Quintana favorite for Vuelta with rivals hurting
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) With his rivals banged and bruised, Colombian climber Nairo Quintana is viewing the Spanish Vuelta as an excellent opportunity to win his second grand tour of the season and confirm his status as cycling's rising star.
A crash-laden Tour de France last month forced both Chris Froome and Alberto Contador to withdraw with injuries. The two former Tour winners now look to the Vuelta as a chance to rebound from a disappointing summer.
Here are five things you should know about the three-week race beginning in Jerez on Saturday:
Quintana has several factors in his favor: he knows the terrain, he is on a winning streak, and he is in better shape than his rivals.
The 24-year-old Movistar cyclist is on a stellar run over the last two years. His rise began in 2013 when he won the Tour of Basque Country in northern Spain before he surpassed that by finishing runner-up in the Tour de France behind Froome.
Then came his win at this year's Giro d'Italia, his first grand tour victory. And last week he warmed up by winning the Tour of Burgos in northern Spain.
''I am happy with my level of fitness because I am on a good run for the three weeks that lie ahead,'' Quintana said.
Quintana should also be motivated after Movistar opted not to include him on its team for the Tour this year, giving the lead role to Alejandro Valverde.
The only potential problem facing Quintana may come from within his own team.
Movistar announced that both Quintana and Valverde would lead its team at the Vuelta, creating a scenario where the two may compete instead of working in unison.
Froome's attempt at defending his Tour de France title lasted just five stages before three tumbles from his bike fractured his hands and wrists.
The Sky cyclist sees the Spanish Vuelta as a way to salvage an otherwise painful summer.
''This is exactly the sort of challenge I need after the disappointment of withdrawing from the Tour de France,'' the 29-year-old British rider said. ''The Vuelta has become the perfect race for me to focus on.''
CONTADOR ON THE MEND
Contador was the other Tour contender whose challenge abruptly ended when he fractured his right shin during its 10th stage.
After originally saying it would be nearly impossible to recover in time, Contador decided to ride in the Spanish Vuelta for Tinkoff-Saxo, even though he has downplayed his chances of finishing in the red jersey.
''I know that I am going to have to tackle this Vuelta in a different manner that I had planned on at the beginning of the season or how I had planned to ride the Tour de France,'' Contador said.
The 31-year-old Spaniard won the Vuelta in 2008 and again in 2012, his only grand tour victory since serving a doping ban.
OTHERS TO WATCH
There are more potential candidates for the overall classification.
France's Thibaut Pinot arrives after his third-place finish at the Tour, while Spanish veterans Joaquim Rodriguez and Valverde should be in the mix.
Defending champion Chris Horner is also back. The American became the oldest champion of a three-week grand tour last year at the age of 41.
Every year thousands of pilgrims walk the Way of St. James, ''El Camino de Santiago,'' a 1,000-year-old pilgrimage trail ending in the northwestern Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela
The 69th edition of the Spanish Vuelta will follow their footsteps and hold its 21st and final stage in the medieval city, instead of the traditional finish in Madrid.
The race starts in southern Spain before moving to the northern part of the peninsula. It features punishing climbs to Camperona, the Lakes of Covadonga and Farrapona among 13 mid-to-high mountain stage finishes.