In a recent interview, cycling legend and old Belgian guy Eddie Merckx put his money squarely on Chris Froome to win the next Tour de France while discounting the chances of rival Nairo Quintana.
In Eddie-speak, he put it this way: “Quintana climbs well, but he’s a bit weighed down, too cautious. Waiting for the penultimate day and Alpe d’Huez [in this year’s Tour] to attack Froome revealed a lack of calibre.”
While it’s true that in hindsight and from the cozy couch perspective Quintana perhaps left his attacks a bit too late in the Tour, labeling him as cautious and lacking calibre seem wildly off the mark.
You have only to look at the circumstances of Quintana’s 2014 Giro d’Italia victory to see he is anything but timid and short on character. In that Giro, the weather conditions were borderline apocalyptic on the descent of the Stelvio on stage 16 with snow and rain when Quintana attacked.
The descent was poorly neutralized and confusion reigned as Quintana kept racing and put himself in a commanding position to win his first grand tour. He showed no mercy, plenty of raw ambition and a willingness to seize the opportunity no matter what critics might say. This was not the act of a cautious guy who preferred to play things safe.
In fact, his defiant response to those critics revealed a young man who was prepared to be as ruthless as needed to win bikes races. “Is this is a joke or what? I did not get into a car and drive to the bottom of the Stelvio. I raced to the top of the mountain and that’s when the gains were made,” said Quintana said at the time. “I am not a rider who has arrived here by chance.”
Now, any Tour de France with significant time trial kilometers will be an automatic disadvantage for Quintana versus Froome. However, to discount the Colombian because of “caution” and a “lack of calibre” is clearly inaccurate.