Endura and Movistar Team’s Nairo Quintana have been partners for his two greatest victories: the 2014 Giro d’Italia, and, most recently, the 2016 Vuelta a España.
It is a marriage of two strikingly different cultures - that of maverick Scottish clothing brand, born on a kitchen table in Edinburgh, and Colombian campesino - but one that thrives on a mutual desire for excellence.
Endura’s headquarters at Livingston is filled with stories of Quintana’s demands for perfection, and of the brand’s ability to meet them. Founder Jim McFarlane once drove a sophisticated body scanning device some 1,300km from Germany to Spain to fit the Colombian for his new kit. Rider and bicycle were duly scanned to push the accuracy of Endura’s virtual garment patterns to new levels of sophistication, eliminating areas of tension with software that revealed ‘hot spots’.
Additionally, an unnervingly accurate mannequin, 3D printed to the exact dimensions of the scan - a second ‘Nairo’ - now does duty in the Drag2Zero wind tunnel of aerodynamicist Simon Smart when the man himself is away racing. Smart’s wind tunnel sessions with this 'virtual Nairo', held within the high-security compound of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team, have developed Endura's cutting edge skin suits, propelling Quintana's time-trial performances to new heights.
To describe Quintana as discerning is merely to hint at his attention to detail. When he arrives in an anteroom at the hotel in Pamplona used by Abarca Sports since the days in which its team was sponsored by Reynolds, and the star riders were Pedro Delgado and Miguel Indurain, it is to an atmosphere of expectation. Endura’s small delegation from Livingston is ready.
Perhaps Quintana’s presence owes something to his status in Colombia. Images of his return to Bogotá after winning La Vuelta give some indication of his popularity. Vast crowds lined the capital's streets to welcome home a conquering hero.
Quintana says that the appreciation shown on his return was only an extension of that felt on the roads of Spain. When he visits Colombia, however, it is not for mere personal gratification. He has bigger fish to fry.
“I grew up as someone from the fields, from the country in Colombia,” he says, modestly, “but I feel that my figure has outgrown that of ‘sportsman’ and has developed into a person who can deliver some changes from a social point of view.
“I must continue to be an example, especially for young people, and I try to work on other initiatives, for example to increase respect for women in my home region in Tunja: to help the women to grow and increase their awareness of their possibilities and respect for their rights.
"I’m just a campesino, a man from the country, who tries to transmit everything that he has learned to improve the lives of those around me, of my community.”
He is quick to add that his endeavours in social matters are made outside of the racing season, when he is not focussed on the business of winning Grand Tours. Still, it is impressive, and without parallel in most other countries and sports.
Today, Quintana has clothing on his mind. He stares intently in the mirror as he tries on a gilet, zipping it up and pulling at the collar to asses its fit and ability to keep out the weather, a sensible precaution for a man at his devastating best in the high mountains.
Indeed, it was in the worst conditions imaginable that Quintana launched the attack that would ultimately win him his first Grand Tour, the 2014 Giro d’Italia. On a snowy descent of the Stelvio Pass, the Colombian attacked when his rivals least expected. He repeated the trick at the 2016 Vuelta, inflicting significant damage on Chris Froome as his Team Sky henchmen slept in the early kilometres of stage 15. Does he see a parallel?
The first word of his response requires no translation, delivered in a single, drawn out syllable. “No.”
“The victories in the Giro and La Vuelta were achieved in different situations and in a different manner. I’ve shown I can win other stage races - not the Grand Tours - in a different fashion, taking advantage in other kinds of situation. I don’t feel that’s the way I have to ride in order to win.”
While we’re comparing the two victories, does he cherish one above the other? This time, Quintana’s answer is not so immediate. He considers the import, and seems to weigh up his response carefully before replying.
“I think La Vuelta was more important than the Giro because the biggest, strongest riders were in La Vuelta and not in the Giro,” he says finally. “The Giro is probably the stage race win that I like the most, because it was my first Grand Tour [victory]. But looking at the riders I had to tackle in the Giro and La Vuelta, I consider the Vuelta [victory] to be a step ahead of the Giro.”
Quintana's victorious Vuelta certainly had a star-studded start list, but there is surely one rider that he cherished beating more than most. On the final climb of the race, the mountain top finish of the penultimate stage, at the summit of the Alto de Aitana, Quintana resisted all of Froome’s attacks, before delivering his own decisive blow. Froome was forced to sit up and applaud as the Colombian crossed the finish line ahead of him.
A statement of intent? Again, Quintana replies in the negative, but this time his “no” is short and to the point. “I don’t give any importance to the move,” he says. “I don’t want to elaborate further on that.” He will leave others to play mind games.
Quintana’s contentment to allow his performances on the bike to do the talking are further evidence of a rare consonance within Movistar Team. Squads with two leaders rarely enjoy such camaraderie, but the Spanish outfit is different.
“One of the main values that brings success is a sense of harmony,” Quintana says.
He insists that the calendar is broad enough to encompass his ambitions and those of his co-leader Valverde. Only at the Tour de France is the team forced to choose which rider to support.
There is apparel to choose first, of course. Quintana must be clothed in the best and most appropriate attire for an entire season, not just for a certain fixture in July. He examines each item in minute detail, occasionally mounting the stationary bike in the centre of the room to try out different options in the riding position. Quintana is meticulous, to say the least; a modus operandi that suits Endura just fine.
The renegade Scots and their Colombian compadre will go into battle together again in 2017. A partnership with Movistar Team that has already yielded more than 100 victories might just be coming to full fruition. A harvest of yellow fruit for this self-confessed man from the country would complete Endura and Quintana’s Grand Tour collection. In 2017, the Tour de France will beckon him again. You can be certain he will be ready.