On a fraught, crash-filled cobbled stage of the Tour de France, few might have expected an out-and-out climber like Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) to be mixing it with the one-day specialists and more heavily built GC contenders.
The Colombian's 14th place on stage 5 to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut confirms that Quintana had torn up the script for the mountain specialists in style, finishing solidly in the main group led by yellow jersey holder Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma).
Quintana remains in 19th place overall before the race enters terrain that is more favourable for him, like the Planche des Belles Filles summit finish on Friday and further mountain challenges in the Tour de France from Sunday onwards. Wednesday's performance will surely provide a welcome boost to the 32-year-old's morale.
Quintana was in defiantly upbeat form when he talked to reporters after stage 5, pointing out that the team is still growing to its full strength compared to other top squads, but "we knew how to defend ourselves well on this terrain."
"My time spent riding on the off-roads in my home region mountains in Boyaca helped me today for sure. And riding over the pavés in previous Tours assisted me, too."
One Colombian journalist even suggested that not only had the former Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España winner written remarkable chapters in the sporting history of his country in the past, his achievements on the Arenberg stage also constituted another glowing page in the annals of Colombian cycling. But rather than agree or disagree, Quintana responded that when "faced by non-believers and difficulties" [like stage 5], his riding was "more a question of willpower and the heart's desire to move forward every moment, which enables us to be up there with the best."
Asked what he meant by non-believers, Quintana argued that "It's not normal when you weigh 56 or 57 kilos you can race at 60 kilometres an hour across the pavé. That's what people think about all the riders who are my size."
Quintana felt that his results are a cause for optimism for future challenges in what remains of the Tour. "We're pleased and we'll go on fighting," he promised, "and let's see where we get us."
"We want to work well here and we'll show that Arkéa's step up into the WorldTour [in 2023] is no gift, we've worked for it."
Now in his early 30s, Quintana commented that riders of his generation were gradually disappearing from the peloton "and there's only a few of us left and only a few of us are still motivated.
"So we have to go on enjoying racing. It's not all or always about winning, it's also about having an important role and taking opportunities, and giving people something to talk about, as happened today."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.