Colombian looking for overall victory in 2014
Nairo Quintana was reduced to tears of joy during his post race press conference, after taking his first Tour de France stage win atop of Annecy-Semnoz.
The Colombian had already put his name into the wider consciousness with some more-than-impressive performances over the last weeks, and by launching daring attacks on the steepest of gradients. Learning his lessons from earlier on in the Tour, when he went too early and ran out of steam before the finish, this time he went closer to the line. His late move left his fellow riders without enough time to react to the explosive attack. In the short climb to the finish he was able to put 18 seconds into Joaquim Rodríguez, and do what he's been promising to do for most of the race.
"I wasn't so sure that it would happen like this, contrary to my team and director," Quintana told the waiting journalists. "It's true that they helped me so much, especially psychologically. I'm only 23 and never imagined for a second that I could be here today. I've had huge support from the team until the very end."
Quintana started the Tour de France with protected status within the team, and as a super domestique for teammate Alejandro Valverde, a rare occurrence for someone riding his first Tour de France. When things went wrong for Valverde, the Colombian was ready to step into his shoes and assume the role of team leader. "When Eusebio Unzue said to me that I'll be the leader of the team, I obviously said yes to him," the Movistar rider said.
"I was happy to accept and said that I'm really, but if some day my legs fail because the Tour is such a fast race and the stages are long then I might have to apologise. He said just do your best, and today we saw that I could recover fairly quickly and I could give an answer as the head of the team and that was great for all the team. It's a spectacular team, it's the best team in the Tour de France."
A bright future
Colombian cycling has produced some superb climbers, the greatest of which was Lucho Herrera, who dominated the mountains classifications in the 1980s, but in recent times they've struggled to live up to their predecessors. Growing up, Quintana spent much of his living at altitude and as a child he would ride halfway up the next mountain just to get to school every day. The high life seems to have paid off, making him - along with riders such as Sergio Henao, Carlos Betancur and Rigoberto Uran – a bright star in Colombia's cycling future.
"It's a real struggle and I thank the whole team and cycling in Colombia," said Quintana. "I live at 2800 metres, as an athlete I live in Cómbita and when I train I'm near my family. I'd like to thank the people who promote the anti-doping fight because this encourages the riders like me, who live and train at altitude."
Quintana went on to thank former Tour de France king of the mountain winner and fellow Colombian Mauricio Soler, who has played a role in his fledgling career. "I'm taking advantage of this moment to send my salutations to all the Colombians who have raced the Tour and I have a friend (Mauricio Soler) who had an accident in the Tour de Suisse and he gave me this medallion and I send him my very best wishes. He's person who has helped me immensely."
At only 23 years of age, Quintana has already racked up an impressive palmarès, including winning the general classification at the Vuelta al País Vasco, this season, ahead of Richie Porte and Henao. Even before Quintana had rolled up to the start line in Porto Vecchio there was already talk of him being a future grand tour winner and his Tour de France performance has done nothing to hush the chatter. The result has only helped stir the pot even more, with Quintana talking about a possible attack on the yellow jersey next season.
"If we look at what happened today I'm full of confidence and that encourages me to work even more. I think that in 2014 we will try to win the Tour de France, but that will require work every day. My results, this year, do give me a lot of confidence."
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