was winning the Vuelta, and at the moment we're in first and third place. We've got a strong team for the two weeks left in this race and we're stronger than our rivals, since we're two."