Nairo Quintana rolls back the years with ride into Tour de France polka dots

Colombian veteran attacks through the Alps to take the mountains jersey that he won in 2013.

Photo: John Berry/Getty Images

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What is this, 2013?

After an offensive ride in the mountains Sunday, Nairo Quintana is back in the Tour de France polka dot jersey for the first time since when he won it in 2013.

Sunday’s ride was a return to form so heart-warming that everyone was smiling — even the poker-faced Quintana himself.

“It’s a great emotion to have taken the best climber jersey, we have chosen not to play with the general classification in this Tour,” Quintana said Sunday.

“I did it for the Arkéa-Samsic team, for my Colombian and French supporters, and all the people who support my team. This jersey has a great impact in my country but also in France, I know that. I went to get it for all these people, and I will defend it tooth and nail.”

Quintana rolled back the years with an all-out blitz in the day’s breakaway during a rain-sodden stage in the Alps on Sunday.

The Colombian veteran duked it out with Michael Woods and Wout Poels at the front of the race in a cagey battle for mountains points — and Quintana came out on top to take an eight-point lead over Woods that landed him the dotted jersey.

After struggling through last year’s Tour with injury and grinding through two corrective knee surgeries in the winter, Quintana’s ride into the mountains jersey hints toward more good things to come.

His ride through the Alps packed all the guts and gung-ho attacking that saw him take the polka dots from Chris Froome in his breakout 2013 Tour debut.

Quintana’s 2013 Tour de France was a climbing coup that made for a precursor to victory in the 2014 Giro d’Italia and a bucketload of grand tour podiums in the following years. Although Quintana may not be winning grand tours any time soon, his climb into the polka dots makes for a timely mojo boost after 12 months in the wilderness.

“It wasn’t easy, this jersey is not obtained by snapping your fingers, it was a great fight at the beginning of the stage between my opponents and me,” he said.

“It is an important distinctive jersey for our partners. I will continue to go forward, fight with positive energy to bring it back to Paris, on the Champs-Élysées, while keeping the team’s objective which is also to win a stage. “

Is “Nairoman” back?

A stage win will give the definitive answer. After ruling out a GC bid on a course that doesn’t favor Quintana, Arkéa-Samsic is all in to send the 31-year-old to his fourth Tour stage win in the coming weeks.

Quintana will be looking toward Wednesday’s Ventoux stage and a Pyrenean triple in the final week with a glint of hope in his eye — particularly stage 17 with its monster summit finish to the Col du Portet.

The beastly HC climb was the scene of Quintana’s solo stage win in 2018, and a repeat victory on the high-altitude ascent would see Quintana return to a time before being riddled with knee injuries and a genuine threat for any race he started.

“We want the Tour to stop being a dream,” Quintana said earlier this year. “We’re always at a good level, but unfortunately for the crashes, we’ve never had the results that we’ve needed. But the dream still lives.”

Mark Cavendish has lived the dream with a comeback none would have predicted at this year’s Tour.

“Nairoman” could be the next to live his own polka-dotted dream.

An American in France

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