So far in 2019, Nairo Quintana is yet to win a race in Europe.
In fact, he hasn’t even made a podium. But that’s not the point. Because Nairo is back, baby. Er, maybe. Possibly. Well, let’s at least hope so, eh?
Earlier in the year, Quintana won Stage 8 of the Colombia 2.1, a joyfully supported race that took place in his home country. The victory was his first in seven months, a period during which he appeared worryingly out of colour, failing to make any impact whatsoever in the Vuelta, a race that would have been a relatively high priority for his team.
Frankly, he looked jaded, mentally as much as physically, that habitually neutral expression coming to be perceived as disinterest or lack of effort. The wait goes on for a win in Europe, of course, but there are encouraging signs that Nairo may become once again a force to be reckoned with on the World Tour.
Perhaps that’s just wishful thinking on KONM’s part, but the form line backs up the idea to a certain extent. His run of GC results this year reads: 8-5-2-4. Nothing special, certainly, but the most recent of those were Paris-Nice and the Volta Catalunya, respectively. Two tough, hotly contested stage races over lumpy terrain.
Results aside, though, there’s a strength about him now that wasn’t there last year. On the final stage of Paris-Nice, he attacked with a long way to go and seriously worried a Sky train who thought they’d have an easy day shuttling Egan Bernal to victory. Instead, Quintana was relentless, pushing and pushing despite getting little or no help from anyone around him.
Eventually, he cracked, as people tend to when Sky enter a chase. But it’s rare to see Brailsford’s boys sending all hands to the pump in the way they did that day. Their effort was a tribute to Quintana’s ability, a sign that he still commands respect.
Putting aside the end result, more than anything it was just nice to see Nairo on the attack. He’s faced accusations of defensive riding – and not without justification – over the past few seasons, but Paris-Nice was an indication of a changing approach.
If he takes that into the summer, he can make an impact at the Tour and beyond. KONM doesn’t know if Nairo’s back, but hope springs eternal.
Featured photo: Dacoucou/Commons, edited by KONM