Nairo is, despite a few flashes of his old brilliance, going backwards in this Tour, first time off the podium in four appearances, etc. But his issues are not solely those of fatigue from the Giro-Tour double. There are serious management questions affecting the popular Colombian’s career, ones that will persist if things don’t change.
First-off, Movistar, as great and historic a team as it is (the team began life as Reynolds, became Banesto, Iles Balaeres – So Delgano, Indurain, Olano then Valverde), has not evolved with the times. They are old fashioned and this is showing in today’s modern era where after two weeks of the Tour the top six riders on GC are all within 1’:17”. The team is reluctant to use the many aerodynamic resources at their disposal to the despair of Canyon, their bicycle supplier. Quintana’s physical preparation is unknown, as he barely raced before the Giro and then disappeared again before this Tour. The Achilles heel of South American racers is homesickness and his constant trips back to Colombia cannot be the best approach for achieving great form. Can you imagine Sky unlocking those electronic anklets and letting their riders go it alone somewhere far from Mission Control? Not likely.
Sources tell me that Quintana has become a difficult presence on the team, making demands and causing some real friction. The loss of Valverde – who I feel would have been fighting for the podium himself at this point – the captain who could keep the Colombian calm and well placed in the peloton has been fatal to his chances this year. As well, his main mountain helpers, Amador and Herrada are crashed out and ill, with only the mercurial Betancur there on occasions, such as yesterday when he saved Nairo from even further catastrophe.
The backbiting from his family about the Giro-Tour double is not only destructive, but unmerited: Nairo signed on to the project with clear eyes and cannot blame the team.
This Tour may become a wakeup call for the Colombian. Landa is lurking and looking for team leadership, Uran is heading for the podium and Colombian media focus, while Nairo, out of contract this year and who has not really progressed in several years, finds his bargaining position considerably weakened. And unlike Uran, who was capable of living among the cold Brits at Sky and the brutal Belgians at Quickstep, Nairo, a real country boy, has limited options to pursue.
John Eustice, is the organizer of the Thompson Bucks County Classic in Doylestown, Pennsylvania and a long-time cycling analyst who has contributed to ESPN, ABC Sports, Time Magazine, and CNN among others. The Bucks County native resides in New York City. He was a pioneer on the European racing circuit and is a two-time United States Professional Champion.