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MILAN (VN) — Nairo Quintana became the first Colombian in history to win both the Giro d’Italia and as of Sunday when he rolled over the finish line in Madrid dressed in all red, the Vuelta a España. He says it is a “dream” victory that he is only realizing now during the post-race parties.
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The 26-year-old from Boyacá, in the East Andes, toasted with his Movistar teammates Monday in Madrid. He won the three-week Spanish tour with 1:23 minutes over Tour de France champion Chris Froome (Sky). The celebration became that much sweeter when Spanish telecom company Movistar, which has big business in Quintana’s home country, renewed its sponsorship for three more years. Quintana also renewed through 2019.
“I feel very emotional,” Quintana said. “I will get used to it with the passing hours. When you are racing, you are so focused that you do not realize what is happening around you. It’s like a dream, and I’m slowly waking up and realizing it’s reality.”
The reality is that Quintana is becoming a bigger champion than he already was at home in Madrid. Before, Luis Herrera was the only Colombian to score a grand tour title in the 1987 Vuelta a España. Quintana became the first to do so in the Giro d’Italia in 2014 and the second to do so this weekend in the Vuelta.
He splashed into the mainstream headlines in 2013 when, at 23 years old, he ran second-best to Froome in the Tour de France. Not only that, he won the white young rider’s jersey, the mountains jersey, and the final mountain stage above Annecy to Le Semnoz.
Movistar invested in its star. It took him to the Giro to allow him to gain experience at winning a grand tour before trying to do so in France. He conquered a race marked by the snow-ravaged stage up the Stelvio Pass.
Back at the Tour de France in 2015 and this July, he has become Froome’s main rival. At home, they are going mad for ‘Nairoman.’
“We have done things slowly, growing and being a reference for young people. I’ve become an ambassador of the country and that carries plenty of responsibility,” Quintana said. “It fills me with pride. Colombians support me in all parts of the world. It motivates me and makes me keep doing things the right way.”
The Tour de France remains if Quintana wants a complete grand tour set in his trophy case. This year, after pushing Froome all the way through to the final Alpe d’Huez mountain stage in 2015, fans expected a head-to-head battle in France. It never materialized. Quintana looked sub-par, not like in the Vuelta, and fought for the third place on the podium instead of a Tour title.
“Being at 100 percent is the only way to have a chance, and at the Tour, I wasn’t. In the Vuelta, though, I had that high level and really enjoyed riding and attacking.”