May 22, 2014

A Tale of Two Colombians

Entering this Giro d'Italia, all of the media hype was about Nairo Quintana (Movistar). In truth, this was with good reason. Quintana has shown incredible climbing ability since moving up to the World Tour two seasons ago and he is a good time trialer as shown by his second place in the time trial to win the Tour of the Basque County (aka Vuelta al ciclista al Pais Vasco). Combine his obvious talent with his second place in the Tour de France a year ago and Quintana was a deserving favorite.

Entering under the radar for some reason, Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) should have been mentioned with Quintana. Uran (pictured at right in his biggest moment before his stage 12 time trial victory, his silver medal performance in the Olympic Road Race in London) after all has a much better overall palmares. He was second in the Giro last year when he didn't enter as team leader (similar to Quintana who was not the leader for Movistar at the Tour de France until near the midway point of the race). He also has a better Grand Tour record, especially at the Giro where he has finished 7th and 2nd the last two years while finetuning his form for the race (Quintana has never raced the Giro and therefore has had to peak physically at a different time than he ever has this season).

Even looking at this season, it is a wonder why Uran wasn't mentioned as a potential favorite. It has been well known that Uran has been targeting the Giro and normally when the runner up of a race the previous year targets the race and the defending champion doesn't come to defend (good luck to Vincenzo Nibali in the Tour de France), he enters one of the favorites. Of course Uran had very little in the way of results this year as he worked on behalf of Michael Kwiatkowski for much of the early season including at Tirreno-Adriatico, one of the few times all season where both Giro and Tour contenders get together for a race with all in similar form. As a result, Uran has been able to fly under the radar and work his way into his Giro while the heavily hyped Quintana has struggled with expectations that are near absurd.

Even now, after Uran's stunning stage 12 time trial victory, much of the talk is about how Quintana is struggling. Even now, with Uran leading the Giro and having an advantage of over 3 minutes over 6th place Quintana, the talk in the comment sections on major cycling sites like Cycling News and Podium Cafe is that Quintana is the only one who can catch Uran (like Cadel Evans, Rafal Majka, Dominico Pozzovivo and Wilco Kelderman are chopped liver). And it goes on and on and on with the cycling world eager to anoint Quintana because he is the next big thing and eager to bypass his pioneering countryman Uran who is still only 27 and entering his prime now.

No matter what happens from here out in this Giro, it should be evident that Uran is a possible Grand Tour winning talent. Whether it is this Giro or somewhere else later down the line, he is likely to win one of these. He probably shouldn't be flying under the radar given that he is the leader, but he will probably continue to do so, just as he has along the way to all of his big results where he was never tipped to do quite as well as he has actually done.

As for Quintana, his time is coming. This Giro is turning into a learning experience on how to lead a team in a Grand Tour. It is also turning into a Giro of perseverance as he struggles with injury and allergy. And if he is discouraged, he can look up to his countryman Uran who has handled everything well in this Giro and in 3 Giros running now, having gotten better each time. And if his struggles in this race are only injury and allergy thus far, he can go win the Vuelta later this year.

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