Two months after being Sky’s most difficult challenger in the Tour de France, Nairo Quintana – second behind Chris Froome – says he would be more than happy to be a thorn in the side of Sky in the Tour of Britain, which starts on Sunday in Peebles in the Scottish Borders.
“I hope so,” the 23-year-old who won both the king of the mountains and the Tour’s best young rider classification tells The Independent with a quiet chuckle. “I don’t know the roads of Great Britain but what I’ve seen of the route I like a lot, and I never go on a race just to make up the numbers.
“It’s going to be fun taking on Sky again, too. They’ve got great riders and in a race as important as this one, it is going to be a good battle.”
The Tour of Britain traditionally has a strong line-up of locally born riders and this year, with cycling’s greatest sprinter Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma), and 2012 Tour winner Sir Bradley Wiggins (Sky) taking part, is no exception. Ireland’s Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) and Quintana’s Movistar team-mate, the British national time trial champion Alex Dowsett, are two more top names.
“We’ve got a very strong squad,” Quintana says. “With Alex racing at home our motivation will be very high.”
But if Martin should be active on all the big climbs in the Lake District and Dartmoor, and Dowsett’s challenge will be based around taking on Wiggins in the stage three Knowsley time trial, Quintana is the big unknown quantity.
For the Colombian, equally, the Tour of Britain is unfamiliar: he has never been to the UK, let alone raced here. It will also be the first time that he will have raced since mid-August. “My initial objective is to build up for the World Championships, but if I can put on a good show in Britain, I will,” he promises.
Questions such as who will be the lead rider for the Movistar team in the British race – traditionally a highly unpredictable, volatile package which six-rider squads struggle to control – “will be sorted out as the event plays out,” he says. “The route is good for ambushes and we’ll be watching for our best moments.” Ambushes are a Quintana speciality.
But whether the young buck plays a support or leading role, his credentials in week-long stage races like the Tour of Britain are excellent. In 2013 alone, Quintana gave Sky’s Richie Porte a trouncing in the exceptionally difficult, rainy, Tour of the Basque Country this April, and his last win came in the Tour of Burgos, another week-long event, this August.
Second place in his maiden Tour de France was his stand-out result so far. “I’ve done a lot this year and whatever I get [in the Tour of Britain] is a bonus,” he insists. “But I’m not going to be resting on my laurels. I haven’t raced for a month and I’m hungry for wins.”
As if that were not enough to heighten interest in Quintana, while Sky are keen to take their maiden win in their home race, Wiggins has never taken on the Colombian in a direct duel for victory in any event. The Tour of Britain might just see that change.