Quintana the rider to beat in final Tour tune-up

The Colombian climber will tackle the Route du Sud starting Wednesday, a race he won in 2012, as he preps for the Tour de France.

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Nairo Quintana is the star attraction of the four-day Route du Sud that kicks off Wednesday in his final tune-up before July’s Tour de France.

The two-time Tour runner-up has been training at altitude in Colombia since closing out his European spring campaign with a victory at the Tour de Romandie in early May. While most Tour-bound favorites raced the Critérium du Dauphiné or this week’s Tour de Suisse, Quintana chose Route du Sud for the second year in a row.

Speaking to journalists in Colombia this weekend, Quintana said the race is his ideal approach to the Tour.

“I’ve done it a few times; I won in 2012, and last year I was second. It gives me the rhythm I need without having to push myself to the limit,” the Movistar rider said. “It has some good mountains and the French roads are perfect for finishing off the preparation. And it also gives us more time at altitude, and that allows me to arrive at the Tour in very good condition.

“If I did the Dauphiné, I would have fewer days at altitude. After the Route du Sud, it’s eat, sleep and train, and wait until the start of the Tour.”

Last year, Tinkoff’s Alberto Contador beat Quintana at the Route de Sud following the Spaniard’s Giro d’Italia win. This year, Contador raced to fifth in the Dauphiné behind winner Chris Froome of Sky, opening the door for Quintana in France this weekend.

Quintana should have a pretty easy go at Route du Sud, as there are no major rivals on the start list. Luis Angel Maté (Cofidis), Eduardo Sepulveda (Fortuneo – Vital Concept), Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie), and David Arroyo (Caja Rural) are a few other top names, but none should present a major threat to Quintana.

Thursday’s opening stage to Bessières will be one for the sprinters, with Bryan Couquard (Direct Energie), Gerard Ciolek (Stolting), Carlos Barbero (Caja Rural), and Arnaud Démare (FDJ) expected to lock horns. Friday features two stages, with a short sprinter’s stage in the morning followed by a 13.4-kilometer rolling time trial around Albi. Saturday’s 185km climbing stage tackles the Col du Tourmalet before ending atop the Cat. 1 Col de Couraduque — an ideal course for Quintana. Sunday features a circuit course over hilly terrain in another opportunity for the sprinters.

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