Nairo Quintana reckons he will still be racing at WorldTour level next year. That's what he told Colombian media over the weekend, although whether it was a bluff or lost in translation, it is not particularly clear.
The 32-year-old is without a team for next year, after he left Arkéa-Samsic at the end of this season, a decision which followed his disqualification from the Tour de France.
Quintana returned a positive test during the race for tramadol on two separate occasions during the race; he finished sixth overall at the Tour but lost his result due to the decision. Tramadol is not currently banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency [WADA] but is due to be banned from 2024. The UCI's decision was upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport [CAS] last month.
“I’ll be in the WorldTour,” Quintana said, according to EFE, this month. “I’m going to carry on racing hard, I’m moving forward. The idea is to stay motivated to win races and represent my country.”
“That’s what I have in mind. I’ll carry on strongly and next year I’ll be there in the big ones,” he said. “Next year for sure you’re going to see Nairo Quintana on screen competing in one of your favourite races.”
However, there is a big problem with this assertion. He is still without a team, and multiple possible avenues have been shut down, with teams denying their interest in the Colombian.
In October, first AG2R Citroën said no, after rumours surfaced that he would be heading to a French team. "Contrary to an information released in different medias AG2R CITROËN TEAM has never had any contact with Nairo Quintana or his agent and is not interested by his recruitment," a statement read.
Then, Astana-Qazaqstan were next to deny interest. A spokesman told Cyclingnews (opens in new tab): "At the moment, Astana Qazaqstan Team is completing its transfer campaign and in principle, we have discussed and closed all positions in the team for the next year.
"I saw that in some media, including Cyclingnews, that there was information about the possible interest of our team in Nairo Quintana, but this is not true."
Now, after these latest Quintana comments, Bahrain-Victorious have been forced to say that he won't be going there, while any suggestion of Movistar picking him up seem wide of the mark, as their team is already full for next year. The Spanish team already denied any interest in signing Mark Cavendish for the same reason.
As a result, Quintana seems devoid of options, especially at WorldTour level. It could be that he means riding for a ProTeam who get invited to WorldTour races, but this seems a forlorn hope at the moment.
Team Medellín EPM, a Colombian Continental-level squad, posted a social media message offering Quintana a spot on its team for 2023 last week, but that feels below Quintana's level. It might still be his only route.
The Colombian still denies using tramadol: "Although many have seen it in a bad light, I have always tried to prove my innocence."
"The result wasn't as I'd hoped but I defended myself, and I'm calm knowing I've done nothing bad. That's why I want to keep going and keep fighting."
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