Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Cool Quintana is toast of Italy

Colombian has big targets for future after Giro success

Nairo Quintana poses for a photo after crossing the finish line yesterday
Nairo holds aloft the famous Giro d'Italia trophy

Nairo Quintana plans to target next year's Tour de France after celebrating victory in the Giro d'Italia yesterday.

The 24-year-old Colombian, second to Chris Froome in last year's Tour, completed the final stage of the Giro into Trieste without incident as Slovenia's Luka Mezgec sprinted to victory up ahead, while fourth place was enough for Nacer Bouhanni of France to retain the points leaders' red jersey.

Quintana became the youngest Giro winner since Damiano Cunego took pink aged 22 in 2004, and the Movistar rider now has grand ambitions for the future.

While he has no plans to ride this year's Tour having put all his focus on the Giro, he plans to return to France next summer and confirmed before the start of the stage that he has made a Tour victory his new priority.

"My next goal will be to win the Tour de France one day," he said. "I've dreamt about winning a Grand Tour for a long time, but everybody does.

"But let's say that the dream felt much closer and much more real after I finished second in the Tour last year.

"People are still surprised when I achieve things but that's normal, because I'm young."

By the end of the stage, thoughts about the Tour de France next year were on hold as Quintana basked in his success.

"It's very difficult to explain how much happiness is inside of me," he said. "This is one of the happiest days of my life. Thank you to my family, thank you to my team and to all the Colombians."

Quintana won by two minutes and 58 seconds from fellow Colombian Rigoberto Uran – the Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider who was also second last year when racing for Team Sky.

Quintana doubled up as the winner of the young rider's jersey ahead of the impressive Italian Fabio Aru, third overall, while another Colombian, Julian Arredondo, took the blue jersey for the mountains classification ahead of Team Sky's Italian rider Dario Cataldo.

Cataldo's performances were a rare bright spot for Sky in a disappointing Giro in which a makeshift squad was unable to make much headway.

The final stage was animated by a few attacks on the streets of Trieste, with Svein Tuft and Lars Bak heading up the road with 44km (27 miles) to go before being joined by Stefano Pirazzi, Mikel Landa and Carlos Quintero, but they were caught soon enough as the sprint trains set up.

As they came towards the line, Sébastian Chavanel tried to set up FDJ team-mate Bouhanni but the Frenchman's line was blocked as his rival for red Giacomo Nizzolo nosed in front alongside Tyler Farrar.

However, Mezgec came up along the barriers and pipped them all for the stage victory.

Aru's third place overall has crowned him as Italy's next great climber and Giro d'Italia rider, while Uran's second place confirmed his consistency after finishing second behind Vincenzo Nibali in 2013. He is perhaps Colombia's nearly man and has been quickly surpassed by Quintana, but he seems happy to be the bridesmaid in Grand Tours.

"Quintana deserved to win the Giro. He was very strong on the climbs and we can only congratulate him," Aru said.

"I agree. He deserved to win," Uran said. "I've always said that whoever wins deserved to win, with or without the climbs. The same thing would have happened, there's nothing more to say about it."

Aru is the new hero of the Italian tifosi after his attack in the climbs, his stage victory at Montecampione and his huge effort to finish a close second behind Quintana in the Cima Grappa time trial.

The Italian media has already suggested he is a possible rival for team-mate and fellow Italian Vincenzo Nibali. Aru was quick to play down any rivalry, at least for now.

"We're team-mates, we get on really well and I've learned a lot from him and I'm sure I'll learn more from in the future," Aru said.

"I haven't got a lot of experience and just tried to do as well as possible. I'm satisfied with my Giro."

"I didn't even really believe in what I could do in this Giro, it was already a surprise to be up there fighting with the best. I gave my best but I kept my feet on the ground because I didn't know my limits."

Lots of Aru's family, friends and supporters travelled from Sardinia to cheer him on, with the Sardinian flag showing the heads of four Moors often seen along the road side and waved at Aru.

Aru seemed level headed enough to handle the expectation and adulation.

"There will be a lot more expectation on my shoulders, but I hope that will give me the pride and determination to do as well as possible," he said.

"I developed gradually as an Under-23 rider and only won my first race in my third season. That has given me the determination to train hard and live a life of sacrifices. You need to be hungry in cycling."

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