TRIESTE, Italy (VN) — A radiant Nairo Quintana (Movistar) stood tall atop the winner’s podium on Sunday as the first South American to win the Giro d’Italia.
With his emphatic victory at just 24, in what’s only his third grand-tour appearance, many believe the maglia rosa is only the start of something big for the diminutive Colombian.
“Next year we will bring Nairo to the Tour,” said Movistar manager Eusebio Unzué. “From what we have seen so far, the next step is naturally the yellow jersey. We believe Nairo can win the Tour.”
Quintana’s second place in last year’s Tour, when he matched eventual winner Chris Froome (Sky) in the mountains, naturally raised expectations.
Following Movistar’s somewhat controversial decision to race the Giro to win this year and put the Tour on hold, Quintana confirmed he has the maturity and depth to withstand the demands of leading a team and delivering during the race.
With proven climbing chops, and improvements against the clock, Quintana is destined for greatness, say those close to him.
Movistar teammate Eros Capecchi said Quintana remained confident despite troubles in the first half of the Giro.
“He never suggested he would quit. Other riders might have gone home, because he was really suffering, but he is not the type to abandon,” Capecchi said. “To win this Giro at less than top condition is impressive. I think this is the first of many. It’s the start of a new era.”
Quintana’s older colleagues in the bunch have certainly taken notice.
“I don’t know him well enough to be able to judge, but obviously if you got second in your first grand … and then come to your second grand tour, and win it, that obviously shows what you’re capable of,” said 2011 Tour winner Cadel Evans (BMC Racing).
Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo), who won two stages, including the Monte Zoncolan stage Saturday out of a breakaway, believes the sky’s the limit for Quintana.
“How old is he, 12?” Rogers joked. “He’s impressed me. We saw him win that time trial; at this stage of the race, he just has another gear. Multiple tours? I think so, yeah. He’s got to get out there and work, but he’s shown the potential.”
Movistar confirmed to VeloNews that Quintana will not race the Tour next month, and instead will race the Vuelta a España and world championships later this season.
Quintana admitted that his first grand-tour victory at 24 has come very fast.
“Of course, I dreamed of winning a grand tour, like every pro does. After riding to second in last year’s Tour, I knew the dream was even closer,” Quintana said. “The dream came true a lot earlier than I ever expected.”
Quintana also said he’s more confident following his Giro victory, something that will pay dividends when he squares off against more experienced rivals, such as Froome and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), in next year’s Tour.
There’s no doubt that Quintana has the elusive “class” to compete and win at the highest levels. His performances over the past two years have proven that.
The hardest part will come next, as he must deal with the inevitable pressure and expectations that will pile up. An entire nation is drawn to Quintana, who was awarded a ticket-tape parade and a visitation with the president after reaching the Tour podium last year.
The sport is littered with riders who won early, and were never able to confirm or fulfill their potential.
But Quintana, who hails from a small village high in the Colombian Andes, seems immune to such pressures, at least so far.
Instead of retreating from the pressure or letting it overwhelm him, his successes only seem to fuel his ambitions.
“Life keeps pushing me forward,” Quintana said. “I’ve come a long way very fast. Last year’s Tour let the world discover Nairo Quintana. Now I have won this Giro. I am extremely happy. I feel there is a lot more of Nairo Quintana to come.”
What makes Quintana happy could mean pain and disappointment for everyone else in the peloton. Contador and Froome might have something to say about that as well. Only time will tell.