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Could 2022 be the year we see Nairo Quintana back in the winner’s circle?
Who knows, but his chances may have improved.
The former Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España champion and his Arkéa-Samsic crew will have their pick of WorldTour races next year after placing second in the ProTeam ranking in 2021.
It means the French team will be able to select the grand tours that offer the best chances of success as it looks to muscle its way into the WorldTour in 2023.
“What a road traveled by the Arkéa-Samsic team in the space of a few years! We gradually passed many levels in order to arrive in 2022 at the gates of the WorldTour,” team boss Emmanuel Hubert said in a team release this week. “I am excited by the idea of starting a new era for my riders and my staff.”
The recent demise of Qhubeka-NextHash drops the WorldTour to 18 teams in 2022, opening the door for two second-tier squads to receive invites to the calendar’s leading races.
Alpecin-Fenix topped the ProTeam ranking to be first on the list, and Arkéa-Samsic was handed an unexpected early Christmas present by the UCI after placing second. Although Arkéa-Samsic was given access to all WorldTour one-day races in 2021, it will also be able to pick and choose its grand tour racing next year.
The French squad has been a shoo-in invitee to the Tour de France in recent years, but the Vuelta and Giro have been off-menu as wildcard invites largely went to local teams.
Hubert and his staffers now have the difficult luxury of choice.
“Management will have to make choices because we will not be able to do all the WorldTour races, that will be a lot,” team talisman Warren Barguil told Cyclism’Actu. “But for the moment, we are just happy we are no longer depending on the invitations of the big races. It also brings us more serenity to work and allows us to properly adjust the racing programs.”
The new flexibility comes in a season promising a Giro d’Italia with a rare dearth of time trialing and a slate of high-altitude ascents. It’s the type of parcours that Quintana would dream of.
The Colombian was on the fringes in 2021 after double-knee surgery in the winter. Despite being some way from his former grand tour-topping self, flickers of the “Nairoman” of five years ago remained as he raced where he could rather than where he may have wanted to.
Quintana has previously stated his intention to return to the Tour in 2022, but the new possibility of three weeks in Italy or Spain may pull stronger should his newly ambitious French team allow it.
Arkéa-Samsic has been busy buying up WorldTour talent in the off-season as part of its push for top-category status in 2023. Four riders from the top-tier will land as reinforcements at Arkea-Samsic in 2022 as it build toward bigger things.
“The upcoming 2022 season will be a year of discovery and of performances required to be one of the 18 professional cycling teams selected to form the WorldTour in 2023,” Hubert said. “Our shared objective at Arkéa-Samsic is to establish ourselves at that level of competition for the long term.”
Does Quintana still have what it takes to drag Arkéa-Samsic into the WorldTour with some grand tour greatness in 2022?
The jury’s out – but maybe a trip down memory lane to his winning days at the Giro or Vuelta may help.
— Nairo Quintana Fanclub (@NairoInGreen) October 6, 2021