Nairo Quintana gives himself a mountain to climb

Nairo Quintana is aiming to be in the pink again when he contests the Giro d'Italia for the second time. He won the race at his first attempt in 2014. Picture: AP Photo/Fabio Ferrari
Nairo Quintana is aiming to be in the pink again when he contests the Giro d'Italia for the second time. He won the race at his first attempt in 2014. Picture: AP Photo/Fabio Ferrari
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Nairo Quintana will today begin his attempt to become the first rider since Marco Pantani in 1998 to win the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France in the same year.

The Colombian Movistar rider’s challenge begins in the Sardinian port town of Alghero, start of an undulating 203-km (126-mile) fist stage of the 100th edition of the Giro.

“We have never taken such a gamble before, yet we feel we’re on the right path to success, training adequately to peak at both of them,” said Quintana, 27. “I’m confident, since I’ve contested the win in two Grand Tours on the same year – I didn’t win both, but I’ve made the podium, come close or even won one of the two. Plus, it’s exciting to chase the win in the 100th edition, it makes it even more attractive.

“And I feel like I’ve improved my body resistance and become more mature through the last year. That’s why I think it’s time for me to go after it, since my physical conditions are still decent. Some other riders go for it at the end of their careers – I want to have a try now that I’m still young.”

Quintana won the Giro the only time he competed in it, in 2014, and the climbing specialist has finished on the podium all three times he’s taken part in the Tour with two runner-up positions and one third place. He also won the Vuelta a España last year.

For the Colombian, there is one rival that stands out: Italian cyclist Vincenzo Nibali, who will lead the new Bahrain-Merida team.

“This is his race, he’s at home, it’s the 100th Giro,” Quintana said. “He’s sure to reach the start in very good shape. ”

There are three stages in Sardinia before a rest day to transfer to Sicily. Stage 4 starts in the coastal town of Cefalu and features the race’s first uphill finish on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna – where Nibali is hoping to claim the leader’s pink jersey and ride with it into his hometown the following day.

“That’s a very dangerous route because it’s a real climb, which comes after just three stages,” Nibali said. “Taking the pink jersey on that day, and then taking it to Messina would be fantastic.”

Nibali, 32, is the only rider in this year’s Giro to have won the trophy twice – in 2013 and 2016 – and he has built his season with the sole aim of equalling Bernard Hinault, the last triple winner of the Italian race, who claimed his last victory in 1985.

This year’s edition will include many of the iconic climbs from the Giro’s history, including two ascents in a single stage of the high-altitude Stelvio Pass, near the Swiss border. That stage, the 16th leg, begins with an ascent of the steep and narrow Mortirolo. The climb will be a tribute to Michele Scarponi, who died last month at the age of 37 after a collision with a van while training near his home.

Giro organisers RCS Sport have dropped controversial plans to award prizes for downhill speeds after coming under pressure from riders and officials.

Cycling has been tinged with tragedy, including in recent years and months – Belgian rider Wouter Weylandt died during the 2011 Giro – and ruling body the UCI and riders’ groups were among those to express concerns to RCS Sport, the Giro organisers.

A statement from RCS Sport said on Wednesday: “The spirit of the initiative was to highlight an important skill which is an integral part of a cycle race without putting the riders’ safety in jeopardy.

“Rider safety is, and remains, the priority of the Giro.”