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Breakout Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar) had enough in the tank last weekend, stopping the clock in 27th place in the final-stage individual time trial, to fend off Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Endura) and win the Vuelta a Murcia by six seconds. In the process, the 22-year-old showed he may be the strongest of a young generation of Colombian stars.
The spindly climber won Saturday’s climbing stage over the Sierra Espuña and ceded just 10 seconds to another one of this season’s revelations, Tiernan-Locke. Wouter Poels (Vacansoleil) rounded out the podium in the Spanish tour that has shrunk from five stages to just two over the past two years in light of an economic crisis in Spain.
The victory is a confirmation for Quintana, the winner of the 2010 Tour de l’Avenir, and represents the latest revelation among a new generation of Colombian riders entering the elite pro ranks.
“I’m really, really happy with taking this overall victory. I already said yesterday I could stay into the fight at the time trial and I proved it today,” he said. “I never did specific TT training, but I got to be the national U23 time trial champion in Colombia and I don’t do really bad at them. I knew how to stay calm in these hours after yesterday’s victory, I had some good rest and although the TT route wasn’t in my favor, I was happy this morning after doing the recon because it had no dangerous points.”
Quintana’s victory puts the spotlight back on the resurgent Colombians, who are making a big splash on several fronts this season.
The Colombians barnstormed into Europe back in the hey-day of the 1980s, with the likes of Fabio Parra and Luis Herrera making headlines across Europe’s most important races, with stage wins and a podium by Parra in the Tour de France as well as overall victory by Herrera in the 1987 Vuelta a España, the first South American to win a grand tour.
The 1990s and 2000s saw more Colombians succeeding in Europe, with Santiago Botero winning the world time trial title, Victor Hugo Peña wearing the yellow jersey at the Tour de France and Chepe González and Felix Cardenas shining at such races as the Tour and Vuelta.
With the exception of now-injured Mauricio Soler, there was a lull among Colombian talent coming through the ranks over the past decade, however.
That’s changed dramatically with the arrival of several new promising riders. Quintana joins others such as former U23 world champion Fabio Duarte (Coldeportes), Rigoberto Uran (Team Sky) and a host of other young riders on the new Colombia-Coldeportes team making its first foray into Europe this season.
“There is a new generation of Colombians coming up,” Uran told VeloNews. “There’s a lot of talent and everyone is excited about the impact this new generation will be having in the coming years. The sport is growing again and there is interest from sponsors and media. It’s a good time for Colombian cycling.”
Coldeportes is making its WorldTour debut this week at TIrreno-Adriatico and has an ambitious racing program laid for the 2012 season that will lay the groundwork for the team to get into a grand tour, perhaps next season, at the Giro d’Italia or Vuelta. The team struggled in the stage 1 team time trial, finishing last, at 1:45, but will no doubt look to make a strong impression when stage 5 finishes at Prati di Tivo.
For Quintana, his win last weekend will raise his profile and boost his confidence as he continues to find his way in the pack. Of the latest to come through, many believe it’s Quintana who has the climbing punch and the time trial abilities to become a grand tour contender.
“This win is very important, probably as much as the overall in the Tour de l’Avenir, because that one opened the doors and allowed me to come here,” Quintana said. “This gives me much moral and confidence for the rest of the season.”