Nairo Quintana is an absolute superstar in Colombia, and was one of the riders in highlight this week at the Tour Colombia. Originally a favourite for the overall classification, 'Nairoman' was taken down by a flu which wrecked his chances of a successful comeback to the peloton.
“He had the flu, that’s what happened, nothing more. It’s nothing to worry about," team DS Pablo Lastras shared with Cyclingnews following the Colombian's demise at the brutal Alto del Vino. "He felt a bit blocked from being at his full shape but it’s nothing alarming, nothing worrying. Nairo puts a lot of pressure of himself racing here, but I think the great champions need to put pressure on themselves. They have to know how to manage it and Nairo knows how to do that, because he’s a winner.”
"As a cyclist, I believe the time has come to say: this is the end" - Rigoberto Urán confirms retirement after 2024 season
Quintana looked in fine form at the national championships the week beforehand, putting in fine performances both in the time-trial and road race. In the first stages of the week he looked to be in regular pace, but the 30-kilometer long Alto del Vino exposed his ongoing weakness. Quintana had been ill and was dropped early on, not contesting for the stage win or overall classification.
“The original plan was for Nairo to start at the Volta Valenciana, but then this race was confirmed late – at the end of November, I think – so we quickly changed his calendar. We had to have him here – for Nairo himself, for the country, for the brand, for the federation," Lastras added. "He’s sort of the ambassador of the country. So he had to be here, and he wanted to be here.”
Sepp Kuss warns of Tadej Pogacar form into Tour de France: "If he can get through the Giro well with good weather, he will be better at the start of the Tour"
In the results sheet however lays a relatively absent 19th spot, which will matter little. A return to competition however is important after a year without being in a World Tour peloton. Experience that will be valuable for the 34-year old, who is looking to build up towards the Giro d'Italia this spring. Quintana is expected to return to Europe soon, and race O Gran Camiño where he will be face to face with the likes of Jonas Vingegaard and Cian Uijtdebroeks.
“It’s clear that a year without competition has cost him quite a bit, because cycling is all about changes of rhythm,” Luis Fernando Saldarriaga, previously a coach of the Colombian rider, added. “He has to get used to these changes of rhythm again, and that will take time.”