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Nairo Quintana snatches first WorldTour leader’s jersey in three years: ‘I still have the heart and soul of a boy’

'NairoMan' is moved after climbing into a WorldTour leader's jersey for the first time since 2019.

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Nairo Quintana is proving to the world he’s not done yet, one mountain summit at a time.

The 32-year-old Colombian nudged into the overall lead at the Volta a Catalunya on Thursday after finishing second in the thrilling summit battle in the weeklong Spanish WorldTour race.

“I am very moved,” Quintana said after taking the leader’s jersey. “A lot of people say Nairo is finished, they say that Nairo is an old man, but I still have the heart and soul of a boy. I still have a lot of motivation and a lot of hope.”

João Almeida (UAE Emirates) won the stage a half-wheel ahead of Quintana, and the pair finished tied on time atop the Boí Taüll summit Thursday high in the Catalan Pyrénées. Based on count-back with points, Quintana will carry the race leader’s jersey in Friday’s long transition stage.

Also read: Almeida wins, Quintana sneaks into leader’s jersey

Quintana’s battled through illnesses, injuries, and double-knee surgery, yet he’s looking sharp so far in 2022.

With the way he’s been racing, it’s obvious that Quintana’s “yellow jersey dream” still burns bright.

After finishing third Wednesday, Quintana seemed intent on spicing up the race’s final mountaintop finale.

He attacked early with 12km to go, but wisely sat up when it was obvious that the peloton was swarming him. He later marked winning moves from Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), Almeida, and Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe), who crossed the line third.

“With the experience in cycling, we could manage the stage very well to arrive here in the leader’s jersey. With the work of the team at the beginning of the climb, and the days before that as well,” Quintana said at the line.

“I couldn’t do more because every team had two or three riders, so a long-distance wouldn’t work out and especially knowing that the strength was on the limit of everyone,” he said. “It was too bad not to win the stage, especially after finishing third yesterday. We are satisfied that we are feeling good and that we are working well as a unit. Our team keeps growing and we keep hitting our objectives.”

First WorldTour race leader’s jersey since 2019

Nairo Quintana takes the lead on a tie-breaker. (David Ramos/Getty Images)

Quintana is coming in hot into 2022.

He won his opening two stage races in France at Tour de la Provence and Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var and finished fifth in Paris-Nice earlier this month.

With back-to-back stage podiums, Quintana nudges into the overall race lead in what’s the first time he’s led a WorldTour race since he held the leader’s jersey for one day at the 2019 Vuelta a España. His last WorldTour stage race overall victory came in 2017, when he won Tirreno-Adriatico.

Now Quintana and his second-tier Arkéa-Samsic team face the daunting task of trying to fend off UAE Team Emirates, which is unstoppable so far in 2022.

Time bonuses could decide overall Catalunya crown

With no more major summit finishes, intermediate and finish-line bonus seconds will decide the overall. Almeida and Quintana are knotted up on time, with Higuita in third at six seconds back.

Each stage features two mid-race bonus sprints, with 3, 2, and 1 second up for grabs, and finish-line bonuses of 10, 6, and 4 for the top-3.

Intermediate bonuses are packed into the back-end of Friday’s long stage, so Quintana wouldn’t mind seeing a non-threatening breakaway hold off to the finish to eat up all the day’s bonuses. Saturday’s hilly stage sees the day’s first intermediate sprint came after a first- and second-category climb relatively early in another profile suited for breakaways.

It’s Sunday’s unrelenting circuit course with six passages up and over the Cat. 2 Montjuic climb that will decide everything.

“We will try to stay on the wheel and if we can get a bonus, that would be great. We have to race very smart and it’s obvious that [UAE] has a very strong team,” Quintana said. “We also have our riders, too. With heart and courage, we will do everything to try to defend the jersey.”