Stage 9: The Legend of Nairo Quintana
By Dave Land, posted 10 July 2017

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Nairo Quintana. Columbian hero, needs to be a sportsman, as well as a bike rider. 

The first week of the Tour de France has offered everything loyal watchers of the race have long known. Whilst nothing seems to happen for ages, when it does it kicks off with an impact few sports can rival. World champion: disqualified. Australian, and British cycling heroes – crashed out, count them, three of them. French champion – missed the time cut.

William Fotheringham described Sunday as one of the best days’ cycling racing he’d seen for years: beauty and the beast he said.

Where does it leave us? Froome in yellow for the start of week two; Contador enjoying himself but five minutes off the pace; Yates is in the mix, so is Dan Martin. But Quintana? Where on earth is the diminutive Colombian? As early as stage 5 it seems like the loss of Valverde in the opening stage is bigger than first thought. But he is still there – not far back, his normal status - a few minutes behind with the big mountains favouring him. But will he deliver? He seems a bit lost in some way.

Compare him to Dan Martin. Quick Step Floors are a majorly classics and sprinting team (Marcel Kittel and Fernando Gaviria!), but they have Dan Martin in as a GC contender. And this year looks like he might do something interesting (albeit he lost time on Sunday).

Our view is Dan Martin just cracks on and rides his bike. He wanted to lose some weight and make himself a better climber, so he rode his bike. He came second, kind of on his own, on stage 5, by just riding his bike.

 

Put it this way, if you found yourself sitting in a taxi bike, who do you want riding it behind you? Martin or Quintana? A man who just rides his bike, or a man who seems like he can’t do that much without a talented team of guys around him, telling him what to do, and when to do it. We have respect for Valverde in this Quintana support role, because he’s strong enough to do it himself, but he gives it out for Quintana; who has not really paid him back for this commitment. Quintana would be asking what to do, Martin would just get on with the riding.

‘But this is unfair’ you may be saying, ‘Quintana has won two grand tours (the Giro in 2014 and Vuelta in 2016). And that’s true. It always seems that Quintana only wins when others fail. There is an argument that it was Contador riding his ass off last year that dragged Quintana to the win. And the 2014 Giro was missing some major players. The Tour, well the Tour is the big one of course, and maybe He could win it. But he’ll win it because someone else loses it, not because he’s a better racer. To some, this may seem an over-simplification. So, what they cry, he’s a grand tour winner, he’s up here with the best. He’s come second twice and third once. What else do you want?

It’s not a question of what we want, however. It’s more a question of the impermeable Quintana mythology that he has allowed to be built around himself by Movistar and the media. The French riders speak English at their own tour (how galling that must be we can only imagine). Quintana doesn’t speak other languages. Dan Martin lives in Girona and trains there, Froomey lives in Monaco and trains around there. Quintana lives in…well Colombia. There’s no more details than that.

His trips are shrouded in mystery – he simply disappears for months at a time. We imagine he rides his bike through the mist and fog, to secret valleys and exotic climbs, up single-lane roads that snake into the snow tipped mountains; his only company is the eagles that soar overhead, and the occasional flock of llamas, past melt-water rivers, and chilling waterfalls. Obviously, this is all sounding silly, but this is the point. He has created this aura that no-one feels able to critique.

He never cracks his face, he says rude things about his rivals, he has no respect for his fellow competitors, nor respect for racing etiquette (see his appalling attack on Tom Dumoulin during the Giro – actually don’t see it, no one needs to see Dumoulin doing that in public). Yet he is always considered the man to beat, no-one subjects him to doping questions, the media both love and fear him, he sails through grand tours, unwilling, or unable to engage with fans, ridiculous or otherwise. And no-one dares say a word against him.

Not so JRtB. Nairo, you need to stop it. Stop the nastiness, stop whatever you do in Colombia, because it just fuels suspicion, when you need to be seen to be cleaner than clean; discover a little something to make you sweeter, and have a little respect. You might not be a guy that just rides his bike. But you should show more respect to those that do.

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