Colombian cycling is booming, but according to Nairo Quintana, the nation’s top promising young cyclists are being exploited by ruthless recruiters.
Quintana, one of the leading lights in Colombian cycling, called out team managers and scouts for signing young Colombians still in their teens to European contracts under misleading deals with the hopes of striking gold and finding the next superstar.
“People have arrived who I do not know what to call them. They offer children from 15 to 17 years old contracts with parental authorization to take them to Europe,” Quintana told El Leñero podcast. “They are told that they are the representatives who signed and took Nairo, Iván Sosa, Rigoberto Urán, Egan Bernal to Europe … cheating them to hope to find a champion and fill their pockets with money.”
The Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España champion didn’t mention any direct names, but denounced managers for signing talented teenagers, “with contracts signed by parents.” Rather than developing into long, fruitful careers, Quintana claimed many of the youngsters get burned out early, and go on to “suffer from eating troubles, bad living conditions, and even ending many with psychological problems, abandoning cycling and everything.”
Although there is a strong domestic Colombian racing scene, the big contracts and opportunities for aspiring pros await with feeder teams in Spain, France, and Italy. And with the rise of the likes of Quintana over the past decade, managers and agents have been trolling the Latin American peloton with the hopes of signing the next superstar.
Quintana, now racing with Arkea-Samsic, moved to Europe at 21 to sign with Movistar in a rare step that took him immediately from Colombia to the WorldTour. However, many other Colombian pros took the intermediate route upon leaving Colombia, going through the pro continental ranks. Rigoberto Urán first raced in Europe with Tenax, Egan Bernal spent two years at Androni Giocattoli before signing to Team Sky/Ineos, and Sergio Higuita raced for Fundación Euskadi for a spell before joining EF Pro Cycling.
Colombia’s long history with cycling has exploded in recent years, with Bernal becoming the first Colombian to win the Tour. The Tour Colombia 2.1 stage race is also rising in prestige and popularity. Quintana pointed out that success stories like Bernal or other young Colombians finding WorldTour success is the exception, not the rule, and said riders are being exploited under the premise of immediate stardom.
“There may be exceptions, like Egan Bernal, who won the Tour, but it is a unique case in history,” Quintana said. “Some want to go from youth to the Tour de France and that is not the case. They are all struggling for what they were told or for what they were going to be given.”
Quintana is taking an active role in developing his nation’s talent on Colombian soil before letting them take the flight to Europe. The 30-year-old has started mentoring promising athletes, advising them to race in the under-23 ranks at home with the ambition of letting them mature both physically and mentally before leaving Colombia.
“Here we train cyclists, but there are teams interested in them very soon. I tell them to be calm because we know the people and the teams, we can advise them without problem,” he said. “But the managers arrive and tell them that they are taking them to Europe at 15 or 16, barely leaving school and they are put there in basements in different countries, eating badly, living poorly, and suffering, leaving the children with many psychological problems and abandoning cycling and abandoning everything.
“They sign them without problems, but they arrive in Europe without having money at all,” Quintana continued. “I tell them to stay here for at least the second year of under-23 and so they have two more years to take advantage of in Europe in the same category and go to school and finish their training. ”
Quintana hopes that sheltering young riders in Colombia will give them better longterm prospects internationally.
“In Boyacá, youth cycling is well managed,” he pointed out. “I help a lot and the minister helps us in the project. There are many who have returned to Colombia unsuccessful, frustrated, and that has been difficult to see. It makes me sad because I speak and some think that it is Nairo Quintana who bothers us, but we help good cyclists to look for teams and do races here.”