Sunday, July 14, 2013

Nairo Quintana Es El Man!

Quintana, wearing the white 'Best Young Rider' jersey, celebrates today.
Nairo Quintana, a short, soft-spoken guy from a campesino family near Tunja, carried Colombia's flag high today by finishing a close second in the Mont Ventoux, one of the Tour de France's epic mountain stages.

Quintana battled out the final kilometers one-on-one with Briton Chris Froome, who looks like the tour's inevitable winner. With barely more than a kilometer to go, Froome surged and Quintana fell back, finishing 29 seconds behind. Many observers had given Quintana, a short, skinny natural climber, a strong chance to win the stage. But finishing ahead of all but one of the riders, including beating cycling legend Alberto Contador, isn't bad. At age 23, Quintana's got a great career ahead of him. And, according to The Guardian, Quintana's failings today were as much strategic as physical, giving him potential to grow both ways.

Nairo Quintana holds the trophy
high after winning the Vuelta del
Pais Vasco earlier this year.
Quintana grew up in a small town in the hills of Boyaca Department. His father had been left invalid by a traffic accident, so Quintana and his two siblings had to do most of the work on the family farm. When Quintana was 15, his parents could no longer afford to pay his bus ride to school. Buit the hardship became a stroke of good fortune when his parents bought him an old clunker bicycle. The ride to school was a steep downhill - and the return home a touch climb. And Quintana discovered that, despite his heavy old bike, he was able to keep up with the racing cyclists who trained on the climb. His parents saved up for a better bike, and Quintana was off.

Altho Quintana's not yet widely known in Colombia, he's already accomplished a lot: Last year he won or placed high in several important European races, and helped Movistar leader Valverde to second place in the Vuelta a España. This year he won the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, his greatest victory so far.

Today's second-place finish earned Quintana the tour's white jersey for best young rider. He's in 6th place overall in the tour, 6 minutes behind leader Froome, but only 90 seconds in back of the 3rd-place Contador. Who knows - Quintana might possibly even make it onto the winners' podium. Quintana's also been the leader for the Spanish team Movistar ever since its original leader Alejandro Valverde tanked and lost 9 minutes in a single stage. As Movistar's new leader, the rest of the team should sacrifice to push him ahead. However, the rest of the Movistar team finished today's stage almost 20 minutes behind Froome and Quintana. Do these guys have the caliber to compete in the mountains? In any case, three hard mountain stages remain, giving Quintana time to gain time on the leaders.

2013 had already become a banner year for Colombian cycling, thanks to Quintana's accomplishments and to 2nd and 5th place finishes by Colombians in the Giro de Italia.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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