Even in the stressful aftermath of having his sixth place at the 2022 Tour de France stripped for twice testing positive to Tramadol, Nairo Quintana has found a way to keep moving forward.
Caught in a contractual no-man’s-land, there have been rumoured talks with multiple teams, blocked attempts to race the World Championships as a privateer, and a near miss at the Colombian national championships where he finished third, wearing a plain white jersey with a Nairo Quintana monogram. But despite all that, Quintana fights on. And now, he has a plan B in the form of a growing hospitality empire.
Last weekend saw the opening of the first branch of el Parche de Nairo (Nairo’s Patch), a cyclist-friendly restaurant and lifestyle store located in the north of Boyacá – complete with mechanics, shower facilities, and a mini museum of memorabilia accumulated through his career.
“We have a small museum with the most representative jerseys of the races I have won , with the jerseys of the teams I have been through, a bit of history to remember those beautiful moments when we were happy, that Nairo was in the races and won,” Quintana said of the fit-out, before going on to talk about the ambitions he and his business partners have for the venture. “The intention is to open five more Nairo Patches, continue opening Nairo stores … we have been knitting beautiful things this year; we have entertained ourselves apart from training.” [I’m not sure if he’s referring to a business team or if it’s a particular linguistic quirk of Quintana, but he often seems to refer to himself using the Royal ‘we’.]
Quintana’s new venture is so fresh you can practically smell the paint fumes through Instagram, with a stylishly-Scandi exterior leading into a pagoda-esque structure. It is A Little Bit Fancy: “the numbers are high,” Quintana said, responding to a rather nosy question from Pulzo about how much it all cost. “I don’t want to comment on them here, but what can be seen with a bicycle workshop, with all its furniture, its bathrooms, everything finished and new – well, it’s nice, it’s beautiful, and surely places like these are going to be in different parts of Colombia.” A franchise model is planned, apparently.
Inside the ambiguously-expensive doors are racks of Nairo-branded clothing – a range that includes some daringly white knicks – as well as the restaurant counter. The menu is listed on the website, with Colombian publication El Universal making particular mention of “typical breakfasts such as ribs and fish broth”, cassava bread, and a “variety of main dishes inspired by the diet of athletes.” There are also dishes inspired by everywhere else, like ‘bowl of fruit’, ‘pancakes’, and ‘waffles’.
Quintana himself apparently had a hand in the menu selection, telling Ciclismo Colombiano that “we want to give all the knowledge of Nairo’s gastronomy, so that an athlete knows how to feed himself.” Quintana is, he says, “a man who does not drink, a man who does not stay up late, a family man … I eat clean, I eat well, I only eat natural food from home.”
Quintana’s business empire is greater than just Nairo’s Patch; he has also just released Nairo Quintana-branded coffee (of Colombian origin), as well as being a partner in the 9.30 coffee shop and restaurant, complete with a merch line that includes nice mugs and brooches. While a career in the performing arts did not take off for Quintana, there are other creative outlets, including a physical storefront for his merch line: meaning that you, like Nairo himself, can wear Nairo clothes that say Nairo on them.
“We started in the business world two years ago with 9:30 Café, we opened 9:30 Capital last year in Bogotá … it has been going well for us … All our lives we have had businesses together with the family, so it is not strange for us,” said Quintana, again slipping into the third person.
But even with a burgeoning career as a multi-hyphenate business mogul, Quintana holds out hope for a return to the professional peloton. Fresh off the grand opening of Nairo’s Patch, Quintana flew to his second home in Andorra where he stopped by the Vuelta on Monday as a civilian wearing skinny jeans and fresh kicks (Nike Blazer ’77 Remastered, for the sneakerheads). According to GCN, he was asked by media about whether the cycling dream is still alive. “Within my hope, and within myself, I hope so. After that, reality will decide,” he said. “You always have to dream and hope it will be possible. I’ll keep fighting for what I want and what I was made to do. I’ve been doing everything possible within my command. I’ve been training well all year. Little by little let’s see what’s possible.”
There have been “a few talks”, Quintana said. “I hope they will be [productive] for next year. We’ve simply set out our possibility to be part of a team. We’re fighting for the opportunity to be back there in the races.” Quintana is still good enough for the WorldTour, but comes with significant PR baggage – stuck in a limbo where he’s not serving any doping suspension because Tramadol isn’t banned by WADA, but with question marks over his performances proving enough to hinder contract negotiations.
There’s also, perhaps, a newly philosophical outlook. Speaking at a press conference opening ‘Nairo’s Patch’, the 33-year-old reflected on his season on the sidelines. “I am going to take advantage of all the moments and opportunities that I had in the sports field – I still hope that they are not over and I continue fighting to continue giving joy to Colombia and to the cyclists – but it is not a year that I have stopped winning. I have won more in other areas of life,” he said.
In that time he’s gotten engaged to his partner of 14 years, worked on the Nairo Gran Fondo, become a BMW influencer, built out a business empire. “Sometimes you have such focus on the sport that you only live for that – but when you open your eyes and look elsewhere you see that there are many things that are much more important, I have been able to enjoy the family space and many areas of life,” Quintana said.
This is the push and pull of Nairo Quintana. An eye on the future, an eye on the past. As for right now, the Colombian who was once touted as the next great GC superstar is seven years on from his last Grand Tour win at the 2016 Vuelta a España, with unfinished business in the sport – and a whole lot of other business to take care of in the meantime.
What did you think of this story?