As Nairo Quintana tightened his grip on the race leader's pink jersey during the final week of the Giro d'Italia, the number of Colombian cycling fans at the race grew every day, turning his victory into a daily celebration of Colombian cycling.
By the time the Giro d'Italia ended in Trieste on Sunday, the yellow, blue and red Colombian flags were everywhere, creating a special atmosphere as the national colours of Colombia mixed with Giro d'Italia pink.
The crowd sang the Colombian national along with Quintana on the final podium as he tenderly held his baby daughter Marian in his arms.
Quintana is the first ever Colombian to win the Giro, and his victory marks a major point in the history of Colombian cycling. Colombian riders have dominated this year's Corsa Rosa. Rigoberto Uran finished second overall and celebrated on the final podium with compatriot Quintana. Julian Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing) won the blue climber's jersey plus the stage to the Rifugio Panarotta. Uran won the Barolo time trial, while Quintana won best young rider's white jersey, and stages in Val Martello and the Cima Grappa time trial.
The whole of Colombia followed the Giro d'Italia at home, with people in near his home town of Combita in the Boyaca region watching on a special huge screen.
Quintana becomes El Condor
The Colombia team riders are known as the "escarabajos" –the beetles, but Gazzetta dello Sport has named Quintana as "El Condor" describing his Giro d'Italia as "un volo verso la vittoria"- a flight to victory.
"Quintana's success has even overshadowed the national football team that is preparing for the World Cup," radio journalist Hector Urrego of Radio Cadena Nacional told Gazzetta dello Sport.
Urrego sat in the media mixed zone near the finish of every stage of the Giro d'Italia, giving constant updates on the racing to an estimated 20 million listens, almost half of the population of Colombia.
Some Colombian fans travelled from South America to see Quintana win the Giro d'Italia but others told Cyclingnews they had travelled from the USA and across Europe, joining up with friends to celebrate and cheer on each of the 14 Colombian riders in this year's race. It seemed that every Colombian in Italy took a day off work to see the race and show their national pride.
The president of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos called Quintana after the stage to Zoncolan on Saturday and his parents Luis and Eloisa, his wife Yeimi Paola and baby daughter Mariana, were in Trieste to see him crowned the winner of the 2014 Giro d'Italia.
Quintana has humble origins but is proud to be Colombian and proud to be the first Colombian to win the Giro d'Italia.
"I'm very proud of my country. I've secured this wonderful victory and been successful, so I feel very happy and I know the Colombians are even happier and proud to have someone representing them at a world level, and I'm happy to do it, too," he said after the stage to the Zoncolan.
In Trieste he dedicated his victory to his team, his family and Colombia.
"It was emotional to be on the podium. This win is for team, I would never have won without them; it's for my family who came from Colombia to support me, and all the Colombians," he said.
"Colombia has changed a lot. I hope that people can see that Colombia is not what it was 20 years. Life is good there, you can live happily and steps have been made to create real peace. I hope that leads to even better things."
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