• Nairo Quintana enroute to victory at the Tour de Romandie (Getty) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Yes, there's still a long way to go until Paris but sometimes you just have to make the early call and either suffer the ignominy of being wrong or crow when you're right.
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Cycling Central
27 Jun 2016 - 9:50 AM  UPDATED 29 Jun 2016 - 8:08 AM

It may not be the most courageous of calls but my bet is that I'll be crowing when the 2016 Tour de France peloton crosses the finish line in Paris, with Movistar's Nairo Quintana the winner. Here's why.

Nairo himself. At 26 he's close to reaching his prime as an athlete. In contrast, his key opponents are all in their 30's, either at their absolute peak, like Chris Froome (31) or on their way to decline, like Alberto Contador (33).

Let's say they are in the marginal gains phase of their careers while Quintana still has room for big improvements.

Some riders like Australia's Richie Porte (30) have yet to prove themselves a genuine three-week contender, while others in Quintana's age cohort, like the talented Fabio Aru (25), are still in search of a consistent racing narrative.

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The Colombian is in a career sweet spot that has reached a standard of performance which matches two-time winner Froome, either winning or landing on the podium of every race he has done in 2016.

His season palmares to date has victories at the Volta a Catalunya, Tour de Romandie and the recent Route de Sud written into it. Earlier in the season he notched up third place finishes at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and Tour de San Luis. Results which indicate a high standard of fitness.

Not only can Quintana climb but he has also improved his riding against the clock to a point where it is no longer a negative, but one which limits any potential damage by his opponents, and in the right circumstances it may even be a positive. The TT win at the Route de Sud shows how far he's come in developing as a more balanced rider.

“My main rivals will be Contador and Froome. We must find a strategy and wait to see how they go in the mountains,” Quintana told Cycling Weekly. “We have seen Froome attack and drop Contador in the Criterium du Dauphine. I think that they have very similar strengths and I’ll try to take advantage of their rivalry to defend myself.

“Froome’s attacks (last year in the Tour) were very powerful and no one could follow. This year, he has said he has delayed his preparation a little to be at my level in the last week. Hopefully, we can put up with the attacks. I have prepared well, have made some preparations to make those changes in pace.”

Two stages at the 2016 Tour stand out for me as working in Quintana's favour, both as a natural climber and an improving time triallist. The 184.5km 17th stage from Berne to Finhaut-Emosson and the 17km time trial from Sallanches to Megeve.

Yep, Quintana will win the 2016 Tour de France in Switzerland and not on the penultimate Morzine stage as many assert.

Then there is the Movistar team itself. While the Spanish squad may not be able to exactly match Team Sky rider-for-rider in terms of depth, it comes close, and more than makes up for any deficit in terms of race craft.

Led by Eusebio Unzue, Movistar has a long and storied history of performance, squeezing every last drop out of a race in order to wrangle a result.

Proof of this is regular appearances at the top of the teams classifications in many races, including last year's Tour. Movistar is not just a team of stars, it's a star team.

Lasty there is Quintana's team-mate Alejandro Valverde. Long derided as a rider who thinks only of himself, Valverde proved at last year's Tour he is a team player when he selflessly worked to get Quintana to within 72 seconds of Froome.

This year Valverde has pledged complete allegiance to the Quintana cause, telling El Espanol " If I have to lose time on a flat stage, then I will lose it and I won't be upset.

"When we reach the mountains I'll be fresher this way in order to be able to help Nairo. I'll also be freer to hunt for a stage victory, on the understanding, of course, that it doesn't harm the team's main goals.

"I'm already certain, though, that if I'm ahead on a stage and Nairo attacks behind and I receive orders to stop for him, then I will do so. I won't have any problem giving up on wins for him.

"He (Quintana) is on the right track. He's not under pressure and he's done his homework."

And that's why Nairo Quintana will win the Tour de France.

The Movistar roster for the 2016 Tour is completed by Portugal's Nelson Oliveira, Colombian Winner Anacona and Spaniards Imanol Erviti, Gorka Izagirre, Dani Moreno, Jesus Herrada and Ion Izagirre.