From near-DNF to Tour podium, Quintana endures

On a day that Nairo Quintana almost abandoned the Tour, the Colombian instead rides his way onto the podium with two days remaining.

Photo: TDW

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CHAMONIX, France (VN) — Even when he’s on the ropes, Nairo Quintana never gives up. The fact that he even considered pulling out Friday reveals just how hard this Tour de France has been for the Colombian sensation.

“I was even thinking about abandoning today,” an exhausted Quintana said at the line Friday. “It’s like a miracle of God that I am even here.”

Movistar’s proud climber was riding on fumes Friday, frustrated in a Tour de France he had hoped to win, in which he has barely been a factor. Yet there’s a saying in cycling: Form is temporary, but class is permanent. Quintana was born with a lot class, and he tapped into it Friday. Not only did he survive, he moved up onto the virtual podium on a day that almost turned the Tour upside down.

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“I was really feeling bad. What’s happening to my body right now is difficult to explain,” said Quintana, who’s been suffering since the Pyrénées. “I really suffered today, and it’s thanks to my teammates that I am even here right now, still on my bike.”

In a wild stage that saw race leader Chris Froome (Sky) crash, and second-place man Bauke Mollema (Trek – Segafredo) crash twice, and fall to 10th, Quintana was hanging by a thread. When the dust settled, he moved up to third, now 4:27 back.

“It was carnage today, worse than any stage yet,” said Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde, who crossed the line third. “We couldn’t ride faster today. It was full-on from the gun.”

When the GC group reached the bottom of the final climb, Quintana’s instincts took over. Movistar paced him into the lead group, and Quintana, although hobbled, couldn’t help himself, and he even followed a few attacks.

“I feel tired, my body isn’t working right, my legs aren’t turning,” he said. “When I finish a stage like this, it seems normal, but my body isn’t working the way it usually does.”

Quintana and Movistar are hoping he can hang on one more day. Following Friday’s shakeups, with Mollema and Adam Yates (Orica – BikeExchange) slipping off the podium, and stage-winner Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) moving up to second, everything — except yellow — is still up for grabs.

Quintana, who has never finished worse than second in the Tour, is just 16 seconds behind Bardet. He’ll have to keep an eye over his shoulder in Saturday’s penultimate stage, however, with Yates, now fourth at 4:46 back, and Richie Porte (BMC Racing), fifth at 5:17 back, still less than one minute of the podium.

If Quintana can reach the top-three in this Tour, it may indeed seem like an act of God. Despite his suffering, his stubbornness and natural gifts have kept in the race. He admitted as much at the finish line.

“More than my strength, I counted on my class today,” Quintana said. “Class never leaves you.”

In cycling, “riding on class” means that you’re counting on your natural gifts more than any form or fitness. Class is what sets champions apart from mere mortals. This entire Tour, Quintana is proving his class, despite not having the form to truly challenge Froome. A podium would be a just reward.

Saturday’s stage tackles the Joux Plane, the final climb of the 2016, the same climb Quintana attacked over during the 2012 Critérium du Dauphiné to claim his first WorldTour win.

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