Quintana wins Volta (+ Gent-Wevelgem)
After resisting repeated attacks by his rivals on a thrilling final circuit around Montjuïc, Movistar Team's Colombian prodigy Nairo Quintana added overall victory in the 2016 Volta a Catalunya to his two previous WorldTour one-week race wins, the 2013 Tour of the Basque Country and the 2015 Tirreno-Adriatico
After responding to a series of dangerous attacks, and with a Movistar Team that gave the best of itself despite being reduced by illness – José Herrada and Marc Soler joined Rubén Fernández in sick bay, also with symptoms of flu – Nairo Quintana today became the third Colombian rider to win the Volta a Catalunya. The champion from Boyacá imposed his authority on the race economically but decisively, braving the short (134km) and nervous seventh stage, with eight final circuits around Montjuïc, to add another prestigious win to his palmarès.
Supported on the climbs by Javi Moreno, Dayer Quintana and the excellent Winner Anacona, and on the flat by the reassuring Imanol Erviti, Nairo suppressed successive attempts on his race lead. In the first Intermediate Sprint of the day, Dan Martin (EQS) clawed back another second to move within 17" of the race lead. Four laps from the finish, Aru (AST) attacked with Barguil (TGA) and Vervaecke (LTS), only to see their move neutralised by Froome (SKY), whose darting acceleration led Nairo to chase him down in person. Moves by Contador (TNK), Hugh Carthy (CJR) and, with 4km to go and the end of the final climb in sight, Dan Martin again, failed to unseat Nairo, and the Colombian ended the day with his 7" lead over Contador intact. The Irishman Martin joined them on the final podium.
The win gave Nairo his 25th win as a professional. It was his ninth GC and his third one-week stage-race at WorldTour level, all of them early-season events: the 2013 Tour of the Basque Country, the 2015 Tirreno Adriatico, and now the 2016 Volta a Catalunya. The winner of the 2014 Giro d'Italia will now take a small break before starting the 'Itzulia', his next objective, on 4 April (Monday next). The Volta a Catalunya 2016 will be remembered for the commitment and organisation of the Movistar Team and the masterclass issued by the greatest Latin American rider in history.
Nairo Quintana: "I'm very, very happy. I have started the year well. This is really an incredible win, one of the hardest fought I've had in my career. Thanks to the team for their phenomenal work. We suffered for this and today we have been rewarded.
"We started the day with more strength than legs. Three of our riders were ill, with José Herrada and Marc Soler down with flu, so we had to defend my race lead with five. It was as hard-fought a stage as I have ever ridden. I have won the Volta by just seven seconds, which isn't a big margin and shows that my rivals were strong.
"I wouldn't say I'm getting ahead of myself. There are still many races to go, and we start them from zero, but having beaten all the big names who were here gives me confidence that I am doing things well with the focus on my dream of winning the yellow jersey. Winning here in Catalunya also means that I am still growing, still maturing, and progressing towards the big goal that we have set this season. I will keep accumulating race days and hopefully reach the start of the Tour de France in good shape. I'll be in the Basque Country, then at Liège and Romandie.
"This win is dedicated to my team-mates Adriano Malori and Jonathan Castroviejo, wishing them both a full and speedy recovery. It is also for the fans, especially the Colombians. A few years ago it was a surprise for me to see them here: now it feels normal, but it is still great to see them, not just here, in France too, and all over Europe. They are wonderful people."
Gent-Wevelgem: Amador, Sütterlin stand their ground in yet another demanding race
Over at the Belgian front, the Movistar Team riders covering their first week of racing on cobblestones had Andrey Amador still going through bad luck at the 78th Gent-Wevelgem (242.8km), despite finding some of his best legs like in Friday's E3 Harelbeke. Peter Sagan (TNK) won a four-man sprint against Kuznetsov (KAT), Vanmarcke (TLJ) and Cancellara (TFS), following several close calls during the last few weeks, as the Blues struggled to get a good result due to misfortune.
Amador and Sütterlin rode together with the top contenders until the second, final climb of the Baneberg, 40km from the end of the race, when the splits caused by the main favourites avoided the Costa Rican keeping his place further. Also fighting to stay into that group were two other riders from the telefónica squad: Fran Ventoso and, most notably, Nelson Oliveira. While riding near the front, the Portuguese allrounder was dropped back as a broken wheel ruined his chances. Andrey took 36th, with Jasha in 48th.
Picture ©: Photo Gomez Sport / Luis Ángel Gómez