Apparently there was no rest for the weary at Movistar last season. They worked star rider Nairo Quintana into exhaustion, forcing him into race after race with no downtime to rebuild his resources.
In an El Tiempo interview, Quintana now openly admits to a Colombian version of the French phrase, les forcats de la route — the slaves of the road. This enforced servitude did not serve Quintana well — after making the podium three times in the Tour de France, he finished a physically drained 12th in the 2018 edition.
“We wanted to let the body recover, allow it some respite, because I approached every year with the blessed bad habit of competing for everything. The boss says, ‘it’s because Nairo’s ambitious’. No, Nairo isn’t, Nairo does what you want and what you order,” Quintana said.
Supposedly those days are over and Quintana’s Suēno Amarillo, his dream of yellow, is back on track. If you believe Quintana, he’s taken more control over his race schedule and will avoid the excessive demands from his team to pin numbers on.
“The objective is to arrive at the Tour in good shape. If I realise I’m strong, and it’s possible to win, well we’ll do that, but the idea is to be more conservative,” he said. “If I sense an opportunity I’m not going to let it go to waste. If I win races it’ll be because there’s a way, not because I have to, not through some sort of obsession. We’re focused on the Tour and there’s no need to figure in other races.”
After a few underwhelming years in which he failed to win another grand tour, the Colombian hinted that mistakes had been made. First, his attempt at the Giro-Tour double was an unmitigated disaster. Now it’s clear those mistakes also extended to the way Movistar was using him and, just as importantly, how he was letting himself be used.
Besides the workload, he’s clearly frustrated with the construction of the team roster. He’s not happy about the his back-up band and isn’t crazy about the new folks filling the holes. Read — friends out, rival in.
“It’s a group which is still lacking people for what we really want and need. They’ve made important signings but we have to work and discover how they can be important,” said Quintana.
“I wanted to keep hold of some of the guys who left, friends who were with me for a long time, because we already understood each other. They were people who were interested in doing their jobs well.”
That’s a lot of lines to read between and we’d love to listen in on the behind-closed-doors conversations taking place between Quintana, team boss Eusebio Unzué and new star signing Mikel Landa.
As everyone well knows, Landa and Quintana both want to win the Tour de France — especially when there’s a decent chance four-time winner Chris Froome of Team Sky may not be on hand to defend his crown thanks to his adverse analytical finding for the asthma drug salbutamol. Unless they’re changing the rules, there can only be one winner in Le Grand Shindig.
“Landa is a rider that Eusebio Unzué has always liked, and he signed him. He has his qualities and I like him,” said Quintana. “He’s a different rider. He has his personal objectives and they’re very respectable – because I have them, and so does Valverde and others. Everyone wants to win it [the Tour]. Every thought, every objective is respectable, whether it’s possible or not. He’s going to try, we’re all going to try.” Hmm, sounds like a free-for-all chez Movistar.
How would you like to be training like an animal for months on end to win the toughest endurance event in the world with all the pressure on your small shoulders — and you’re dealing with a potential conflict within your own team.
“The team has confidence in him [Landa]. From here on out we don’t know if it’s going to go well, average, or badly, but the team is backing him, as it is me, and Valverde. We have to work in harmony, as a team.”
Quintana is basically throwing his hands up in the air. We get the feeling his plan is basically “whatever happens, I’m going to attack when I want to attack and I have no intention of helping Landa win the Tour.” It will be a fascinating thing to watch if Quintana loses time in the first ten days in France and Landa doesn’t.
The Colombian has turned all decision-making over, not to team management, but to a higher authority in the Alps and Pyrenees. “The road will define everything,” said Quintana. “It puts everyone in their place.”