ANNECY-SEMNOZ, France (AP) — Nairo Quintana says cycling's fight against doping has helped him excel at the Tour de France by allowing his intense, high-altitude training to make a difference.
Along with soon-to-be Tour winner Chris Froome, the 23-year-old Colombian climbing sensation emerged on Saturday as perhaps the biggest revelation at this 100th Tour. On Colombia's independence day, Quintana landed a trifecta by winning the penultimate 20th stage in the Alps and earned two race jerseys — one with polka dots, awarded to the best climber, and the white jersey given to the best young rider.
The Movistar rider also moved up a notch in the podium placing, ousting two-time Tour champion Alberto Contador from second. Ahead of Sunday's largely ceremonial ride to the finish on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, Quintana is all but assured of holding second and his honorific jerseys — just like Froome has locked up the yellow jersey.
Quintana, who trains where his family lives at 2,800 meters in the Andes, said he was "very thankful" to all those in cycling who have fought doping. Training at such high altitudes encourages the body to create more oxygen-carrying red blood cells — and that gives him a natural "advantage" over other riders. While Quintana excels in the climbs, he isn't yet a complete rider: In a mostly flat time trial in Stage 11, he placed 54th — and was nearly 3 1/2 minutes slower than Froome. That accounts for the bulk of his 5 minute, 3 second deficit to the Briton overall after 20 stages.
Quintana admitted he still has a lot to learn and didn't expect to be a Tour title contender next year, but "why not 2015?" Back home, Quintana has become something of a national hero in a country where cycling comes second only to football as the most popular sport. President Juan Manuel Santos, on his Twitter account, congratulated the rider on Saturday.
"The win in this stage is dedicated to all Colombians," Quintana said, wiping away tears with a handkerchief at the daily stage winner's news conference. Colombia has consistently produced some great cyclists. The previous best result by a Colombian in the Tour was Fabio Parra, who was third in 1988, and Luis Herrera won the Spanish Vuelta in 1987.
At the news conference, Quintana also held aloft a golden medallion he received as a good luck charm from Juan Mauricio Soler, a fellow Colombian who also won the Tour's polka-dot king of the mountains jersey, in 2007. Two years ago, Soler fractured his skull and sustained brain injuries in a crash during the Tour of Switzerland.
Associated Press writer Jairo Anchique contributed from Bogota, Colombia.