"I don't know how to express my happiness" says Quintana
Nairo Quintana began his winner's press conference with a few words in Italian – "Buonasera a tutti," he smiled – but Sunday’s finale to the Giro d'Italia was a resolutely Colombian affair
An hour or so earlier, when Quintana stood atop the podium alongside fellow countryman Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), the strains of their national anthem were drowned out by the voices of the legions of Colombian fans gathered in Trieste's Piazza Unità d'Italia for the occasion.
Quintana's parents, wife and infant daughter were also in Trieste on Sunday to join in the festivities, while the large contingent of Colombian media meant that there was a palpably different tone to his final press conference. Rather than continue to dissect the polemica that followed his attack on the descent of the Stelvio, the focus was on what Quintana's victory represented to his home country.
"It's a great happiness and I don't know how to express it," Quintana said of his Giro win. "I feel great things and it's wonderful to celebrate with so many Colombians and with my family."
In his short professional career, Quintana has already chalked up some notable firsts for his country, not least when he finished on the podium of the Tour de France last year, but he is also following in the wheel tracks of a proud tradition. By winning the Giro, Quintana has become the first Colombian to win a Grand Tour since Luis Herrera claimed the Vuelta a España in 1987, three years before he was born.
"I've dreamt about winning a Grand Tour for a long time but everybody dreams about that," he said. "But let's say that the dream felt much closer and much more real after I finished second in the Tour last year."
Quintana's journey from the department of Boyaca to the very summit of world cycling, by way of the Colombia es Pasion team and victory at the 2010 Tour de l'Avenir has been a remarkable one, and he was asked what message he had for those who were striving to imitate him. "My message is to keep dreaming, to keep fighting for your dreams – sooner or later the sacrifice will pay off," he said.
He extended his solidarity, too, to the riders of neighbouring Venezuela, where the cycling calendar has been interrupted due to the ongoing protests against the president, Nicolas Maduro. "It's a terrible shame," Quintana said carefully. "As Colombians, our doors are open to Venezuela's cyclists to come and practice their sport in our country."
In the winning the Giro at his first attempt, Quintana has matched the achievement of Alberto Contador in 2008, and – like the Spaniard – it seems unlikely that he will return to defend his crown in twelve months' time. Instead, he is set to return to the Tour de France, and though he will still be eligible for the best young rider classification, the yellow jersey will be his target.
"People are still surprised when I achieve things," Quintana said. "But that's normal, because I'm still young." A sobering thought.
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