MADRID (VN) — Eusebio Unzue knows a good thing when he sees it, and with Nairo Quintana, the veteran Movistar manager realizes he has a real gem. Unzue is handling Quintana with care, which could mean the 23-year-old Colombian might not race next year’s Tour de France.
“We won’t finalize the racing schedule until January. If Nairo goes to the Giro or the Tour, it will be to be going for the best possible result,” Unzue told VeloNews. “Either way, we will make a racing calendar that suits the preparation to arrive at the race with the best possibilities to win.”
Unzue would only confirm that Quintana will open his 2014 season at the Tour de San Luís in January, but it’s likely that Alejandro Valverde will race the Tour as Movistar’s outright leader, meaning Quintana could well go instead to the Giro with a shot at the pink jersey.
“The Giro is a great race for young riders. It’s a race that fits very well in the progression of a developing grand tour rider. Sooner or later, Nairo will know the Giro,” he said. “Nairo has already shown he’s capable of riding well in a grand tour, but he also has a lot of years ahead of him.”
Quintana barnstormed through this year’s Tour, winning a stage in the Alps en route to second overall behind winner Chris Froome (Sky). With a mountainous route on tap for 2014, it might seem crazy not to take Quintana back to the Tour, but Unzue insisted that there are other issues to consider with young Colombian.
With Quintana under contract at Movistar through 2015, Unzue wants to be cautious not to burn out his young protégé. Unzue wants to give Quintana at least another season before putting full pressure of team leadership on him. Valverde, who turns 34 in April, can still carry the weight of the team for at least another year, giving Quintana another season to find his feet without too much pressure.
“We have no stress, no rush. He’s young, so the most important thing is to improve his physical maturity and his experience in the big tours,” Unzue continued. “He’s already shown that he can ride well over three weeks, so now it’s a question of patience.”
The idea of unleashing Quintana on the Giro makes sense to avoid the massive expectations and media pressure that would inevitably come with a full-on showdown with Froome.
On the other hand, Quintana has nothing to lose if he goes to the Giro. If he wins, he can skip the Tour and later race the Vuelta ahead of the worlds. If things go sideways in Italy, he could still race the Tour to help Valverde and hunt for stages.
Either way, there’s less pressure on Quintana in what will be an important season in his development as a top pro.
“After his big result in the Tour, now he has to learn to deal with the pressure and the expectations that come with that success, not to mention the media attention,” Unzue said. “So far, it seems like he’s handling it very well. He’s very mature for his age, but at the same time, we must give him time to develop.”
And the way Unzue sees it, Froome will be hard to take down. He pointed to Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) as Froome’s most dangerous rival, and said Valverde is a natural candidate for the podium.
With Sky throttling the Tour, chances of victory are higher at the Giro instead of the Tour.
“Over the past three years, Froome has been the best grand tour rider. He only won the Tour in 2013, but he was the strongest in the 2012 Tour, and the 2011 Vuelta a España,” Unzue said. “He’s already the best grand tour rider, so Froome doesn’t need to prove anything this coming Tour. It will be hard to beat him.”
The UCI’s top team prize for Movistar
On Thursday, Unzue was in Madrid to accept the UCI WorldTour trophy for the best team prize from UCI president Brian Cookson.
“Given that cycling is a sport where the individuals win the races, it brings us a big satisfaction because it’s a prize everyone on the team can share,” Unzue said. “It reflects how consistent we were across the entire season.”
Unzue, who’s been in the cycling game since the 1980s, is one of Spain’s survivors in an ever-difficult climate. Movistar is committed as title sponsor through 2016, assuring the team’s place as the lone Spanish squad in the WorldTour for three more years.
In 2006, just before Spain’s economy cratered, Spain boasted nine teams in the sport’s first and second divisions. Now there are just two, with Movistar joined by Caja Rural in the Pro Continental ranks.
“I would like to share this success Spanish cycling is celebrating today with more teams, and that’s unfortunate for our sport,” he said. “We have seen too many teams disappearing, especially with the Euskaltel-Euskaltel, which makes us feel a bit like orphans as the only Spanish team in the peloton. And it will make it even harder for Spanish riders to find a place.”