Nairo Quintana targets return to winner’s circle in lofty heights of Asturias

Nairo Quintana is top favorite for victory in three-stage Vuelta a Asturias starting Friday.

Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

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Nairo Quintana put an “X” on his calendar for this weekend’s Vuelta a Asturias in northern Spain.

He’s won before at the three-day race, and he wants to win again in the weeks ahead of the Tour de France.

The 31-year-old Colombian superstar is keen to prove to the peloton he is fully recovered from double knee surgery and that he will be back at his best for the major stage races in France this summer.

“I want to win the race,” Quintana said Thursday. “It took me a few weeks to rebuild from my two knee operations, and now I feel better and better. I can’t wait to make it happen.”

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Quintana will be looking for his first win in 2021, and will square off against, former team, Movistar and a mix of second-tier teams. Recent winners at the race include Richard Carapaz and Hugh Carthy, with Quintana a winner in 2017.

The three-day event opens Friday with a lumpy stage around Oviedo, and tackles the Cat. 1 Alto de Acebo in stage 2. The summit finish at Cat. 1 Alto de Naranco on Sunday should decide the winner.

Quintana has seen a busy 2021 spring, with four stage races and 24 days of racing so far. He didn’t race after the end of last year’s Tour de France in September.

It was a traumatic off-season for Quintana, who underwent double knee surgery for injuries. An investigation by French authorities dating back to last year’s Tour de France involving some of the Arkéa-Samsic riders and staff has gone quiet, but still hangs over the team.

After a solid showing at the Tour of the Alps, where he was seventh overall against a top field, Quintana is ready to step up.

“I regained physical condition there that allowed me to race in the mountains again with most of my direct opponents,” he said in a team press note. “I know the Tour of Asturias well. It’s great event with a lot of vertical drop. The competition as it has been since the start of the season will be fierce, and not to be overlooked. We will have to be, too.”

Quintana is slated to race the Critérium du Dauphiné before the Tour de France. Despite some close calls, the team remains winless so far in 2021.

A victory right now would be a big boost heading into summer.

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