The day Nairo snatched the Maglia Rosa from Rigo

The Pink Jersey / Nairo Quintana

After the superb 2013 Tour de France, Eusebio Unzué believed that the Maglia Rosa competition was tailor-made for Nairo, due to the good portion of mountain on the route, terrain where few would challenge him. His rivals also understood it and sought to distance him in the days before the slopes. In a long 42-kilometer time trial, between Barbaresco and Barolo, more flat than undulating, Rigoberto Urán dominated and announced his aspiration for the title. He was the leader and wearer of the pink shirt. Quintana, without going any further, was ahead of him by more than three minutes.

Two days later, the Oropa Sanctuary was climbed, a feared slope and the scene of a famous feat, which is sometimes chanted by cycling lovers. In 1999, Marco Pantani, the best climber of the last 50 years, was relegated due to a bicycle chain problem, and after the belated help provided by his team, he climbed ahead of his rivals to crown first. He did not raise his arms because he thought someone else was going ahead.

In 2014 there was no legend or anything like that. Quintana was controlled and barely discounted 25 seconds to Urán, who was running for Omega Pharma - Quick Step. The next day, in Montecampione, he dropped 20 more. He was already 2 minutes and 40 seconds behind Antioquia, still far away.

The next episode ended at the Val Martello peak, after crossing the Gavia and the Stelvio, two of the most impressive mountain passes in world cycling. Adding the three summits, there were 67 kilometers of ascent, crossed by inclement rain and snow, a real survival challenge. In Movistar there was alarm because their leader had not yet recovered from a flu and some symptoms of otitis arose.

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It was hell below zero. Fabio Duarte, from Team Colombia, has never raced with so much snow and such low temperatures; when crossing the Gavia he thought he would suffer from hypothermia. Paisa Julián Arredondo could not escape the icy winds and had to get into a heated car for 15 minutes. Quintana suffered like never before. In the middle of climbing the Stelvio, he advanced without a raincoat and when trying to get off the bike to put it on, his gregarious Gorka Izaguirre stopped him.

"He supported me a lot in that difficult moment, he gave me his food and we kept pedaling," said Nairo.

Then there was a controversy as strong as snowfall. Weeks before, analyzing the weather forecasts, the race organizers considered that the stage could be canceled or hairdressed, eliminating one of the three peaks from the race.

No one wanted to repeat what happened in 1988 when, crossing the same Gavia, a snowstorm hit the cyclists brutally, which is why this is considered the toughest stage in history. “The day strong men cried”, the Gazzeta dello Sport headlined that day in which many competitors decided to give up, others fell ill, some preferred to throw hot tea over their heads in despair and another spilled coffee on his body.

There was no going back. The meteorologists calculated that the weather allowed for running, but nature did not agree.

“That day there was a lot of confusion, recalls Duarte. They told us that for safety reasons the organizers had neutralized the race at the descent of the Stelvio. Some wanted to continue and others did not. The commissioners did not agree.

The Movistar boss, already recovered and with Izaguirre as his squire, accelerated downhill and, in the midst of the chaos, Rydel Hesjedal, 2012 champion, Matteo Rabottini, Pierre Rolland and Romain Sicard attacked. Already in the last port Nairo changed pace and was breaking off the rivals who tried to follow him. Back Rigoberto Uran succumbed to the confusion, the roughness of the trip and the legs of the boyacense.

Matt Rendell, press officer for that Giro, regrets that the Colombian's spectacle towards Val Mertello was minimized by the controversy, which should be remembered as one of the great climbs in the history of cycling.

“There was never neutralization, he insists, and Nairo did not attack. In front of him were other riders who were a threat in the general classification, like Rolland and Hesjedak, and he had to control them”.

Unfortunately the atmosphere was rarefied. Some believed they saw how a Colombian dethroned another Colombian. And some even assumed it as a regional duel between Boyacá and Antioquia. Many forgot that in professional cycling you don't ride for a country, but for a team that pays.

Taken from the book "Reaching the Top" by José Ángel Báez Editorial Planeta

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