In the span of three weeks in July, Nairo Quintana went from being a little-known, pint-sized Colombian rider to the most promising talent in the sport.
The tiny climber was already a big name in his native Colombia, especially after having beaten Andrew Talansky to win the 2010 Tour de l’Avenir. But he became an international sensation during the Tour de France.
Quintana, who turns 24 in February, accomplished more in this year’s Tour than the previous generations of escarabajos managed in the preceding three decades: he won the king of the mountains jersey, the white jersey for best young rider, and a stage, while climbing to second overall, the best finish by a South American, ever.
That garnered him a hero’s welcome and ticker-tape parade in Bogotá, and elevated expectations that Quintana could become Colombia’s first Tour winner.
It remains to be seen how Quintana manages the added pressure that comes with being heir apparent. By all accounts, the son of peasant farmers in Colombia’s high altiplano is as level headed as his native mountain roads are steep.
Quintana stoically faced the pressure of this year’s Tour, handling the added stress of being Movistar’s GC leader after Alejandro Valverde flamed out with a mechanical and lost more than 10 minutes in the crosswinds of stage 13. But behind the scenes, Quintana admitted he even broke down in tears as he pushed closer to the final podium in Paris.
“The team believed in me more at times than I did in myself,” Quintana told Velo. “Without their support, none of this would have been possible.”
Movistar seems intent on protecting its Colombian gem, and reportedly gave him a huge pay raise, making him an overnight millionaire. But management says that Quintana will not take aim for the Tour outright until 2015.
Still, that’s what they said about his rookie run at the Tour this year. Quintana came in under the radar, but ended up blowing everyone out of the water, save for the indestructible Chris Froome (Sky).
The diminutive climber is the only rider who can match Froome in the mountains. The flat time trials, on the other hand, could prove to be his Achilles’ heel.
Regardless, Quintana will be a threat for the yellow jersey for years to come. On a climb-heavy course, like the one just announced for 2014, he will always be a GC favorite. Whether he will have the time trial legs to eventually win yellow remains to be seen, but his attacking style and exotic backstory will make Quintana fascinating to watch, no matter what happens.
Editor’s Note: Read about all of our award winners in the December 2013 issue of Velo, out now.