SAINT-JEAN-DE-MAURIENNE, France (AFP) — Nairo Quintana (Movistar) will be aiming to cement the special relationship between Colombia and Alpe d’Huez when tackling the mystical Tour de France climb on Saturday.
The 25-year-old 2014 Giro d’Italia champion may be the most famous Colombian cyclist and Alpe d’Huez may be the most iconic mountain in the sport, but it was Luis “Lucho” Herrera who paved the way for riders in the Andean country 31 years ago.
It was Monday, July 17, 1984 on the 151-kilometer 17th stage of the Tour de France from Grenoble to Alpe d’Huez when the 23-year-old Colombian climber announced his talent to the world.
The day started badly for Herrera, who was initially distanced by the peloton as French pair Laurent Fignon and Bernard Hinault, the two favorites, battled for supremacy.
But Herrera managed to cling on and by the foot of Alpe d’Huez he was alongside Fignon.
Herrera attacked and reeled in Hinault before going on to win the stage at the Alpine summit, joining the likes of cycling legends Fausto Coppi and Joop Zoetemelk as winners on Alpe d’Huez.
Herrera, officially still an amateur, went on to finish the race 27th overall as Fignon won his second Tour. A year later Hinault would take revenge, but France has not had a Tour winner since.
The Colombian star would enjoy many more great days in cycling, winning the 1987 Vuelta a Espana and that same year earning his best finish in the Tour — fifth.
He would also win five king of the mountain jerseys across the three grand tours and triumph in the prestigious Critérium du Dauphiné twice.
But it is the inspiration he provided for a generation of Colombian climbers that has perhaps marked him down in cycling’s record books.
“It was spectacular in that moment and very important for Colombian cycling,” said Quintana.
Herrera, who would go on to win two more Tour stages, himself admitted years later: “I never imagined that this victory would be remembered to such an extent.”
There have been eight more Colombian Tour stage winners since Herrera, including Quintana, while others such as Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-Quick-Step), the Olympic silver medalist, have also impressed.
“For Colombian cycling, ‘Lucho’ Herrera is the man who opened the door,” Uran, twice a runner-up at the Giro d’Italia, including behind Quintana last year, told AFP.
“He’s a huge institution in Colombian and an excellent example.”
Since Herrera, Quintana enjoyed a great ride on Alpe d’Huez in 2013 when he distanced Chris Froome (Sky), the Tour winner that year.
But Quintana finished fourth that day behind Frenchman Christophe Riblon (Ag2r La Mondiale), who was part of a seven-man breakaway.
Two days later he did taste victory in the Alps, but Quintana is determined to etch his name into the Alpe d’Huez annals this time around.
“Independent of the great ‘Lucho’s’ victory, it’s a climb I like a lot and that I always try to tackle well, ever more so this time as I need to!” said Quintana.
The Movistar team leader is battling with Froome for victory at the Tour this year and Alpe d’Huez will be the final opportunity before the finale in Paris for someone to stake his claim for the yellow jersey.
If Quintana could win the 20th stage and rip the yellow jersey from Froome’s grasp, Colombia would at last have a performance to eclipse the great “Lucho” Herrera.