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

In those days there wasn’t much money in their home, and the entire family worked together on the farm at their home in La vereda de La Concepción, Alto de El Moran in Boyacá.

“We didn’t have a lot of money. My parents worked extremely hard for many hours to support us and the bicycle became an important utensil to help them in our shop and farm”, he proudly confessed.

“We weren’t swimming in money but we didn’t live in poverty as it has been exaggerated in reports in the past. We did have a house, food and most importantly we are a very strong united family.

“From an early age, my parents gave us duties and we learnt the meaning of responsibility. We shared the work. Someone was cooking, another one feeding the animals and working the land on our farm.

“I wasn’t aware or thinking to be a cyclist. I needed the bike to go to school and help around my house. Many children in Colombia have to sacrifice their childhood to help their parents in many duties. I used to sell fruits and vegetables in different villages with my bike.

“When we came back from school, we worked in my parent’s little shop and at the same time were doing the homework, washing the clothes, cooking dinner and cleaning.

“Later at night, I used to go to the farm to look after the hens, rabbits, pigs and cows. I love to be with the animals.

Nairo Quintana Movistar

“When I was 16 years old, I used to drive my father’s Renault car and was working as a taxi driver with my oldest brother Willington Alfredo, at night time to raise money for the family so my father can rest at home.

“My father worked more hours than any other man in the region. I think I have the combative and fighting spirit of my father. Since I was a little boy, he told me to learn to suffer and to sacrifice myself to reach targets.

“He did work a lot to raise us. This is the mentality I adopt when I am riding now. There aren’t high mountains to climb for me. When I am riding, I am thinking about my parent’s sacrifices, it makes me stronger.

“Sometimes things have been really hard for all of us because of bad luck. My father suffered an accident at the age of 8. He was in a truck which overturned. Since then he had 14 operations on his spinal column. My father limps when he is walking now and is quite fragile.

Quintana himself was involved in an accident when he was out riding on his own. Crashing is common for a cyclist, but his was particularly serious. “A taxi hit me when I was 15. I was in a coma in the hospital for five days. I was very lucky to survive.

“Thinking about the past helps me to realise how hard everybody worked in my home so I can be where I am now”.

Luis Quintana used to watch his son in action, riding to school and delivering fruit and vegetables on his old, heavy mountain bike. Flying along on climbs of eight per cent or more, Luis was the first person who spotted his son’s potential and so did something about it.

He decided to go to a bike shop in Tunja and spend 300,000 Colombian pesos (about £100), on a racing bike and see if Nairo could make a career as a cyclist. Once he had the bike he took him to the local cycling club, Deportivo Ediciones Mar de Tunja.

His father’s drive lead him in to an argument with the teachers of his son’s school. He took Nairo to Venezuela to participate in La Vuelta de la Juventud in the city of San Cristobal without permission and his son missed classes for almost a week.

“I have to confess that I started to follow cycling a little bit on the radio and television.” Quintana said. “I decided to give it a go but with no dreams to one day be a professional cyclist. It was just for fun.

“My father bought the bicycle because he knew I needed a better one, and I liked to keep up with my friends.

“My father wasn’t the typical Colombian man who loves football. My father always had the passion for cycling. When he was a young man, he used to go to watch all the competitions.

“One of the famous stages of La Vuelta de Colombia passes by Tunja because of the climb. He was waiting for the cyclists going through our town. When my father was a teenager working, he was carrying his radio to listen to Radio Caracol or RCN Radio to keep updated about the news of the Colombia Tour, or any competitions.

Next page Previous page