Nairo Quintana may have clinched the 2014 Giro d’Italia after an impressive display in the mountain stages but the performance of the Colombian cyclists during the three week marathon rekindled memories of fellow compatriots in the early 1980’s. While it may be too early to envisage an inaugural Colombian victory in the Tour de France, Quintana’s Italian win may be a sign of their re-emergence as serious challengers.
After a decent showing in the 2013 Tour de France when he finished second to Chris Froome, a more experienced Quintana claimed an epic win this spring in the Giro with fellow Colombian Rigoberto Uran Uran finishing runner-up for the second successive year. Furthermore, Julian Arredondo secured the mountains classification to complete a memorable race for the Colombian cyclists.
Quintana is the first Colombian to win the Giro but not the first to claim a Grand Tour victory. The legendary Luis Herrera Vuelta a Espana in 1987 besides earning several King of the Mountains jerseys including the Tour de France version. Fellow countryman Fabio Parra also experienced some success in the mountain stages with a win at Morzine in 1988.
Since those days, success has been very limited for the Colombians until recently when Quintana and Uran earned second position in the French and Italian tours last season. Yet there is always the suspicion that eventual success in the Tour de France is just that one step beyond the Colombian climbers.
The Giro has been tended to be more difficult in recent years with the 2014 edition containing six high mountain summit finishes. That contrasts with the Tour de France in which there are rarely more than five finales at altitude and sometimes considerably less. The French tour tends to be a more balanced race with attention focused on both flat and mountain stages but with potentially faster racing in hotter weather.
Quintana produced a more patient performance in this Giro than in his rather over-enthusiastic displays in the Tour during last July but there are still questions marks over his ability to compete with the best riders over longer and flatter individual time trials.
Conversely, Uran won the flat time trial in Italy and has proved his mettle in the mountains during two Giros and at the age of 27, his best days may still be ahead. His most recent participation in the Tour de France was in 2011 when finishing 23rd but perhaps a further assault on the prestigious French race awaits the Colombian.
Meanwhile, Carlos Betancur is expected to represent the nation in France this July after a fifth finish in the 2013 Giro, and a bold showing is envisaged. Should he, Quintana or Uran challenge Chris Froome in a subsequent Tour de France and succeed in claiming the coveted yellow jersey, they will be acclaimed in Colombia for surpassing the achievements of the much revered Luis Herrera.