Nairo Quintana has revealed he will happily drop into a support role should Movistar team-mate Alejandro Valverde out-perform him in the opening mountain stages of the Vuelta a Espana.
Quintana is the bookmakers’ favourite to follow up his win at May’s Giro d’Italia with victory in the season’s third and final Grand Tour, which starts in Jerez de la Frontera on Saturday.
The 24-year-old Colombian will face stiff competition from the likes of Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and Joaquim Rodriguez, but could also be joined in the hunt for the red jersey by 2009 Vuelta winner Valverde.
The 34-year-old Spaniard goes into the race on the back of a fourth-place finish at the Tour de France and although he is expected to be Movistar’s plan B, Quintana insisted he will step aside if his team-mate proves to be the stronger rider.
“We have got two leaders and we will fight so the title stays within the team,” he said. “The race will make things clear: should Alejandro do better, we will help him out, and if it is the other way around, the team as well as him will all race for me.
'Team-mates, not rivals'
“The only important thing is seeing Movistar win, no matter if it is him or myself. We are team-mates, not rivals. This is a collective effort. It makes me really confident to have Alejandro by my side, plus such a strong squad.”
Quintana was peerless in the mountains on the way to claiming his first Grand Tour at the Giro, winning a summit finish at Val Martello and then producing a magnificent display to triumph in the uphill time trial on Monte Grappa.
He took a break from racing after the Giro, but showed little sign of rustiness when claiming overall victory at his comeback race, the Vuelta a Burgos, earlier this month, winning a summit finish along the way.
However, Quintana believes he is still some way short of peak condition and may not be at his best until the second half of the race.
“I'm coming here in good form - maybe not as good as I would like, though,” he added. “I only raced in Burgos after the Giro, and even though winning there was a nice boost of confidence, the beginning of the race might be a challenge for me, not having such a strong racing [base] like others."
Valverde made the Tour his priority for the season and although he faded badly in the final week of the race, losing his place on the podium in the process, he insisted he has recovered sufficiently to pose a serious challenge at the Vuelta.
However, like Quintana, he would be content with a support role should he not be able to refind his best form.
“I think I recovered well after all efforts in July, with these three weeks of rest,” Valverde said. “I won't know how I really stand before the race itself - it will indeed tell us who our leader will be.
“I'm starting the race with the biggest expectations, but it's obvious that Nairo is a stronger guarantee for this race, as he could prepare for it better.
"I have spent 11 years keeping all pressure of leading a squad on my shoulders, and not having it also makes me happy. There won't be any problems with it - we two will get on."