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

“My father and I decided I would give cycling a go. In Colombia it is mandatory to join a cycling club to have a license in order to participate in different competitions.

“My father was a great help because thanks to his advice I am where I am. In the early days, he was like my agent, and the man who supported me all the time. My little brother Dayer who is now riding with the amateurs in Spain used to go with us too.

“I remember one day, my cycling club was invited to participate in the La Vuelta de la Juventud in the city of San Cristobal and they decided to take me to compete when I was 17 years old. I missed classes for a week!

“On my return, I sent my father to the school as a shield so I could avoid punishment from the teachers. He fought with the teachers and he tried to explain to them that I almost won it, as I finished second.

“Those hard days, transformed my dad as a shrewd manager. In those days, it was compulsory to pay around £10 to the organizers to compete in the different races in the cadet level.

“My father used to negotiate with the organizers to avoid paying the fee before the start of the race because sometimes we didn’t have the money. My father told them, the fee will be paid at the end of the event because my boy will be among the first three!

“The truth was my father was right most of the time and we always paid the fees at the end of the races.

“It is fair to also mention the local Sport Council representatives Jaime Poveda and Rusperth de La Chagua who helped me out in my first days as a cyclist.”

Nairo Quintana Movistar pillar

By the age of 19, all of Quintana senior’s hard work, and Nairo’s talent, paid off when he signed for Boyacá es para Vivirla, a UCI Continental team, in 2009.

Quintana, revealed that with the first salary of £650 he received he bought a washing machine for his mother so she no longer had to hand wash everything.

“That was the moment that changed my life”, said Quintana. “I worked really hard to help my parents and my family since I was a little boy. I was nobody in cycling as not many people knew about me. All of a sudden I signed for the best team in my region and perhaps the best team in that moment in Colombia.

“I knew in that moment that I completed my first step in cycling. When I signed my professional contract, I realised my father wasn’t crazy.

“I was aware that moment was my opportunity. It was not easy to achieve that because there were a lot of muchachos – young guys – also fighting for their opportunity.

“Boyacá es para Vivirla´s Directeur Sportif and former Spanish pro cycling Vicente Belda was the man who signed me. I am grateful for the rest of my days to him. His decision to sign me changed my life.

“I was so happy that when I did a (lab) test during the pre season, they all thought it was all wrong because my results were so good. They were forced to do it again. Three times.

“In 2009 I got my first taste in European UCI races. I won the Comunidad de Madrid tour (under-23) and I participated in the Circuito Montañes, Clasica de Ordicia and the Circuito de Getxo where I finished 36 seconds behind the winner Igor Anton”.

As a result of his impressive first year results, Quintana signed for the South American team Colombia, and continued to improve, winning the Tour de l’Avenir, beating Andrew Talansky and his compatriot Jarlinson Pantano.

And after two years with Colombia he signed for Movistar

As a rider Nairo Quintana describes himself as a ‘rider of intuition.’ “You can be a calculator, a brave rider, or an attacker. In my case, I think I am a cyclist of sensations when I am on the bike.

“I do follow my intuition and my heart. Obviously, I do follow the instruction of my coaches, managers and team mates and even the new technologies when you are using them.

“So far, my heart has lead me to the right decisions most of the time. That includes signing for Movistar. I made the right choice without doubts.

“They are flexible with my timetable over the year. I can go to Colombia to visit my family, but at the same time I train in the altitude of Los Andes in my home.

“To be honest moving to Spain has not been a problem. I have adapted to the cold weather of Pamplona. In 2009, I was here for a month of training and then I would go home for another three months.

“I am here on my own when I am in Spain because I want to focus working on my training. My wife and the rest of the family are in Colombia. The only person who is with me is my youngest brother Dayer who is with the amateur team Lizarte”.

Quintana remains keen to see other South American ‘muchachos’ following in his footsteps. But despite the current crop of riders that include Rigoberto Uran, Carlos Betancur  and Sergio Henao, Quintana is worried about the next generation. “In my days as an amateur cyclist, there were many young guys fighting for an opportunity, but there weren’t many serious teams and that is why the competition was so high.

“There used to be a lot of races around Colombia, so there were a lot of opportunities for young cyclists like me. Unfortunately now there aren’t even the 20 percent of the races that there was in the past. That is tragic.

“I think part of the problem has been financial, but the organizers are the people to blame, even though Colombia is enjoying an incredible moment in cycling right now.

“Right now we have a good bunch of guys around but I am scared about the new generation. It is important to have more competitions for the young prospects. I know that because not long ago I was one of them”.

After making history and taking the Giro d’Italia by storm, Spanish sports daily newspaper Diario Marca splashed on their front page:  “El Emperador Quintana”.

The sick little boy who rode a heavy bike to sell fruit and vegetables, had pedalled a long way.

Rodriguez, Quintana and Froome, Tour de France 2013, stage 18

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