Nairo Quintana: “The smile I carried through the finish line was just a grimace of pure suffering”

Saturday, atop the grueling Alto de La Camperona, Nairo Quintana took the leader’s jersey by leaving all rivals behind in the last three kilometers of incredible slopes in the Sabero valley, following 181km from Villalpando where the Arrieta/Chente-led squad always behaved well.

As Chris Froome (Sky) went on his own from behind and race leader Atapuma (BMC) was soon dropped back, Alejandro Valverde made sure that a steady pace was kept at the GC peloton to make things harder for the Briton. Froome would bridge back and eventually created the big selection: the Sky leader, Alberto Contador and Quintana, with Valverde struggling some meters behind.

Nairo Quintana didn’t hesitate: he countered Froome’s move and soon opened a considerable gap, which grew towards 25” over Contador on the line, 33” to Froome, Pardilla (CJR) and Valverde.

“The smile I carried through the finish line was just a grimace of pure suffering.”, said Quintana after the stage. “But happily, we achieved our goal of the day. This was my main expectation for the day: trying and putting some time on our rivals.”

“We started, however, those steep slopes of La Camperona with much caution; we were waiting for Froome’s attack, which obviously came, and we had energy enough to respond to it. I was coming to this Vuelta with lots of ambition, like in every single GT I start, but it always boosts your confidence to see you’re a little bit ahead of your rivals for one day.

“It’s never soon to get a leader’s jersey: it’s better to be ahead with a few seconds than trying desperately to make them up from behind. The GC is looking quite sorted out, which is reasonable, taking into account that we’ve raced really fast over the week, with demanding stages which take its toll in finishes like today’s. From now onwards, with such a strong team that we have, I’m sure I’ll defend myself well, starting off with tomorrow, when we will wait and see how things go.”

Alejandro Valverde: “What else can I ask for in this race? I’ve spent many days on the fight, I’m still in 2nd overall after a demanding finish, I’ve contested the stage wins many times… and now we’ve got Nairo in the lead, and should he need any help, he’ll find it from myself. I’m super happy with the result up to this point. It was actually a bit of my task into the steepest part of the climb, pulling so the pace didn’t stop into the first kilometer. We really hit the front hard in the beginning of the ascent, as we tried to avoid any crashes nor troubles.

“Froome upped the pace at a certain point – he’s one who really develops a plan, riding by his own pace and knowing where he can go full-gas – and Nairo reacted really well, countered and grabbed some nice seconds. He rode really well. Some interesting days are ahead for us. I’ll try to profit from any chances I find, while I help Nairo chase his goal. I’m satisfied with the fact that I’m here, in this Vuelta, after two GTs, in such a good position. And while it lasts, I won’t stop going.”

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