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The last time the Tour de France hit the cobbles of Roubaix in 2018, Nairo Quintana finished 24th, comfortably in the reduced peloton. Four years later and the climber had improved to 13th, the first GC rider after Tadej Pogačar to cross the line as part of the main, reduced bunch once more. How many 59kg Colombians do you know who can do that?
“It’s all for Nairo today,” his Arkéa-Samsic teammate Connor Swift told CyclingTips at the start of the stage. “If anything happens to him the whole team is expected to stop apart from Warren Barguil, so he doesn’t lose any time.
“The main thing is if he’s out of position and the road is blocked it’s always hard to move up, so if there is that moment where the road opens you’ve got a job to bring him up and make sure he’s as far up as possible, even if that means moving out of the way for him. If the team is at the front then he needs to be sat second or third wheel, third wheel the maximum, because if he’s sat any further back in the team, seven people back or something then that’s like 70th position so that’s no good. If he’s in front always keep your eyes on him. If he is in front then you know to stop for him, give him your bike, your wheel, it’s not all the time being in front of him but being aware of where he is and that he’s in the best position possible.”
While Swift finished a few minutes back, Hugo Hofstetter and Łukasz Owsian, as well as Barguil, all finished in the main peloton, having been there in case Quintana punctured on the troublesome cobbles. Yet Quintana sailed over them like he’s Flandrian-born. Nairo van Quintanen.
Arkéa-Samsic posted a shocked emoji next to an image of a dusty Quintana warming down after a day where he defied what maybe even they believed him capable of.
“Pretty good, we had a good team and a good feeling,” Quintana said after the finish. “We saw that in the final selection we had four riders in a group of around 20 which was a big help. It was one of those days where you can’t rest. Now we will try for the mountains and we will be ready.”
For non-Spanish speakers, it can often be quite hard to get to know Nairo Quintana, so what can Connor Swift tell us about his team leader? What’s he into? What’s he like?
“I’m not too sure what he watches on Netflix,” Swift admits, “but he’s a super nice guy and any job you do for him he’s super thankful after the stage. He’s a funny little fella, he likes to joke around a bit and likes his Spanish music and likes to have a bit of a boogie on the bus. He’s a cool guy.”