Nairo Quintana: Against all the odds

Nairo Quintana may prove to be the thorn in Chris Froome's side over the next few years. The pair will no doubt come up against each other at the Tour de France for several years and while both grew up outside of Europes cycling cultures, they couldn't be more different. This exclusive interview with Cycle Sport magazine took place in Pamplona just ahead of the Giro d'Italia

Nairo Quintana first raised eyebrows when he won the Tour de l’Avenir in 2010. He was instantly tipped to be of one of the best prospects for the future of Colombian cycling. Just four years later he has already full filled that promise. Nairoman – as he has been nicknamed in his country – is leading a new generation of Colombian cyclists together with Rigoberto Uran, Jarlinson Pantano, Carlos Betancur, Sergio Henao or Julian Arredondo.

It could sound a little crazy, but many people in Colombia believe it was foretold that Nairo Quintana was going to be a cyclist when his mother Eloisa went into labour. He was born on the 4th of February of 1990. That same day, under a cycling environment in the city of Tunja, Nairo was born in the hospital of San Rafael. Four streets away from the first prologue stage of La Vuelta de la Juventud. A star was born.

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For Nairo Quintana’s parents Luis and Eloisa, it wasn’t a rosy and beautiful parenthood with their son. As soon as Nairo was born, the bad luck struck. He regularly got sick and nobody knew why. His little eyes were drying and the innumerable visits to many doctors waiting for answers and solutions were all in vain. Unfortunately, no one could help them.

Quintana talks candidly about this period in his life: “The doctors and many people told my parents that I had many illness problems and difficulties when I was a little boy. Some of them told my family I was going to die”, admitted the Movistar Team cyclist.

Giro d'Italia - Stage 21

“I had constant diarrhoeas and high fever and it couldn’t be stopped while I was a toddler. My parents desperately tried every single doctor but they couldn’t help me.

“The proper medicines given to me by the doctors didn’t work at all in my body. It was thanks to the homemade medicines made by my family which kept me going.

“One day my mother was walking on the streets with me in the pram and a woman approached her and told her: I know your problem with your son.

“This woman told my mother that I had the illness of “tentado de difunto” (The temptation of the deceased).

“Apparently, my mother was touched on her tummy, while she was pregnant with me, by a man who was an undertaker of a woman who died in our neighbourhood. This person prepared the body of this deceased woman before funeral.

“This was a belief of very bad luck in Colombia, and this man passed the bad luck to my mother and me.

“This woman strongly believed in the power of the non-pharmaceutical drugs. She told my mother to give me healing herbs with boiling water. She told my mother, I will get better. She was right indeed.

“The herbs worked immediately in my system and the diarrhoeas and high fever disappeared”.

Soon after Mr and Mrs Quintana had another health scare with their son.  This time, little Nairo developed breathing problems at the age of 10.

“I inherited these breathing problems because my grandmother, grandfather and my father had breathing problems too”, confessed Quintana.

“I had a very uncomfortable cough which provoked breathing problems. I had blood coming from my mouth and I was choking all the time.

“My parents again were running between doctors. We followed a therapy prepared by the doctors but once again, thanks to the natural herbs I got better. I remember this very well because that was the time I started riding my father’s old bike.

“My mother proudly tells everybody that the reason these breathing problems disappeared from my body was thanks to a typical Colombian dish she gave me when I was sick. This dish is called sanchocho de pollo – chicken stew!” He laughs as he tells us.

Quintana comes from a very humble and hard working family of farmers. Nairo’s parents raised him together with his sister Nelly Esperanza, Lady Jazmin and brothers Willington Alfredo and Dayer Uverney who had recently started his first pedal revolutions into the professional scene.

It could easily be said that Quintana’s relationship with the bicycle wasn’t because he loved it. It was because he needed it to go to school and for selling vegetables and fruits. His parents couldn’t afford the fee for the school bus for their children, so a fearless 10 year old boy was riding in his bicycle 16 kilometres uphill and downhill each way, with his brothers and sisters, to his local school Escuela de Barragán. That was probably the time of groundwork for Nairo Quintana the professional cyclist.

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