Nairo Quintana secured a stunning double haul of jerseys and a surprise runner-up place after claiming his maiden Tour de France win on the 20th and penultimate stage of the 100th edition on Saturday.
Quintana, making his race debut with the Movistar team, attacked yellow jersey holder Chris Froome inside the final two kilometers of the 10.3km trek to the summit of Annecy-Semnoz to solo over the finish line in triumph. The victory moved him up to second overall at 5min 03sec behind Froome, but also helped secure the King of the Mountains’ polka dot jersey as well as the white jersey for the best young rider.
If he avoids catastrophe on the 133.5 km ride from Versailles to Paris on Sunday, Quintana will become the first Colombian runner-up on the race. Fabio Parra, one of 12 Colombians to win a stage on the Tour, finished third overall in 1988.
“I’m lost for words. It’s a spectacular day. I never thought success on the Tour de France would come to me so quickly,” said an emotional Quintana, who broke down in tears as he spoke to the press. “I wasn’t sure how things would work out today, but my team believed in me and during the whole Tour they have been there for me to give me moral suport.”
Quintana had said his main objective on this year’s race was to win the white jersey, but his victory on the race’s final climb secured the polka dot jersey too, denying Froome a double that had not been achieved since Eddy Merckx in 1970.
He follows in the footsteps of Lucho Herrera and Mauricio Soler by winning the King of the Mountains title for Colombia, a country able to produce natural climbers in the high mountains of the Andes. Soler won the title in 2007 but was forced to give up the sport having never fully recovered from a fall at the 2011 Tour of Switzerland in which he fractured his skull.
Quintana spoke glowingly of his countryman on Saturday. “I want to pay tribute to all the Colombians who have won on the Tour de France and I want to say a special thanks to my compatriot and friend Mauricio Soler. “I hope he get’s well soon because he has helped me immensely along the way.”
Quintana himself trains at altitudes of close to 3,000 metres, so conquering Alpine summits of 2,000 meters is not a problem, as the Movistar rider displayed on the Col de Pailheres in the Pyrenees and again on Saturday.
However, he has handled the pressure brilliantly in what is his first Tour de France, just a year after he turned professional.
“It was only a year ago that I started considering the prospect of winning a Tour de France stage, because it was something people kept asking me about,” he added. “What people (in Colombia) really love is the polka dot jersey, because that’s what symbolises our cyclists.”
Movistar were forced to completely change their race strategy when Alejandro Valverde’s hopes of challenging for a podium finish was brought to an end in a difficult second week. However, the Spanish outfit’s manager Eusebio Unzue was ultimately vindicated in deciding to throw everything into Quintana’s bid for success.
“We came here with the aim of doing well in the general classification. The problems that Alejandro had were a blow to our chances but we decided to forget about that and give full responsibility to Nairo and the little guy was really magnificent throughout the whole week in the Alps, he said.
Unzue and Valverde both believe that they have a future Tour de France winner in their ranks, and Quintana himself has set getting his hands on the yellow jersey as his long-term goal. “If we look at what happend today I can be hopeful, and this encourages me to work even more,” he said. “Maybe in 2015 we will try to win the Tour de France, but we will have to work hard every day.”