Nairo Quintana: winning races, causing a ruckus

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As many of you already know, Colombian climbing specialist Nairo Quintana (Movistar) won the Vuelta al Pais Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country) last week. He astonished the cycling world by beating Richie Porte in the final time trial to hold on to his overall lead.

In the fallout from Quintana’s victory, Steve Schlanger and Todd Gogulski from NBC Universal Sports decided to “get tough” and ask the question: “is Quintana doping?”.

There was an interesting piece published on Cycling Inquisition about Quintana’s cycling background which later sparked blog posts by Philip Gomes (SBS Cycling Central) and Inrng. Gomes and Inrng focused on slightly different issues, but the conversation went the same way — that is, is it fair for Quintana to be questioned publicly after “coming out of nowhere”?

For me, it’s tricky. We can speculate all we like when we’re out on a bunch ride or at a cafe, but when you’re questioning someone’s integrity in front of millions of people, you need something to substantiate your claims. These Universal Sports announcers obviously don’t know much about cycling (just because they haven’t been following his progress doesn’t mean he’s come from nowhere), but they said what others may have been thinking. If Quintana were to test positive, they would look like geniuses.

I wonder though whether Schlanger and Gogulski would have questioned the result if Quintana was from the US rather than Colombia? Is it possible that they’re guilty of a kind of silent racism? Are we all guilty of assuming that Colombian riders, or Spanish riders, or Russian riders are more likely to dope than, say, Australian riders? And if so, why?

It’s very easy for people to judge journalists from the Lance Armstrong era (is that era really over?) as having not done their jobs. But it’s not that simple. Sure, Paul Kimmage and David Walsh stood by their convictions like nobody else, but at the time they were ostracised and blacklisted. They were ridiculed just the same as the NBC announcers. Nobody ever wants to see a spoiled party, or be the one to spoil it.

There’s also the fact that it’s not every journalist or reporter’s job to dig up dirt in the way that Kimmage or Walsh do. For many it’s about a straight reporting of the facts, day-to-day, and conducting interviews with a particular angle. Few journos have the latitude and resources to be able to pursue a story for as long as Kimmage and Walsh.

Like most people, I have a few riders I have questions about, but I keep that between myself and perhaps a few mates. My suspicions are no more informed than anyone else’s. But when I see something too good to be true, I’ve learned that it almost always is. I’ll let WADA do their job with the testing and Walsh and Kimmage dig up the dirt. Until I find out otherwise, I’ll enjoy the spectacle.

Cycling has certainly had its ups and downs but I’ve loved the sport for as long as I can remember. And I don’t get too bent out of shape when a bad news story comes out. As Richard Sachs said eloquently in a blog post a couple months ago, the sport is about us, not them:

As we age, learn, and get wiser, we realize we’re hanging our hats on the wrong hook. The beauty comes from us, not them. We are the sport, they are the floor show. If you want the beauty back in your life, open up the front door, ride down the road, and remember what’s it’s like to propel a bicycle forward. It will make everything else go away.

What’s your take?

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