After yesterday's stage on the Tour de France it feels like there is really only 1 person who can challenge Chris Froome’s lead going into the last week of the tour – Nairo Quintana.
At just 25 years old, he has already won the Giro Italia, and was runner up in the 2013 tour when he was just 23. It feels inevitable that it is just a matter of time before he wins the Tour de France.
Quintana comes from a small village in Colombia, that is 3,000 metres above altitude. He has been a cyclist since he was a small boy, riding the 16km to school and back everyday. It was downhill there, but a climb all the way home. So from a young age he has been climbing at altitude on a daily basis, an amazing base that has produced one of the world’s best climbers on the International road racing scene. When you watch him climb the 15% inclines of the Tour he doesn't even seem to break into a sweat, his cycling style is as effortless going up mountains as it is on the flat.
Quintana chooses to still live in his home town of Boyaca, coming to Europe to race for a few months at a time, then returning home to the Andes to train and be with his family. This is an unusual approach, as most pro-cyclists base themselves in Europe, but it obviously works for him, and allows him to do the majority of his training during the year at Altitude.
Not surprisingly Quintana is a specialist climber, known for his ability to launch sustained and repeated attacks on steep gradients. In the 2013 Tour de France, Quintana attacked on the Col de Pailheres during Stage 8 and became the first man to cross the highest pass that year. Whilst he was overtaken, on the stage's penultimate climb, he nevertheless took the lead in the young riders classification and received the award for that stage’s most aggressive rider.
On stage 15 of the same Tour, on Mont Ventoux, he again attacked early on and again only Chris Froome was able to match him, eventually dropping him in the final two kilometers of the climb. In stage 20 he attacked Froome riding away from him in the last kilometer during the climb to Annecy-Semnoz to win the stage over Joaquin Rodriquez and Froome. He ended up finishing second in the General Classification and also won the Young Riders Jersey and the King of the Mountains competition of that years tour.
It was the best result for a Colombian rider in the Tour de France and the first Tour debutant to finish on the podium since Jan Ullrich in 1996.
So will the 9 stone Mountain King be Froome’s downfall next week in the Alps? It’s certainly Movistar’s plan going into the last week. Lets just hope that Froome, and his team have enough left in their tanks to fend him off!