Quintana completes final step toward Tour de France

The Colombian rides to second overall behind Alberto Contador in the Route du Sud

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MILAN (VN) — Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar) did not win his final Tour de France warm-up race, but he left the Route du Sud with “peace of mind” after facing Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo).

The Spaniard Contador won the Route du Sud overall Sunday in southwest France to confirm his form after taking the Giro d’Italia title May 31 and his status as a favorite for the Tour de France that starts July 4 in Utrecht.

Quintana, as in the deciding stage to Pyrenean village Bagnères-de-Luchon on Saturday, was right behind him. The 25-year-old placed second in the overall behind Contador at 17 seconds. The result convinced him that he is on level, if not higher, with Contador and that he is ready for his first attempt to win the Tour.

“I’m calm after this race,” Quintana said, according to Biciciclismo.

“We saw that one of the big favorites for the Tour is riding strongly, but not at a level superior to mine.”

Contador, who may retire after the 2016 season, already counts a Giro d’Italia victory on his palmarès for 2015. He will attempt a rare Giro/Tour double this year and besides Quintana, he will face favorites Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Chris Froome (Sky).

Quintana is the rising sun in stage racing. His palmarès is nowhere near as healthy as Contador’s, but he is quickly making up ground. In his last visit to the Tour in 2013, he placed second behind Froome, won the Annecy mountain stage, and took both the mountains and youth classifications.

Before leaving France, he said, “Maybe one day I can come back to try to win the Tour.”

Movistar sent him to the Giro d’Italia last year and let teammate Alejandro Valverde lead the Tour team because the squad wanted a developing Quintana to have a chance at winning a grand tour before returning to the Tour. He succeeded, beating fellow Colombian Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-Quick-Step) and Fabio Aru (Astana) to take the 2014 Giro title.

This season, the team has planned Quintana’s schedule around the Tour. So far he is on track.

In the mid-march Tirreno-Adriatico stage race in central Italy, Quintana beat a field that included Nibali and Contador. He blasted through the snowstorm on Monte Terminillo and took the leader’s blue jersey, which he kept over the following two stages.

He did his homework as well, racing the Dwars door Vlaanderen and E3 Harelbeke. Seeing a Colombian racing for a Spanish team in the one-day classics was as rare as a sunny and warm day in northern Europe, but Quintana threw himself into the madness to prepare for the Tour de France’s cobbled stage to Cambrai.

In last year’s cobbled stage to Arenberg at the Tour, Contador lost 2:35 to eventual winner Nibali. The result might have been a fatal blow, but it remains unknown since Contador abandoned after a crash in stage 10.

After his European campaign — which also included a fourth-place result in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country) and an eighth-place finish in the Tour de Romandie — Quintana returned home to Colombia to train at altitude. Last week, he flew to Europe for his final march to the Tour de France. The stopover at the Route du Sud only added to the confidence that he has in himself and that followers have in his chances to win cycling’s biggest race.

“This result gives me peace of mind because I’m re-finding my race rhythm,” Quintana said. “The Route du Sud was an ideal race to understand my level of fitness and the feedback that I had were very comforting. I’m truly well.”

The only thing that remains to be seen is how Quintana will stack up to Froome, Nibali, and other favorites like American Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing). The three raced last week in the Critérium du Dauphiné, which Froome won over van Garderen.

The Tour de France remains the final test, a chance to see if the lead-up races, homework, and altitude training will equal a win for Quintana.

An American in France

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