It’s a good start to the season for Colombian cyclists, especially for golden boy Nairo
After a long winter, cycling is back in full swing. We’ve already had some exciting one-day races as well as week-long stage competitions. Most eyes are glued to the Fantastic Four: Nibali, Contador, Froome and our very own Quintana, as big favourites for le Tour.
The first duel this year took place in Spain, during the Vuelta d’Andalucia where Alberto Contador and Chris Froome exchanged blows on the mountain stages, with the latter coming in ahead by just one second. Alberto played down the significance of losing the first battle but I got the impression it left a big dent in his confidence. And the the results that followed somewhat confirm that.
The whole cycling world was waiting with baited breath to see the four of them clash during the last week last week’s Tirreno Adriatico, arguably the most important stage race before the Giro d’Italia. Unfortunately, just days before the start Froome dropped out, blaming an infection.
It took just one attack, on the slopes of Terminillo, in treacherous weather conditions, for Nairo Quintana to land a deadly blow to all his competitors, effectively winning the Tirreno ahead of Dutchman Bauke Mollema and his paisano Rigoberto Uran.
Interestingly, in the post-race conference he pointed out that the victory was key to boosting his confidence – essential for his head. Vincenzo Nibali was clearly without form, although he should not be discounted: he had a slow start last year, but got his act together after a slap on the wrist from his bosses and won the Tour de France.
The same can’t be said for Contador though: his confidence seems to be waning. Some might say that the mind is the trickiest thing to train. In 2013, I remember him losing the first race of the season to Froome by just few seconds. Then he lost the next one to both Nibali and Froome by a few more seconds. The gap grew even bigger during Dauphiné Libéré and finally came the Tour de France when the difference was measured in minutes. The question is, how can you turn the tide when the momentum is clearly with your opponent? This is what marks the difference between being good and being the best.
Let’s see what happens in July. For the moment I wouldn’t bet any money on Contador while Quintana, and to a lesser degree, Froome, are building their advantage.
As for the other Colombians, Uran is on his usual high level but continues to lack a certain something. However, taking third place in Tirreno bodes well for the rest of the season. Betancur seems to be more juicioso, although still off the pace. The others seem to be quietly building their form and “strengthening their heads” with good results.
By Freek Huigen