Open road for Quintana at the Vuelta a España

Nairo Quintana won't be grumbling about sharing leadership duties following Carapaz's late-hour exit from the Vuelta

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There won’t be too many cooks in the Movistar kitchen, at least not during this Vuelta a España.

With the late-hour replacement of Giro d’Italia champion Richard Carapaz due to injury, Movistar is set to throw all of its collective power behind one rider — Nairo Quintana.

“I’m here with a good team, and we’ll see how the body responds,” Quintana said Thursday. “I hope I have recovered well from the Tour de France.”

The Spanish team has struggled the past few seasons trying to balance between its bounty of GC talent and satisfy the ambitions of each of its individual stars. Often with mixed results. Movistar won the Giro with Carapaz when everyone rallied behind the Ecuadoran, but the wheels fell off the cart during the Tour when it seemed it was every man for himself.

Without Carapaz at the start line Saturday in Torrevieja, things are much more straight forward tactically going into the season’s final grand tour. It appears there won’t any inside-the-bus drama. Reigning world champion Alejandro Valverde said without Carapaz, the team will rally around Quintana.

All eyes will be on Quintana, and what he can deliver against a wide-open Vuelta field in what will be his final grand tour in a Movistar jersey. And unlike the last few seasons, when Quintana grumbled about having to share leadership duties, he won’t be able to say that during the next three weeks.

“There are ambitions for the podium, and I’ve come here to fight for it,” Quintana said. “I feel good and I hope to close the circle [with Movistar] the best way possible.”

The last 24 hours have thrown Movistar’s Vuelta ambitions for a loop. The team was bringing Giro winner Carapaz and Quintana to battle for the overall. Carapaz crashed during a paid-appearance critérium in Holland last weekend, and the team confirmed Thursday he would be unable to start the Vuelta as planned.

His absence will be a big blow for the Spanish “blues,” but it should also erase any hint of leadership rivalry within the team bus.

Valverde, who will start with the No. 1 bib on Saturday, all but confirmed he will be racing to support Quintana.

“I don’t think I am at the level to win, because in a grand tour, you have to be very good for 21 days, even though I am feeling very good,” Valverde said. “We come with one GC leader, in Nairo Quintana, and we’ll have to see how he goes.”

Valverde said he’d like to try to win a stage and stay in the fight during this Vuelta, with one eye looking on defending his world title in Yorkshire next month. Last year, Valverde rode to fifth overall simply by following the wheels. A 2009 Vuelta winner, Valverde won’t let the GC ride away, but he said the initial plan is to support Quintana so long as he is in the battle.

“I don’t count myself out, and right now I believe I will be at the front,” Valverde continued. “[Losing Carapaz] changes everything. He was going to be one of our leaders. We are fighters, and this team always gives 100 percent.”

Even without Carapaz at the start line, this Vuelta will mark a closing chapter for the Spanish team.

Carapaz, Quintana and Mikel Landa are all leaving next season. Landa is already confirmed with Bahrain-Merida, while Carapaz is expected to join Team Ineos, and Quintana has been linked to Arkéa-Samsic. The team is reloading with Enric Mas (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and a mix of young pros and veterans.

This Vuelta will mark the end of the Quintana era as well as Movistar’s triumvirate.

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