For Nairo Quintana (Movistar), the 2014 season has been the biggest of his career. In May, he became the first Colombian winner of the Giro d’Italia and is now building up for a tilt at the Vuelta a España title. Since joining Movistar in 2012, Quintana has enjoyed a steep progression through cycling and now the challenge is to stay there.
“It wasn’t difficult to get to the level of a professional, but it was difficult to stay at that level. Now I am on a different level and the truth is it isn’t easy either, it has its complications, but I have got here and now I will try to show that it wasn’t a fluke,” Quintana told Biciciclismo after stage two of the Vuelta a Burgos, which he is riding as preparation for the Vuelta.
Quintana came to the attention of the cycling world when he took two stage wins and claimed overall victory at the 2010 Tour de l’Avenir. He turned professional the following year when his Colombia team moved up to Pro Continental status. Movistar were quick to snap him up a year later and the Colombian has barely had time to look back since then. In 2013 he was given his Tour de France debut where he slipped into Alejandro Valverde’s leadership shoes and finished second behind Chris Froome.
The podium position confirmed well-discussed suspicions that Quintana was a serious Grand Tour contender. The Colombian says that the result was a turning point in his career. “Before the Tour de France last year, I was a rider in good condition that was getting better every time he arrived at a race and everything was good, it was spectacular because I was young and promising. I was uncovered at the Tour de France.”
Giro d’Italia, success and controversy
After his performance at the Tour, Quintana went into the Giro d’Italia as the overwhelming favourite. There were a few wobbles in the opening week, but it wasn’t enough to prevent him from taking a commanding victory come Trieste.
Quintana is still trying to adjust to the changes in his life that success has brought, but the key for him is to enjoy his time on the bike. “For me, cycling is a passion that has given me a good life and for that reason I enjoy it more. At first it was almost like an obligation, but the moment came when it was no longer an obligation but fun.
“I will always remember that victory as the most important in my sporting career until now. To win a Grand Tour is not something that you do every day… Now I have to make a lot more compromises to make a race and make any results. I have to dedicate more, to be much more professional, to take into account the little things that mark the greatest.”
Almost three months on from his success at the Giro d’Italia, however, he is bothered by suspicions of his cheating on the stage to Val Martello. While some say he deliberately ignored red flags on the descent of the Stelvio, Quintana is happy that he did nothing wrong.
“I am calm because I know how I won and when they say I cheated I will say to their face that it did not happen, and the can see my progression. No one has said anything, but there are things and rumours of people who have no knowledge of what happened. And the truth is that it bothers me,” he explains.
Quintana is currently riding high on a wave of success and speculation has already begun as to how many Grand Tours he can win. At 24, there is still a lot of scope for the diminutive climber. If he is to win the Vuelta, thoughts will turn to the Tour de France and when he can add it to his palmarès, but Quintana says that he’s in no rush.
"Surely are many more years to win a Tour de France. And I would like to return to the Giro, a race that I loved. The truth is that I like all races; when I'm with Eusebio (Unzué) decide my schedule and he asks me 'what do you like racing?, which races do you want to do?' and I go this, this, this, this, this…"