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Nairo Quintana not done yet: Aging ace keeps in Tour de France frame with Catalunya challenge

Elder statesman of South American stage racers refuses to buckle beneath pressure of new generation of talent at Volta a Catalunya.

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Nairo Quintana may be an elder statesman of Colombian cycling, but he can still hang with the kids.

The Colombian veteran braced and didn’t quite buckle against the pressure of a new South American generation at the Tour of Catalunya last week.

“Nairoman” missed the final podium behind countryman Sergio Higuita, Ecuadorian ace Richard Carapaz, and Portuguese outlier João Almeida by just one second after hitching a ride with a wave of stage-racing talent almost 10 years his junior.

“The results from this Tour of Catalonia are good,” Quintana said Sunday. “I was second and third in the two mountain stages after trying to get the victory, and today Sunday I managed to finish in the main group, even though I suffered from allergies.”

Like the “pre-op knees” Quintana of 2020, the 32-year-old Nairo has enjoyed a hot spring with victories at Tour de la Provence and Tour du Var before a gallop through Paris-Nice.

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A long-awaited return to a WorldTour leader’s jersey in Spain this week hints that the “Nairoman” of years past still glimmers ahead of his quest for the Tour de France glory he flirted with through the past decade.

“This first cycle of competition went very well, with two stage races won, fifth place in the Paris-Nice final and a fourth in the Tour of Catalonia,” he said. “I feel very good, motivated, and I hope that I can also achieve very good results in the second part of my season.”

Grand tour dreams in a new GC landscape

Nairo Quintana nudged into the leader’s jersey at the Volta a Catalunya, his first WorldTour leader’s jersey in three years. (Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images)

Quintana is no doubt one of the stars of the past GC generation, and one of the shining members of the “Class of 1990.”

Like Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali and fellow Colombian trailblazer Rigoberto Urán, Quintana’s name is rarely at the top of a list of classification contenders for the season’s biggest showdowns.

Instead, a whole heap of classification talent has taken over, from Slovenian supremos Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič to Colombian upstarts like Higuita, Daniel Martínez and Egan Bernal.

But just like his ride through Catalunya – bouncing back from the Carapaz-Higuita robbery on the roads to Cambrils on Saturday and refusing to be dropped in the explosive final stage Sunday – “Nairoman” refuses to say “no” and continues to aim high.

“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,” he said this week. “I still have a lot of motivation and a lot of hope.”

Quintana is now riding a rapid road toward his ninth Tour start, with a return to the scenes of past triumphs at the Vuelta a España coming soon after.

Arkéa-Samsic packs big hopes for its Colombian captain as it pushes for WorldTour status and a stake at the top of French cycling.

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“We came to this Tour of Catalonia with the aim of doing as well, or even better than Paris-Nice,” sport director Yvon Ledanois said Sunday.

“Nairo ranks fourth in the final general classification of this event, which is the best performance of the Arkéa-Samsic team in a UCI WorldTour event. He was the leader of the event, three podiums were achieved during this week.

Quintana’s two second-place finishes at the Tour are now seven years in the rear-view mirror.

It’s tough to see him climbing with Pogačar and he sure won’t be going faster than Roglič in a TT anytime soon. But there’s a sense Quintana will never be too far out of the frame.