Nairo Quintana became the first Colombian winner of the Giro d’Italia as Slovenian Luka Mezgec won Sunday’s 21st and final stage.
Movistar’s Quintana, who was second at last year’s Tour de France, headed a Colombian one-two with Rigoberto Uran finishing second and 23-year-old Italian Fabio Aru, the revelation of the race, third.
Mezgec of Giant-Shimano, beat Italian Giacomo Nizzolo and Tyler Farrar of the USA in the sprint finish at the end of the 172km stage from Gemona to Trieste.
Quintana, widely regarded as the best climber in the world, totally dominated the final week of the race having initially seemed out of sorts in the first couple of weeks when first Australian Cadel Evans, the 2011 Tour de France winner, and then Uran, who was also second last year, took the race by the scruff of the neck.
But Quintana made his move on Tuesday’s 16th stage over 139km from Ponte di Legno to Val-Martello, despite being so cold that he couldn’t feel his hands and team-mate Gorka Izagirre had to feed him on the descent of the Gavia mountain.
That stage began in freezing conditions with walls of snow around the riders but Quintana not only resisted the elements but rode away from his rivals to win the stage and take the leader’s pink jersey off Uran.
“It’s a Giro in which I’ve suffered, more than anyone could imagine,” said Quintana.
“I had physical problems, I wasn’t at 100 percent, I must have been at 60 percent of my full potential.
“The descent of the Gavias (was the toughest point). I was frozen, tired. Izaguirre fed me. That’s what allowed me to continue, and to win.”
Three days later he extended his lead and consolidated the feeling it was his tour to win when he triumphed in the 19th stage mountain time-trial.
And even on Saturday’s climb up the infamous Monte Zoncolan, none of Quintana’s overall GC rivals could take time out of him and the race was won.
Quintana, who will miss July’s Tour de France as Movistar pin their hopes on veteran Spaniard Alejandro Valverde, said this result proves he will be the man to back for the 2015 Grand Boucle.
“In this Giro I’ve learnt to overcome adversity and to manage a team over three weeks, to be a leader,” he said.
Uran, who movved into pink when winning the 12th stage individual time-trial, admitted he had been beaten by the better man.
“I thought I could win the Giro. I believed after the (stage 12) time-trial but I’ve never been able to see it through in the Grand Tours,” he admitted.
Sunday’s mostly flat final stage was always going to be about a bunch sprint finish despite a brave breakaway from Canada’s Svein Tuft and Dane Lars Bak that lasted around 35km but was hauled in before the final 10km.
Thereafter the sprinters’ teams controlled the pace of the peloton to ensure it ended in a bunch scramble.
Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni, the leader of the points competition, was the favourite having won three stages earlier in the race but when it came to the final sprint, he didn’t have the legs and had to settle for fourth.
Cannondale and Team Sky had done a lot of the pace-setting in the run-in but neither of their sprinters, Italian Elia Viviani and Briton Ben Swift respectively, managed to figure in the challenge for victory.
Nizzolo’s Trek team controlled the last couple of kilometres but when it came down to it, Mezgec had the stronger legs.