Giro revelation: The real Quintana.
Part of the fascinating aftermath of the non-neutralized Giro stage 16, is that it finally gave cycling fans their first true understanding of Nairo Quintana’s character.
When he stunned the Tour de France with a second place overall and the climber’s jersey, he became famous but still remained largely a mystery, a sphinx. On the bike, on the most brutal climbs, his face gave nothing away, no window into his personality.
Based on zero information, we guessed that Quintana was quiet, deferential, a young man of simple needs, just happy to have escaped the poverty in Colombia. How wrong we were.
He was and continued to be a kind of cypher, his character as hidden as his talent was obvious. In fact, the only inkling into who Quintana might be came from a news story in Colombia last August that he was supporting a general strike of farmers, miners and coffee growers.
The translation of Quintana’s remarks (by Cycling Inquisition) goes something like “We are asking that the president please help our farmers/peasants, so that the strike can come to and end, which in turn would help me with training.” You see, Quintana couldn’t train properly because the strikes were blocking the roads.
Of course, if he were really Hinault, he would have punched out everyone in his way but that was Colombia, not France or even Brittany.
That only gave us a hint, the first charcoal stroke, of the startling new talent that may win the Giro d’Italia next week and the Tour de France in a year or two.
Then the weather intervened.
The freezing rain, sleet and snow of stage 16 forced riders over the Gavia and Stelvio and the final Val Martelloc limb. In the stupid yet predictable Italian chaos surrounding the lack of communication on the neutralization of the descent and the outrage and recriminations that followed, Quintana showed his character — and there was plenty of it.
Movistar boss Eusebio Unzue summed it up this way: “I’ve never known a rider with so much character. In that sense, he’s like Bernard Hinault.” Yes, the Hinault who always acted the patron, who didn’t give a crap what anyone thought and who didn’t mind punching those who disagreed.
While the debate raged over whether Quintana had disobeyed the neutralized descent order from race officials — and thus shown poor sportsmanship — the Colombian reacted with Hinault-esque defiance.
“Really, I don’t know if what they are saying is a joke,” he said. “It makes me laugh, because in reality everyone present and everyone who watches on TV knows what really happened. It’s like I went down the Stelvio in a car or on a motorbike. I came down in a bike on the same roads everyone else came down and then I climbed well afterwards.”
Quintana could have stopped his reaction there but no, he kept going — just like he supposedly did when the red flag was up. “They are riders who can’t accept defeat. Many came to shake my hand, from the same teams who are arguing, because they know what really happened,” Quintana said. “The riders on those teams came to shake my hands, and their directors sportifs continue to make a polemic when they don’t know what really happened.”
Ponder those remarks for a moment. That’s a 24 year old kid from a poor mountain village in Colombia telling critics like team managers Patrick Lefevere of Omega Pharma Quickstep and Jim Ochowicz of BMC to piss off. That’s Quintana telling the International Association of Professional Cycling Teams (AIGCP), the organization that requested he be docked 55 seconds, to shove their carefully worded request up their asses.
Now we have a very clear picture of Nairo Quintana. He’s not taking shit from anybody, anywhere for any reason.
What we’ve now seen is a young, aggressive, ambitious and unapologetic rider who will do whatever needs to be done to win a grand tour. You can name check Hinault but you might also cite Spaniard Alberto Contador.
When rival Andy Schleck made his attack and dropped his chain in the 2010 Tour de France, Contador never looked back, launching a counter attack that gave him the maillot maine and the overall title.
Andy complained, journalists debated the vague, unwritten laws of cycling and Contador laughed. He had his Tour title and Schleck is far from ever getting one — outside of a CAS court ruling.
At the time of the incident, Schleck said “I’m not the jury, but for sure those guys wouldn’t get the fair play award from me today,” then delivered his famous “belly full of anger” quote. Deposed maglia rosa (and fellow Colombian) Rigoberto Uran hasn’t issuing his own recriminations and that’s a bit of a surprise. We’d love to know what he thought for a fellow Colombian sticking the knife in.
In any case, there’s no question that now we know who the real Nairo Quintana is. That’s not a bad thing.