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Quintana, Uran lead deep Colombian squad into Florence worlds

Nairo Quintana and Rigoberto Urán lead a group of escarabajos into Florence as arguably the deepest squad in the men's road race

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If 2013 has been the year of the Colombian resurgence, there could well be a coup d’etat during this weekend’s elite men’s world championship road race in Florence, Italy.

A swarm of Colombian climbers are descending on Florence, and South America could very well ride away with its first ever world title.

A hilly, hard-to-control course, coupled with a new generation of ambitious escarabajos, mean the Colombian team is poised to blow apart Sunday’s 280-kilometer men’s road race.

Standing tall against the Europeans will be the diminutive Nairo Quintana, who returned to racing at the Tour of Britain last week following his triumphant Tour de France debut.

Although Colombia will start with a full roster of nine riders, and boasts nearly a half-dozen riders in its quiver who could win, Quintana could be the one to deliver the surprise.

“The worlds is a big goal, and we want to take advantage of such a course that favors our style of riding,” Quintana told VeloNews. “We will have a strong team. There are many of us who could be protagonists in the race. We expect a demanding race, and with so much climbing, it favors us.”

Quintana has out-performed his compatriots in a spectacular season of reaffirmation for the Colombians. Most of those big results, including second at the Tour and victory at the Vuelta al País Vasco and Vuelta a Burgos, have come in stage races.

Quintana’s credentials in one-day races are not nearly as illustrious as some of his countrymen, but his quality, depth, growing reputation, and strong finishing speed make him a top candidate for victory.

The Colombians are sure to be marked in the peloton, none more so than Quintana.

That should open the door for others to make the race aggressive. Winner Anacona, John Darwin Atapuma, and Janier Acevedo will each have freedom to ride into early breakaways. If any of the Colombians pull clear early, it will put the favored Europeans on edge immediately.

Behind Quintana are three other viable candidates for the stripes, giving the Colombians perhaps the deepest roster in the road race.

Performances during the Vuelta a España, however, were less than inspiring. Sergio Henao, who was given outright team leadership for Sky, buckled under the weight of expectation, and sunk out of contention on the first summit finish in stage 2.

Carlos Betancur, the Ag2r La Mondiale sensation who barnstormed through the spring, with third at Flèche Wallonne and fourth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, showed up visibly out of shape after coming off a long break and an illness.

“I am really going to have to suffer during this Vuelta,” Betancur said the opening weekend of the Spanish tour. “The goal is to ride into fitness for the worlds.”

The other top Colombian racing the Vuelta was Rigoberto Urán, who rode to second at the Giro d’Italia, and has the perfect profile to win the Florence worlds. Second in the Olympic road race last summer in London — Urán vows he did not sell the gold medal to Alexander Vinokourov — he should be the co-captain with Quintana on the road.

Yet Urán was downplaying his own chances for the worlds, saying the one-day races are a complete lottery.

“With one-day races, you wake up and you know right away if you can win, or you’re just riding in the pack,” Urán told VeloNews . “The course in Italy should suit me well, but I will not know what will happen until the race begins. The race will be hard. If the legs are good, of course, I will try to win. If not, well, it’s just one day! There’s nothing you can do. It’s not like a stage race, where you have more chances to perform.”

With such depth and quality of riders, Florence presents Colombia’s best chance to finish on the worlds podium.

By most accounts, the Colombians all get along well, and there is not the acrimonious infighting that comes when there are too many top stars within the same team.

Nearly all the new generation of Colombian professionals are keen on making the most of the rekindled interest in cycling back home. Many of them share an apartment in Pamplona, Spain, so it would be a surprise to see anything but a unified front for the worlds.

Urán’s silver medal in the 2012 London Olympics and Quintana’s second in the 2013 Tour both evoked massive celebration across the cycling-crazed South American country. Imagine the celebration if one of their escarabajos manages to win the rainbow stripes.