Monday, January 31, 2011
Everyone hide! The Colombians are coming! (and they want your jobs)
Based on personal experience, I can tell you that some Americans are very troubled by us latino folk. They are particularly bothered by our northbound migratory patterns into the United States, and the possibility that we may take their jobs. I first became aware of this when my high school girlfriend's father told me the following after he'd had a few beers one Sunday:
"You people are coming here, taking our jobs. God damnit, one of these days, you hispanics in the United States will outnumber us humans."
After he said this, he laughed out loud. He'd cracked himself up actually. He laughed so hard, that I don't think he heard me quietly state that the preferred nomenclature was actually "latino".
It was with memories of that Sunday afternoon in my mind that I read the news stories regarding a recent UCI statement (also here). In case you haven't read the news, this story largely revolves around the fact that us latinos (Colombians to be specific) might be taking some American jobs in the coming year. In the statement, the UCI is more or less saying that the top Continental teams from the Americas (that includes South America) have to be invited to races like the Tour of California and the Quiznos Pro Challenge. I say "more or less" because I have the reading comprehension of a cinder block. I should also mention that a "Quiznos Challange" sounds less like a bike race, and more like the challenge you are faced with when you have to actually eat one of that company's disgusting sandwiches without throwing up violently during the entire process.
Violent, projectile vomiting aside... this UCI mandate could once again start an interesting era in Colombian cycling. Though the sport has changed since the early 80s (when Colombian teams first started to terrorize American and European riders during mountain stages), the prospect of having Colombia's EPM/Une and Movistar teams racing here could bring back memories of when Patricinio Jiminez won the Coors Classic in 1982. Look, I understand why American teams are not very keen on this idea, since they didn't even know this rule existed. Their sponsors won't be happy, particularly when there are so few races in the United States that can get them the publicity and exposure they are paying for. In their eyes, a team from Colombia who is sponsored by the public works of Medellin racing the Tour of California seems downright insane, at least from a sponsorship point of view. But from a sporting point of view? I guess we'll find out. That is, if all this does in fact happen. You could argue that if those American teams would eventually race in South America, they would get more points and move up the rankings...or whatever it is they need to do in order to be above Colombian teams like EPM/Une (again, I have the reading comprehension of a regurgitated Quiznos sandwich). But I'd like to see how sponsors at companies like Kelly Benefit Strategies and Jelly Belly would respond to being told that their teams need to go to Colombia to race the Vuelta A Boyaca. A race they've never heard of, in a department they've never heard of, in a country they may barely know about. So to be fair, I guess what my high school girlfriend's dad said was true. We're coming north, we're taking American jobs, and we're starting trouble. Typical Colombians. Additionally, its worth mentioning that we don't die. We multiply.
But let me get back to the two Colombian teams in question, because I should clarify that when I say "Team Movistar", I'm referring to the Colombian team, not the European one that uses the electronic Campagnolo doodads. See, there's two teams with the same sponsor. This means that the Colombian Movistar, could be racing against the European Movistar team in the United States. Oh, and I should point out that European/Spanish Movistar team has one Colombian rider. And the Colombian Movistar team has one rider from Spain....so this is like a cycling version of the M.C. Escher poster you had in your college dorm room. This whole thing will give American commentators a debilitating headache during races, and will leave fans rather confused. They'll be as confused as I was the first time I watched that one Star Trek episode where there was a good Captain Kirk, and a bad Captain Kirk...and the only difference was how their hair was combed. And how the bad one was lit from underneath. Subtle differences to be sure, but important ones. Perhaps the Tour Of California organizers (the ones who were unable to transmit multiple stages of the race in the last few years), and Versus (the ones who broke from live coverage for NHL pre-game broadcasts) will get it together, and light the teams accordingly so we can tell them apart.
By the way, in case you're wondering, the Colombian Movistar team would be the evil one. Not the European one. This is because we Colombians are not trusted anywhere, because the European team has a larger budget, and also because the Colombian team has the Spaniard Oscar Sevilla. Yes. This means that Oscar Sevilla could once again end up at the Tour of California, after having been left out that one year.
Although I see how this is all very hard for American teams and their sponsors. I, for one, am all for it. Albeit for selfish reasons. How will Colombian riders from small teams do against the European and American competition? How will they perform, when you consider that cycling is their life, their only way out of the neighborhoods and small villages they come from, and they have nothing else to fall back on. Will the Colombian's climbing abilities be as dominating as they were in races throughout the United States and Europe in the 80s? Let's find out. Amazing and unexpected things could happen.
In the meantime (and at the risk of coming off like the Leopard-Trek folks), please make sure you spell the name of the country correctly. If you hate the fact that this is all happening. If you hate Colombian teams, or Colombians in general...that's fine. But if you choose to write about this topic, just remember:
It's Colombia...not Columbia. With an "o", not a "u".
A bit more on the subject
Last year, I wrote a post about the topic of Colombian riders and teams who first ventured out of their country to race abroad, and how they were received. This seems pertinent as a new generation of Colombian riders may possibly be racing outside of their country for the first time. In writing this, I was particularly interested in how Colombian riders—regardless of their accomplishments—were usually referred to as "the Colombians" by the press. Even years after the original influx of Colombian riders in the 1980s.
The first Colombian cyclists who made it to Europe in the early 1980s often spoke about the levels of isolation they endured. They were misunderstood, they felt radically out of place, and in some cases they were openly mocked within the peloton. Their dark complexions, indigenous features, and short statures made them stand out in a sea of light-skinned Europeans and Americans. In the 1984 Dauphine Libere, which Colombian Martin Ramirez won, Bernard Hinault openly mocked Ramirez as TV cameras were close by, screaming out "Cocaine, cocaine!" as he pretended to sniff and point at the Colombian during the race. The peloton laughed. This exchange was widely reported in the Colombian press (first by the Espectador newspaper, and later in the book Escarabajos De la Vuelta A Colombia). Although this could be taken as an isolated case of simple joking around within the peloton, Lucho Herrera believed otherwise. In a recent interview, he said the following in reference to the treatment they received from European riders, Fignon in particular:
"He always spoke badly of us, and always said that we were inferior them [the French/Europeans]"
Even more information about how Fignon in particular treated Colombian riders upon his death. You can read more about those comments here.
It's with these comments, and with the accounts of Colombian riders from the era that I often stare at pictures of races from that era which may contain any Colombians. Their bikes and clothing were different, often sub-par (particularly in the early 80s). Their team cars were staffed by their mothers. Culturally, they were out of their element, and many of the other riders let them know this. Notable exceptions to this kind of treatment were always hailed by the Colombian press, and its for that reason that Andy Hampsten continues to be thought of so highly by Colombian cycling fans. He famously treated Colombian riders with respect, spoke to the Colombian media and even referred to the Colombians by name...a rarity even to this day. The media noticed this, and praised Hampsten accordingly.
I remember hearing mentions about the fact that Colombian riders were often not referred to by name in the international media back then. Sure enough, as I was watching the TV coverage of the Coors Classic races from back then just weeks ago, I noticed how they generically spoke of "the Colombians" in the race, even when a single rider was in a breakaway. No names were ever used. They were simply "the Colombians." Perhaps I'm oversensitive (I'm open to that possibility), but this was consistent with the media reports I heard as a kid, and proved how one of the symptoms of the lack of respect that riders experienced was in fact correct. Similarly, Bob Roll generically refers to "some Colombians" at races like the Coors Classic in his second book many times. Everyone else in his accounts has a name, but not the Colombians. They are a generic mass, a faceless group. While this could be attributed to their relative newness to the peloton, one has to keep in mind that this was the attitude at the Coors Classic by the mid and late 80s, when Colombian Patrocinio Jimenez had already won the race in 1982. They were not new within the peloton, and their victories had accumulated impressively trough the years by that point. Winning stages and jerseys at the Tour, the Giro, the Vuelta. Winning the Coors Classic, the Dauphine. It didn't matter.
They were just the Colombians.