Colombia’s Nairo Quintana showed why he is touted as cycling’s next big thing by winning the Giro d’Italia on Sunday to follow up his runner-up finish in last year’s Tour de France in style.
The 24-year-old climbing specialist of Movistar won two stages and finished with a 2 minute, 58 second advantage over fellow Colombian Rigoberto Uran for his first Grand Tour victory.
“It’s really emotional,” Quintana said. “I didn’t think there would be so many Colombians here today [Sunday]. It was incredible seeing how much support and how many banners there were.”
One such banner held aloft during the podium celebration bore the Colombian flag along with the message: “The Giro is ours. Gracias muchachos [Thanks, guys].”
Astana rider Fabio Aru, a 23-year-old Italian also tipped as a future top rider, came third overall, 4:04 back.
Quintana took the pink jersey after winning the grueling 16th stage over the Gavia and Stelvio climbs, then also took the 19th leg, which was a mountain time trial.
Quintana finished second to Briton Chris Froome in last year’s Tour and said that while he is not planning to enter the race this year, he wants to win it next year.
Slovenia’s Luca Mezgec won the final stage in a mass sprint. The Giant-Shimano rider clocked 4 hours, 23 minutes, 58 seconds over the mostly flat 172km leg from Gemona del Friuli to Trieste, Italy.
Giacomo Nizzolo of Italy finished second and Tyler Farrar of the US was third, both with the same time as Mezgec.
Dressed in pink, Quintana finished in the middle of the peloton and pumped his fist as he crossed the line, then hugged his teammates when he got off his bike.
During the playing of the Colombian anthem, Quintana held his pink-clad baby daughter, Mariana.
Quintana is the first Colombian to win the race and, with Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Uran, complete a sweep of the top two spots. Another Colombian, Julian Arredondo, won the mountains classification.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos went to the winner’s hometown of Combita to watch the final stage with dozens of friends of the cyclist, who was raised by a family of peasant farmers.
Dressed in pink in a nod to the leader’s jersey, Santos said Quintana’s victory was an inspiration to millions of Colombians.
“I feel like the entire country is supporting me,” Quintana said numerous times during the race.
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