Nairo Quintana has spoken out against unscrupulous agents and managers who look to profit from the hopes of young Colombians by handing them contracts to take them to Europe at an early age.
Colombia has a strong cycling culture but in order to make it as a professional, riders largely need to move to Europe and race for a team in cycling’s heartlands.
After Quintana and the likes of Rigoberto Urán have sparked a new wave of Colombian WorldTour pros in the last decade or so, more agents, scouts, and managers are looking to Colombia for new talent. According to Quintana, some are filling teenagers with false hope in a bid to strike it rich off the back of a possible future star.
"I don’t know what to call this type of person, but people have arrived who offer to take 15-17-year old kids to Europe, signing contracts with the permission of their parents," Quintana said on the podcast El Leñero.
"They tell them they’re the ones who signed and took the likes of Nairo, Egan [Berna], [Ivan] Sosa, Rigoberto to Europe, tricking them, hoping they accidentally stumble upon a champion and can fill their pockets.
"These are opportunistic and mendacious people who are fucking with Colombian cycling, signing these kids, taking them away from their families, making them suffer, tricking them. They sign a lot of them and then see which ones are of use and which ones aren't. Their only cost is a sheet of paper, but for the riders affected it can be far greater."
Quintana warned that, while the likes of Egan Bernal - the first Colombian Tour de France champion and the youngest winner in more than 100 years - are poster boys for the new generation, many more fall between the cracks.
"These people come along and tell them they can take them to Europe at 15 or 16. They put them in basements in various countries, eating badly, living badly, suffering, and ending up with many psychological problems and abandoning cycling and abandoning everything. There are many who have returned to Colombia unsuccessful, frustrated, and it’s tough to see," Quintana said.
"What do you do, as a 15-year-old child, in Italy, not knowing the language? We’ve heard about Colombians [in sport in general] selling marijuana, stealing. But what are these kids meant to do when they arrive and they are fed like dogs – one day yes, the next day no – and they have to get by like any other Italian, as if they arrived with a cheque book full of money.
"It’s a reality that many kids, seeking a dream, a future, face. It’s bad for the country and bad for the sport."
Quintana referred to teenagers signing long-term contracts, and also to buy-on clauses that are sometimes inserted if a WorldTour team approaches them.
"You have 15 or 16 or 17-year-olds with five-year contracts. Why do they need five-year contracts? It would make more sense to give them contracts until they are adults, and then reconsider," Quintana said.
"Some kids think they can go from the juniors to the Tour de France, but it’s not like that. Egan Bernal is an exception, the only one in history. They’re duped by what was said to them or what was promised to them."
Quintana is involved in the development of youth cycling in Colombia, particularly in his native Boyaca. His advice centres on patience.
"We tell them to be calm, that we know the right people, the teams, and that we can advise them, no problem," he said.
"We tell them that they should stay here until at least the second year of the U23s, so they have time to get better and also finish school. Then they can make the step, and they’re still young.”
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