The season is in full swing. The spring Classics are upon us, there are less than 50 days until the Giro d’Italia, yet the big, uncomfortable off-the-bike story that lingers is the fact Nairo Quintana is still without a team.
The Colombian’s double-positive for Tramadol saw his Tour de France sixth place scrubbed, his contract with Arkéa-Samsic ripped up, and his appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport over the loss of result denied.
The past off-season saw certain riddles solved. Mark Cavendish to Astana-Qazaqstan was one, although the answer has so far proved more puzzling than the question. Rui Costa to Intermarché-Circus-Wanty was another that, to be honest we’re still trying to get our heads around. Even Miguel Ángel López, with his current soap opera of a career, found a new team – albeit a domestic Colombian squad racing mostly in South America.
And maybe there was only one space on that Continental-level life raft in the shape of Team Medellin – EPM, because in late January Quintana held a press conference to announce that he hadn’t found a new employer three weeks into the new year but wasn’t giving up hope just yet.
“I’m in good shape to go on. A cyclist does not give up in the face of adversity, I consider myself a fighter,” Quintana said at that press conference. “I’m going to keep fighting to compete, I’m an honest rider. I don’t have a team, but I’m a rider who’s still available to put on a jersey and give his best on the road.”
At the Colombian national road race championships at the beginning of February, the 33-year-old’s lone UCI race date so far this year, he finished third. His promise to keep fighting rang true.
“Racing these national championships fills me with energy to keep going!” Quintana said afterwards. “This bronze medal is the result of my effort and courage!”
Six weeks on and his battle to continue racing continues as Quintana has returned to Europe. Word is the diminutive climber was recently spotted out on the roads of Andorra doing some motor pacing. Bedecked in Rapha clothing (maybe he’s got a job with one of the big four accountancy firms in London??), he was riding a BMC, the brand he also used for the Colombian national championships.
The chances of the Colombian lining up for a team this season is still unlikely, yet the determination is still clearly there that Quintana wants to race, even if he’s forced to wait until 2024.
The options until then? Last November, he’d taken his mountain bike out of the garage in likely pursuit of some head-clearing amongst mud and rain, but we’ll assume he won’t be re-branding as a gravel privateer any time soon, or ever. But then again, he did come fifth on the Roubaix stage at last year’s Tour, and before you say it, that was the stage before his first Tramadol positive.
It’s always important to point out that Quintana’s positive didn’t constitute an actual WADA anti-doping violation but was in contravention of the UCI Medical Rules. That’s why he was disqualified, but not subject to a doping ban.
Nevertheless, the Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC) included the two positives in their annual tally, and went as far as to praise teams for not picking the Colombian up over the winter.
“In compliance with our strict ethical rules, it should be added that no MPCC member team subsequently decided to hire the Colombian rider and that this attitude seems to have become indispensable for everyone,” the MPCC said in their report, with nearly half of all WorldTour teams signed up to abide by the MPCC’s stricter rules regarding clean cycling.
Not that it seems to have affected Quintana’s search for a team or his self-confidence, at least outwardly. Load up Nairo Quintana’s website and an image of the rider greets you with the hashtag #TodosConNairo. “We’re all with Nairo”. So far, not yet, but out there on the road, Quintana pedals on, hoping he can make it so.