Two of my trio of climbers have got their seasons off to perfect starts, with Movistar duo Rui Costa and Nairo Quintana both picking up wins already. My third rider, puncheur and world champion Philippe Gilbert is yet to win in the rainbow jersey, though with some luck that may be about to change!
Philippe Gilbert (BMC)
- 34th overall at the Tour Down Under.
- 21st overall at the Tour of Oman.
- 35th overall and one 2nd place at Paris-Nice.
- 32nd at Milan-San Remo.
- 48th at E3 Harelbeke.
- 42nd at Gent-Wevelgem.
- 2nd at Brabantse Pijl.
WorldTour ranking: 71st, 6 pts.
At the time of writing, Philippe Gilbert’s season hasn’t been exactly overwhelming. With the exception of one criterium ‘victory’, the Belgian classics champ still hasn’t tasted success in the rainbow jersey. He has ridden fairly unspectacularly at the majority of his races so far, save for a couple of second-place finishes at Paris-Nice (where he was outsprinted by Sylvain Chavanel) and finishing just behind Peter Sagan at Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday. He pulled out of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco last week, ominously saying:
The classics are next week. I didn’t feel very good, so I just say to stop and try to recover and train for next week.
The Basque stage race worryingly even drove him to dreaming of a different kind of drug cycling is used to:
I like to inhale cannabis in every single climb of this race. Pais vasco.
— PHILIPPE GILBERT (@PhilippeGilbert) April 2, 2013
While he has underwhelmed so far, there is still hope we could see fireworks when the Ardennes classics get underway. He may not have won at Brabantse Pijl, but it still offers some reason for optimism. A great indicator of form ahead of the triple-header of Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège, Gilbert was the only man who could live with the superhuman Peter Sagan, with the Slovak narrowly beating the Belgian in the sprint.
That would suggest that Gilbert is coming into form and at just the right time. On the tough finishes to come, there’s hope we could see the vintage PhilGil again, looking to repeat his remarkable 2011 Ardennes triple success – and writing off his disappointing 2012 campaign in the process. Fortunately, he says:
I am a little better than I was this time last year!
Rui Costa (Movistar)
- 4th at Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana.
- 5th overall and one 2nd place at Volta ao Algarve.
- 1st at Klasika Primavera.
WorldTour ranking: N/A
On his potential, Movistar’s Portuguese starlet Rui Costa says:
I don’t know how far I can go.
‘Far’ would probably be a rather less-modest answer. Though modesty is to be expected from the rider who went to the effort of thanking the sizeable number of people who sent him Twitter messages after his recent victory at the Klasika Primavera – a hilly Spanish race which literally translates as ‘Spring Classic’.
The win was impressive for three reasons – the first was that it was a demonstration of his incredible all-round ability – he sprinted out of a bunch of 20 to take victory. Secondly, he managed to pip a certain Alberto Contador to the post, and thirdly it came soon after he crashed out of Paris-Nice with a wrist injury which he seemed only too happy to show off:
Back to hospital. +4 stitches in my left hand.Voltei ao hospital para levar +4 pontos.Obrigado pelo apoio, amigos.. twitter.com/RuiCostaCyclis…
— Rui Costa (@RuiCostaCyclist) March 5, 2013
Elsewhere, the Portuguese finished in the top five at the Volta ao Algarve in an impressive start to the season. Already attention is turning to some of the bigger races coming up – including the biggest of them all, the Tour de France. Rui Costa says he’ll be riding in support of Alejandro Valverde and is excellently placed to improve on his top 20 from last season. At 26 he’s still relatively youthful, and his talent is obvious.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar)
- 1st overall, won one stage and the points classification at Vuelta al Pais Vasco.
- 4th overall and won one stage at Volta a Catalunya.
- 7th overall at Vuelta a Andalucía.
WorldTour ranking: 4th, 182 pts.
If Movistar are excited about Rui Costa, they’ll barely be able to contain themselves at the progress of Colombian Nairo Quintana. Three years Rui Costa’s junior, the climber has started this season astonishingly well. This tweet from writer Matt Rendell tells the whole story:
Smarter pundits than me see a future Tour winner in Nairo Quintana. Dave Brailsford said exactly that to me last weekend.
— Matt Rendell (@mrendell) April 9, 2013
He has picked up top tens at the Volta a Catalunya and the Vuelta a Andalucía, with his most impressive result unquestionably coming in the overall win at the Vuelta a Pais Vasco. He won the queen stage of the six-day race in a powerful illustration of his irrefutable climbing prowess. Just as impressive though was how he held off a GC charge from Richie Porte in a 24km time trial, finishing second on the stage.
Belied by his diminutive frame, Quintana evidently packs a punch against the clock. Only Luis Herrera has hailed from South America and won a Grand Tour, though this 23-year-old climber from the east Andes looks like he could one day rewrite history and repeat his compatriot’s feat. He’ll also be riding the Tour de France and you can’t help but wonder if he’ll actually be hampered by having to ride in support of Valverde. Only time will tell.