Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Vuelta a Guatemala: A case study on how differently different we are.

I can remember it like it was only two weeks ago...and perhaps that's because it was only two weeks ago. It was then that I posted an image of Paris-Roubaix winner Johan Vansummeren and Thomas Dekker in blackface. Like most of my posts, that one was largely ignored by everyone. Luckily, because of my short stature and less-than-stellar personality, I learned how to deal with being ignored at an early age.

So if you were one of the many people who ignored that post, allow me to tell you that it dealt with the topic of cultural differences around the world. In a way, today's post deals with the same topic, but does not feature professional cyclists in blackface. Instead, today's offering highlights more pleasant differences across cultures, all through the lens of the Vuelta A Guatemala.

Exhibit A is the photo above, which was taken at the finish line of a Vuelta A Guatemala stage in the mid 1960s. Yes, the finish line for that stage was a soccer goal. Could the race have ended this way in another country? Perhaps, but it certainly speaks volumes about that time and place. It's specific to the place where it was taken. In my eyes, that's a fantastic achievement when you think of it from today's point of view, a time when homogenization is often seen as "brand consistency".

As much as I like that photograph, I have to say that the short video below is even better. It's better because it shows how small towns in Latin American countries—and the people that live in them—absolutely love both cycling and spectacle. They love a party, a parade, and any reason to be joyous. This is something that my American wife experienced first-hand some years ago, when we spent a Saturday afternoon near the rural town of Nemoc√≥n in Colombia. As we were walking down the street, a band went by, playing festive music, as people in the neighborhood came out to dance and sing. The crowd on the street grew as they moved down the block. My wife, having never seen such a thing, rightfully asked what the special occasion was. "Are we here on a special holiday?" "No" I told her, "it's just a Saturday afternoon."

If you've been in small Latin American towns like this, you'll know what I mean. The energy simply can't be compared to anything I've experienced in the United States or Europe. It's uniquely Latin American, because of its honesty. It's not a put on, it's not meant to be ironic, it's not meant to be funny or look good in pictures that will be posted on blogs. So when a cycling race comes to town, it gives people one more reason to celebrate.

It's worth noting that due to all the confetti and balloons, the person who the commentators thought was going to win, was actually passed by another rider, leaving them both a bit confused and surprised.

So, perhaps some of you had never heard of the Vuelta A Guatemala, which is understandable. But I hope that this video gives you an idea of just how important these races are to many other people. In Colombia, the Vuelta A Guatemala has always been thought of as being an important part of the calendar. It's perhaps for this reason that Colombians have won the race more times than riders from any other nationality (Guatemala included). The latest winner, as a matter of fact, is Colombia's Giovanny Baez.

How does a rider from a mountainous country like Colombia know when his weight is optimal for racing at a high level? If the podium girls can pick him up, that's certainly a start, as shown by Baez in Guatemala.

If you want to learn a bit more about the Vuelta A Guatemala, below you'll find some great newsreel footage of the event in 1957 (it's first year).

Some highlights:

at 4:33
The first "leader's sweater" is awarded. The jersey is formally referred to as the "Quetzal Sweater". Quetzal being the Guatemalan currency, and the name of a small bird whose green tail feathers were said to be used as currency by the native population prior to them being colonized.

at 6:19
President Carlos Castillo Armas cheers riders on, and rides along with them on his motorcycle. The announcer states that Castillo Armas is there as a "true Guatemalan", but for obvious reasons chooses not to mention that he was put into power by a CIA-backed coup in 1954 in order to overthrow the democratically elected Jacobo Armenz Guzman. Castillo Armas was assassinated in 1957 while still in power.

at 7:40
An unpaved climb forces riders off their bikes

The second part of the report can be found here.

Lastly, I'd like to say that things may be a bit slow over the next couple of weeks here at Cycling Inquisition. If the last two years are any indication, traffic to the blog will go down dramatically as people take vacation, and endure spending time with family for the holidays. As such, I expect to be back in the New Year, though I may post here and there before then.

In the meantime, you should go listen to my brother's podcast. This latest episode features a guest named @mmmaiko, who judging by her picture on Twitter, appears to be a beauty-conscious house cat. How my brother managed to talk to a cat about cycling, I'll never know...so tune in and listen to his latest feat in cycling broadcasting.


While cycling fans may be saddened by likely loss of a great athlete in the peloton, I'm certain that Mauricio Soler's family will be happy to have him home and alive for the holidays...regardless of whether he rides again or not. ¡Fuerza Mauricio!

In the comments section, Steve was kind enough to point out that a video of Mauricio's return to Bogota was just posted on YouTube. In the interview he apologizes for the fact that his voice is not very strong, and that he gets very tired when speaking and walking. He thanks all those in Colombia who stood by him, and mentions that his wife spent the whole time in the hospital sleeping in a couch next to his bed. Please note his parents, who are shown 9 seconds in, are wearing traditional clothing from his home department of Boyaca. His mom stands next to him throughout the interview as well.


  1. Thanks for some great blog posts and brilliant photos Klaus. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas.


  2. every time i see the pic you opened the post with, i think 'thank god someone remembered to remove the net off the goal'

  3. great post to end the year on. i have a guatemalan friend who recently returned to her homeland after finishing college. Your post helped bring back memories of her.

  4. As if to tie together two of the themes of this blog post, I've just seen this clip http://goo.gl/fHsB5 (posted on Twitter by Richard Moore via @mundociclistico) of Mauricio Soler arriving home to be greeted by large crowds and that obligatory brass band. That sort of greeting must be good for the soul and I hope it inspires Mauricio on towards a full recovery.

  5. Steve, thank you so much for pointing out that video. I've just updated the post. Please not his parents at 9 seconds in, wearing typical garb from Boyaca.

  6. wow, that video is tough to watch. is it just me?

  7. No, not just you, it's certainly tough watching a poor guy who was in his athletic prime a few months ago so obviously and profoundly affected after falling from a bike.

  8. I agree, super hard to watch...but at the same time I'm really, really happy to see him standing, walking, and speaking. While cycling is certainly of great importance, and I'm sure meant the world to him, the serious possibilities he faced (death, horrible brain damage etc) it's great to see him with family. Considering how low cost of living is in Boyaca, Mauricio is probably set for life. If he's unable to ride again, I'm sure his heart will ache, particularly because he was set to make a huge come back...but being alive and with family sure beats the alternatives that were possible.

  9. Awesome post Klaus.

    I think ASO should those could festive finishes as well.


  10. Thanks for digging some more stuff up on the Tour of Guatemala. I remember not knowing a thing about cycling in Guatemala till a language instructor told me it was sometimes more popular than soccer. I also saw few proud "bike shop" stalls at the markets, jerseys and components among chinese alarm clocks, chickens, and vegetables. Would love to go and watch the Tour there someday, though some international new sources make the current situation there sound like Afghanistan.



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