Nairo Quintana continues pedaling. The Colombian, one of the best climbers in the world, does not give in despite the bump in his career after leaving Arkéa. “A true cyclist does not give up in the face of adversity,” he claimed this Wednesday at an emotional press conference in Bogotá, to silence rumors about his hasty retirement from competition. Quintana, 32, champion of the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España, has defined his future, which involves continuing to search for a new squad in the highest category. “I’m going to keep fighting to compete and to continue on the bike until my body and my mind resist.”
In his appearance, he acknowledged his problems in recent months. “Today I want to tell you that I am in good shape to continue, that due to the events of recent months, in which the rarefied environment in which I have developed is undeniable and the inexplicable wall that has been raised between the possibilities of competing and My wishes to continue doing so, I am not giving up and I am moving forward,” he stated when reading aloud a statement that he wrote in his own handwriting, before answering questions from the press.
Quintana, who was prevented from riding the Vuelta by Arkéa, has not been courted by any European squad for several months, overwhelmed by the pressure that caused an unusual sanction for taking the painkiller tramadol in last year’s Tour. He had been disqualified – he was sixth – but not sanctioned by the UCI since the World Anti-Doping Agency (AMA) does not consider it doping. The day before he had sparked speculation, by posting a video on his social networks, with music by Carlos Vives, another Colombian idol like him, which showed him pedaling through the mountains of his native Boyacá under the message “thank you Colombia for your love”.
“I have always been willing to answer questions,” he said about the shadow of doping that hangs over his sport. “I have respected the rules, competed with integrity,” she defended without insistence. “I consider myself a fighter, who, above all, recognizes in Colombian cycling men and women who overcome all kinds of circumstances: poverty, inequality, discrimination and injustice.”
In the country of beetles, Quintana, with his peasant image, is a charismatic figure who transcends sports. A fan base accustomed to the epic suffering of its climbers, who used to accumulate only mountain jerseys, got used to savoring the resounding triumphs that were previously elusive thanks to Nairo, as everyone knows him, the dean of the new generation of cyclists. He was the first Colombian to win the Giro d’Italia, and also the first to accumulate two great ones –before the irruption of Egan Bernal, Tour and Giro champion–.
And Nairo made sure to remember it. “Although it is true that I still do not have a team, I am a cyclist who is still available to wear a jersey and give my best on the road,” he explained. He intends to travel to Europe to build a direct bridge with the teams with the aim of overcoming this pothole. “Without a doubt my track record supports me. Pedaling I reminded the Colombians that it is possible to win against the best, that we can climb to the top of the podium”.
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In his best years at Movistar, Chris Froome’s dominance with Sky deprived Nairo of winning the Tour, his cherished yellow dream. In addition to winning the 2014 Giro and the 2016 Vuelta, and winning mountain stages in almost all the races in the world, the Boyacá native has accumulated three podiums in Paris. In 2013 and 2015 he was runner-up, behind Froome, and in 2016 third. In that 2013, in that first Anthology Tour, a precocious Nairo made Colombians dream by keeping the youth jersey and the mountain jersey in the same edition. Two Tirreno-Adriatico races, a Tour of Catalonia and another of the Basque Country, among others, also stand out in the Colombian’s palmares.
Born in Cómbita on February 4, 1990, Quintana is also much loved for his character and for having supported peace in Colombia in a country where sports stars do not usually take sides. Quintana had a clear background: Lucho Herrera, the first Colombian champion of a big one, the Tour of Spain in 1987. “I just want there to be peace in Colombia,” Lucho declared at the time, when the country was coming from the capture of the Palacio de Justice by the M-19 guerrilla in 1985, an episode known as “the holocaust”, and faced an armed conflict of more than half a century that involved the forces of the State, guerrillas and paramilitaries, in a prelude to the onslaught of the big drug cartels in the Government of Virgilio Barco (1986-1990).
Many years passed, and Nairo returned to excite with the exploits of the beetles. Among others, he won the Vuelta in 2016, just as Colombia was preparing to sign a hard-negotiated peace deal with the FARC guerrillas. “Let the world know that our country is peace, sport and love,” Nairo, in red, was moved by his words in Plaza Cibeles in Madrid. “My interest is to continue raising the flag of my country in the great races of the world,” he concluded this Wednesday, when he picked up the rumors of his retirement.
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