TRIESTE, Italy (AP) — Nairo Quintana showed why he’s considered as cycling’s next star by winning the Giro d’Italia on Sunday to follow his runner-up finish in last year’s Tour de France.
The 24-year-old climbing specialist with the Movistar team won two stages and finished with a 2 minute, 58 second advantage over fellow Colombian Rigoberto Uran for his first Grand Tour victory.
“It’s really emotional,” Quintana said. “I didn’t think there would be so many Colombians here today. It was incredible seeing how much support and how many banners there were.”
One such banner held aloft during the podium celebration with the Colombian flag on it read, “The Giro is ours. Gracias muchachos.”
Fabio Aru, a 23-year-old Italian who is also considered a top rider for the future, finished third overall, 4:04 back.
Quintana took the pink jersey by winning the grueling 16th stage over the Gavia and Stelvio climbs then also took the 19th leg, a mountain time trial.
Quintana finished second to Chris Froome in last year’s Tour. While he isn’t planning to enter the French race this year, he has designs on winning it next year.
“We need to look at our plans carefully,” Quintana said.
Slovenia’s Luca Mezgec won the final stage in a mass sprint. The Giant-Shimano rider clocked 4 hours, 23 minutes, 58 seconds over the mostly flat 172-kilometer (107-mile) leg from Gemona del Friuli to Trieste, which concluded with eight laps of a city circuit.
“It couldn’t be a better day than this. We’re close to Slovenia,” Mezgec said.
Giacomo Nizzolo of Italy finished second and Tyler Farrar of the United States was third, both with the same time as Mezgec.
Dressed entirely in pink, Quintana finished safely in the middle of the pack and pumped his fist as he crossed the line then hugged his teammates when he got off his bike.
“I can finally say I’ve won the Giro,” Quintana said. “I have to thank my teammates and my family here supporting me.”
During the playing of the Colombian anthem, Quintana held his pink-clad daughter Mariana, who was born in February.
Quintana faced controversy after the 16th stage, in which he attacked on the descent from the Stelvio then powered up the final climb in the lead. There had been some confusion over whether the descent on a wet road was going to be neutralized but race officials declared afterward that his victory was legitimate.
Quintana is the first Colombian to win the race — and with Uran, it was a sweep of the top two spots. Another Colombian, Julian Arredondo, won the mountains classification.
Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos traveled to Quintana’s hometown of Combita to watch the final stage with dozens of friends and neighbors of the cyclist, who was raised in the high Andean town of 16,000 by a family of peasant farmers.
Dressed in the pink color of the tour leader’s jersey and surrounded by fans holding signs like “Nairo: all of Colombia loves and thanks you,” Santos said the Quintana’s victory was an inspiration to millions of Colombians.
“I feel like the entire country is supporting me,” Quintana said numerous times during the three-week race.