Thursday, August 9, 2012

Privatization, sponsors, and the lack thereof. EPM-Une, the lone Colombian team at the Tour of Utah

If you're following the Tour of Utah, you've probably noticed something: namely the fact that the live video feed seems to disappear at the most crucial moments of the race. That aside, you may have noticed something else, like the fact that a Colombian team, EPM-Une, is in the race. Since I've already heard multiple creative ways of pronouncing the team's name, I thought I should take this opportunity to clarify not only the pronunciation, but also tell you a bit about the team and their sponsors, since they tell a bigger story about the city and country where the team is from.

First the pronunciation. The first part of the team's name is an initialism (not an acronym), made up of three letters: EPM. So feel free to simply say those in English. The second part is a word, pronounced "ooh-neh".

The team was started in 1999 as Orbitel, and has gone back and forth between being an amateur and professional during that time. EPM and Une have been the team's sponsors since 2006, around the time that Santiago Botero returned to Colombia and joined the team, after his time in Rock Racing. Considered one of the more dominant teams in Colombian cycling, EPM-Une won the Vuelta a Guatemala this year with Ramiro Rincon, and also won the team classification there.

Sponsors and privatization
EPM is a utilities company that provides water, electricity, gas and internet services. Outside of Colombia, they have a presence in Panama, Spain and even the United States. Impressive growth for a company whose name was initially "Empresas Publicas de Medellín" (Public Companies of Medellín), since its reach was limited to that city. Today, due to the fact that the company operates in most major cities in Colombia (and outside of the country) its name has changed to EPM, based on its old name, but officially doing away with the reference to  Medellín, though its headquarters are still there.

EPM's sponsorship of the team came about because of CEO Federico Restrepo Posada, a civil engineer by training, who is also an avid cyclist. Restrepo is a fixture in the roads that surround the city of Medellín, since he enjoys lengthy rides, and readily tackles many of the most famed climbs in Colombian cycling. Restrepo is also a concert violinist, and played with the Medellin Philharmonic Orchestra at one point.

It's partially because of Restrepo Posada's leadership that EPM is one of the success stories of water and utilities privatization within Colombia. Water service privatization took hold in Colombia in 1995, with support from the World Bank. A similar success story is that of EAAB in Bogota, which achieved universal coverage of water services in that city within the last decade, a task that was previously thought to be impossible. In general, the impact of such privatization throughout Colombia is thought to be positive, and EPM is one of the primary examples of that change. If the topic of water service privatization in Latin America interests you, though I most certainly understand if it doesn't, I recommend you read a paper written for the Inter-American Bank on the topic, called "Does Society Win or Lose as a Result of Privatization? Provision of Public Services and Welfare of the Poor: The Case of Water Sector Privatization in Colombia", which you can find here.

So what about the "Une" part of the team's name? That's simply the telecommunications branch of EPM. It's name means "unite" or "bring together", and as I mentioned earlier, it's pronounced "ooh-neh".

It should be noted that from time to time, the team has switched the order of the two sponsor's names.

Budget and sponsors
Despite a healthy budget by Colombian cycling standards, the EPM-Une team struggles at times when compared to Continental teams from other countries. Time trial bikes, for example, are often mismatched, as are the team's wheels. Last year, the team shared expenses at the Tour of Utah with the Indeportes Antioquia team (sharing a rental truck, driving duties, and even the borrowed trainers that riders used during warm-ups), but this year they are on their own, and are no doubt trying to get by with very little. It was at last year's race that Velo News noted their meager budget, and their range of home made tools. This is something that I discussed with Indeportes Antioquia's director Santiago Botero last year. But despite the team's economic hardships, EPM-Une won the UCI America Tour in 2011, and was third in 2010.

Although EPM-Une mostly ride Trek bikes (in time trials they sometimes use Giant frames, as well as Raul Mesa branded frames), Trek are not listed as sponsors of the team. Neither is any component, wheel or nutrition manufacturer. This is because like the Indeportes Antioquia team and other leading Colombian squads, EPM-Une buys their own bikes, helmets, wheels and components. In years past, they have done this through a shop in Medellin called Bike House, which imports Trek among other brands. With this in mind, I'm sure the thought of smaller professional and even amateur teams getting proper bike, wheel or component sponsorships in the United States would surprise the men at EPM-Une.

At the Tour of Utah, the team used some loaner bikes from a local company. Thanks to a commenter for bringing this up.

Bikes aside, I should mention that their kit is made by a company called Suarez in Medellin, who I considered for getting the Cycling Inquisition jerseys made. Aside from the EPM-Une kit, Suarez also made the kit for the national team at the Olympics, and they do custom work for clients in the US and Europe. They've also made the leaders' jerseys at the Vuelta a Colombia for some time.

Roster and links to the past
Though not competing in the Tour of Utah, it's worth noting that Ivan Parra, brother of 1980s luminary Fabio Parra races for the team. Now 36, Parra raced for ONCE and Cofidis, and famously won back to back mountain stages at the Giro in 2005.

Parra wins stage 13 of the 2005 Giro

The team roster for the Tour of Utah and the US Pro Cycling Challenge is made up of all-Colombian riders, as you might expect, although there is one slight exception. Rafael Infantino Abreu was actually born in the Dominican Republic to a Colombian father and Dominican mother. At two years old, his family moved to Colombia. Infantino is one of the only riders in the team (along with Parra) to have raced for a non-Colombian team. In 2009 he was with the Italian Amica Chips-Knauf team for half of the year.

One last note regarding the EPM-Une team. The man behind the team, who may be driving the team car at the Tour of Utah (though I don't know for sure if he made the trip), is Colombian cycling legend Raúl Mesa. Having now spent fifty years in the sport, Mesa was the director for Cafe de Colombia when Lucho Herrera won his first stage at the Tour in 1984. He was also the director for the national team with Alfonso Florez won the Tour de l'Avenir in 1980, and was with Postobon when Herrera won the Dauphine for the second time. So if you live in Utah, and see Raúl Mesa by any chance, a tip of the hat might be in order. If you want to know more about him and his past, you can read my posts about the Postobon team here and here.

Roster for the Tour of Utah and the US Pro Cycling Challenge
Rafael Infantino Abreu  
Jorge Camilo Castiblanco Cubides
Francisco Jarley Colorado Hernandez
Ramiro Diaz Rincon
Robigzon Leandro Oyala Oyala
Freddy Orlando Piamonte Rodriguez
Eduard Alexander Beltran Suarez
Javier Eduardo Gomez Pineda

Other matters:

You may remember that a while back I proudly claimed that all Cycling Inquisition kit can improve your climbing abilities by up to 30%. Well, blog reader and all-around good guy Jack has taken me up on this claim, and has included a Cycling Inquisition jersey in an all-Colombian cocoon that he surrounds his newborn boy Reuben in at all times. Jack does this in an effort to make him into a superb climber once he grows up. While my claims of improving climbing abilities by 30% have not been tested on newborns (or adults for that matter), I think Reuben is already on the right track, if only because his father has impeccable taste in blog-related cycling attire.


  1. Bike Master, I'm on it. Will be speaking with someone late next week that should be able to help in contacting her. Will keep you posted.

  2. Colombia in the BMX! Oh yeah! Berracos.

  3. Klaus,
    It has been a while since I comment on your blog. Just wanted to point out that during the Tour of Utah a local Utah based bicycle manufacturer loaned out 3 bikes to the Colombian EPM team to be used during their participation at the Tour of Utah. Here is a link to their Facebook page.

    Here is a link to their website:
    I don't own a Fezzari, but I have been to their Factory and they make good bikes at reasonable prices.

  4. Hello Anonymous,
    thank you for sharing this, I'll update the post to reflect this. Very cool.

  5. Hello Klaus,

    I was wondering if there is anyway for me to help support them at the US Pro Challenge this year in Colorado. I am a proud Colombian who lives in Denver and cycle most of my life. Is there a way of me contacting them for this year's event.

    Thank you,

    Alejandro Gomez

  6. Alejandro,
    Not sure if they'll be invited this year (perhaps the teams were announced already? I'm not sure). You can go to their site, but their facebook page is proabably more up to date, give it a try. Saludos,


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