Could Nairo Quintana return to Movistar at the end of 2022?
Never say never.
The Colombian superstar is out of contract at the end of this season after what will be three years with Arkéa-Samsic, and Quintana, now 32, said he wants to land his next deal with a team that will give him wings to chase his eternal quest for the Tour de France.
Could that mean a return to Movistar, the Spanish WorldTour team where he won the Vuelta a España and Giro d’Italia? Perhaps.
“We experienced a lot of beautiful things and one has to consider everything,” Quintana told Colombian media about a possible Movistar return.
“At the time we shook hands with Eusebio Unzué, and we ended things with a good relation, and right now, who knows,” Quintana said. “It’s not that I don’t like them, and I have good relations with a lot of them and we all have very good memories.”
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Quintana will be one of the top Colombian riders out of contract in 2022 in what is already looking to be a very active rider market.
VeloNews reported that more than 200 top pros are on the market for next season as the top teams look to shore up their rosters going into the next round of WorldTour licenses.
Other top riders on the market include Tom Pidcock, Mark Cavendish, Tom Dumoulin, and Richard Carapaz.
Quintana’s value might not burn as bright as it did a few years ago when he was challenging the likes of Chris Froome at the Tour de France, but he’s still a consistent performer when he’s healthy.
After coming off bouts with COVID-19 and knee injuries, Quintana admits that this season is first about proving his worth to any would-be suitors.
“Right now, I am concentrated on ending the season, to do it well, and to be happy on the bike,” Quintana told AS in a recent Zoom call. “Later, if it’s in one [team] or another, or even the same, the most important thing to think about is what’s best and to sign a contract where I have the most tranquility to do things the right way.”
Since joining the WorldTour in 2012, Quintana’s been one of the most consistent riders to emerge from Colombia’s latest wave. He’s won races in every season since 2012, and won two grand tours among his nearly 50 pro victories.
Quintana emerged as Froome’s most dangerous direct rival at the Tour, twice finishing second and once third. Since 2017, when he was second to Tom Dumoulin at the Giro d’Italia, Quintana’s struggled to hit his previous grand tour highs.
The greatest climber of the 2010s Nairo Quintana vs 4x Tour de France champion Chris Froome. Added some efforts for Froome (Giro 2018 devastating attack on Finestre, Jabal al Akhdhar 2014, Santa Lucia 2017) and Blockhaus 2017 for @NairoInGreen.
Data: @NaichacaCycling pic.twitter.com/P01mLEVQ5o
— Cycling Graphs (@CyclingGraphs) December 1, 2021
He’s twice ridden into the top-10 at the Tour, and finished fourth in the 2019 Vuelta a España.
Though his departure from Movistar at the end of 2019 was spun at the time as being amicable, some behind the scenes reported tension between the Colombian star and the Spanish team staff.
Quintana signed a three-year deal to move to the second-tier French team, but knee injuries and COVID infections haven’t helped him since he moved to Arkéa-Samsic.
Quintana said it’s still too early to talk contracts and did not discount staying at Arkéa-Samsic for his next deal. Management from the French team has already said they’d like to keep Quintana.
“The Arkéa-Samsic project is going well, it keeps growing, and it has a good budget,” Quintana said. “Right now, to be honest, I have not thought about anything else than having a good season and I don’t know if I will stay.
“I am thankful for the support from Arkéa,” he said. “Everyone welcomed me, and they’ve supported me through the difficult times for everyone, and it’s a team that’s valued me and I take that to heart. I still don’t know, and we’ll see during the season what’s best for me.”
Movistar, which has not yet commented publicly about a possible Quintana return, could use some new firepower going into 2023.
Franchise rider Alejandro Valverde will retire this season, and the departure of such riders as Mikel Landa, Carapaz, and Miguel Ángel López leaves the team’s GC roster quite thin.
Movistar is betting everything on Enric Mas for 2022 at the Tour and Vuelta. Iván Sosa will have more room to move at such races as the Giro d’Italia.
For Quintana, this season will be all about staying healthy and seeing if he can return to his glory days when he was one of the most feared and dangerous climbers in the WorldTour.
Speaking ahead of his season debut at the Tour de la Provence, Quintana said the Tour de France will be at the center of his ambitions for 2022.
“My desire is to fight in the GC, to be as close as possible to the podium,” Quintana said. “We’ll see what’s best for the team.”