Quintana already looked to be under some duress with 20km or so of Saturday’s finishing climb still remaining, and he was distanced shortly before his wheels passed over a message of support that had been chalked on the road: “Nairo, we’re with you.”
The home fans, as ever, were with Quintana all the way to the summit, spilling out into the road as they roared their encouragement. The problem, however, was that Quintana wasn’t with the men who would decide this race. He was nowhere near them, in fact, eventually reaching the summit 6:46 down on stage winner Richard Carapaz (EF Education-EasyPost).
On crossing the line, Quintana soft-pedalled wordlessly towards the Movistar team bus, avoiding the waiting television cameras, though he later poked his head out the door to acknowledge the fans who were serenading him outside. It was left to Movistar directeur sportif Pablo Lastras to provide an explanation for Quintana’s subdued display.
“He had the flu, that’s what happened, nothing more,” Lastras told Cyclingnews in Sopó ahead of Sunday’s final stage. “It’s nothing to worry about. He felt a bit blocked from being at his full shape but it’s nothing alarming, nothing worrying.”
“In the evening, after the stage finished, he wasn’t well and he had some fever, but he’s able to start today, and he’s going to ride to help Ivan Sósa.”
Quintana’s role as a deluxe domestique on Sunday extended to handing Sósa his bike when his compatriot suffered a mechanical issue on the lower ramps of the Alto de Patios. Sósa entered Bogotá with the front group to move up to seventh overall, while Quintana rolled to the finish a further minute down.
Although Quintana ultimately completed the race in 21st place overall, a familiar chant followed him along Carrera 7 on Sunday afternoon as he drifted his way towards his team bus: “Nai-ro! Nai-ro! Nai-ro!” Before climbing aboard, Quintana paused and shyly acknowledged the acclaim.
This past week marked Quintana’s first stage race since he tested positive for Tramadol on the 2022 Tour de France, with his sole competitive outings in the intervening period coming in that autumn’s World Championships and the last two national championships.
It appeared his career had ended when he failed to…