Monday, July 29, 2013

What's next for Colombian cycling?

Last weekend, as Nairo Quintana stood on the Tour's final podium in Paris, a sudden and somewhat predictable spike in visitors to the blog began. This was understandable, as people began to search for information about Quintana, and eventually found themselves here. But then the number of visitors grew wildly as though a log scale were being used to calculate readers. This continued for days, and throughout last week often reached comical proportions as non-cycling news organizations began to link and mention my last post. The spike in readership was such that I quickly realized it was not sustainable. In a matter of days, I told myself, things would just go back to the way they were. Just me, typing on my computer, and six people reading. I'm fine with that, and today's post may very well be the beginning of things getting back to normal.

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

A question
Just as I had to ask myself what would be next for the blog after such a spike in visitors (answer: same ol'), a few readers have emailed me asking what's next for Colombian cycling in the face of recent events. In other words, where do things go from here? What's around the corner, and what can we expect? As with all matters (cycling related or not), I don't hold all the answers. Hell, considering how I've been unable to get my weed-whacker started this year, I may not hold any answers at all. But let's take a closer look at a few different riders, teams and events, to see what's next for Colombian cycling. This post won't cover every single rider now in Europe, but will hopefully serve as an overview of what's to come for next year and beyond, particularly for those riders whose future is in flux.


Photo: Cycling Inquisition

Quintana
The native of Combita's contract with Movistar will come to an end this season. Figures I've heard about his current salary put him in the lower rungs of the sport, almost painfully so. His current financial situation won't remain this way for long, howerver. His amazing season has shown his ability to compete at the highest level, while keeping a cool head, and gladly repaying favors to his teammates. Don't underestimate the power of being a good teammate, and easy to deal with when it comes to negotiations. These are qualities that teams value. As a result, other teams are very interested in Nairo, for obvious reasons, though he's stated his strong and positive feelings about Movistar as a whole many times. As such, it's likely that he'll stay with the Spanish team. This would allow him to stay in a comfortable environment that he knows well, including the ability to speak Spanish with teammates and staff. We'll have to wait and see, since he's such a desirable commodity right now.


Photo: Cycling Inquisition

Uran
After his second place in the Giro, many teams showed interest in the native of Urrao, Antioquia. Rigoberto is back in Medellin (where he lives when he's in Colombia), training for the Vuelta and the World Championships. Reports have him signing with Omega Pharma-Quick Step for next year. Could that change? Unlikely. Could that hurt his chances to lead Sky at the Vuelta (as has happened to other riders in the past who are leaving their teams)? Let's hope not. Omega Pharma will be a nice match for Uran, as the team has no major GC riders for grand tours. But the team is highly focused on the spring classics (for obvious reasons), and may need to hire a few riders to help Uran in his quest to win a grand tour. Will Omega Pharma do that for Uran, particularly when Cavendish requires a great deal of focus and support during grand tours, and he's had trouble even getting that from the team?


Photo: Mundo Ciclistico
World Championships
Due to the amazingly high level of Colombian cycling in Europe this season, Colombia's national squad at the world championships will be made up of 9 riders, a full team. This is the first time that Colombia has been allowed to field such a large group at the world championships, and the list of who will occupy the spots is simply impressive.

Rigoberto Urán
Sergio Luis Henao
Carlos Betancur
Nairo Quintana
Fabio Duarte
Darwin Atapuma
Robinson Chalapud
Jarlinson Pantano
Rafael Infantino

Alternates
Alex Cano
Jánier Acevedo
José Serpa
Miguel Ángel Rubiano
Leonardo Duque
Winner Anacona
Julian Arredondo

Of the top nine riders, only one does not race in Europe, EPM-Une's Rafael Infantino. Infantino is of dual Dominican and Colombian citizenship (though he was raised in Medellin), and raced in Italy briefly. I've written about him and his team before, here.


UPDATE:
Reader Mark A. correctly points out that in 1989, Colombia fielded a team of 12 (!) riders. See a photo of the list above, courtesy of Mark.



Photo: Cycling Inquisition
Team Colombia
As a few figures within Colombian cycling look for ways to find the team more funding, there are also reports from journalists in major Colombian newspapers about riders from the team getting offers from World Tour teams, who are suddenly hungery for Colombian riders. Pablo Arbelaez, from Medellin's El Colombiano newspaper has said that Fabio Duarte, Jarlinson Pantano and Robinson Chalapud all have offers from World Tour teams on the table. Esteban Chaves, who sadly lost of most of his season to injury is also rumored to be going to a World Tour team. Should these riders all leave, the team would be gutted, which perhaps begins to explain why Claudio Corti made his way to the Vuelta a Colombia this year, as a way to scout talent? This, in turn, brings up that race itself.


Photo: Ciclismo De Colombia
Vuelta a Colombia
Once a beacon of the sport within the Americas, the Vuelta a Colombia has become more of a national and regional affair. Gone are the days when the likes of Renault, La Vie Claire and Peugeot would make the pilgrimage to Colombia to compete. But this says more about the modern cycling than it does about the race, or Colombia itself. The advent of the Pro Tour/World Tour, changes in calendars and the like have slowly made taking on a brutal climb-filled race in June less desirable to foreign teams. Even if that race has a sixty year plus history to go along with it. And what makes this fact hard to swallow for us Colombians is that a race like the Tour de San Luis has managed to thrive so quickly, and now draws a selection of teams and riders that would make Colombian audiences weep in ecstasy. The reason? Placement in the calendar, and an easier route.

But there may be another issue at play. Hector Abad Facioline, one of Colombia's most revered novelists and columnists, wrote a piece for El Espectador on the day of Quintana's stage win at the Tour de France. Among other issues, Abad raises a troubling point.

"Something strange is occurring. These Colombian cyclists [like Nairo Quintana] who win Europe, can't and don't win here in Colombia. The ones who win the Vuelta a Colombia and our other races are different riders altogether. And while doing so, they have power outputs that are very well beyond the 6.1 watt per kilo. And at least until now, it would appear as though the Colombian Cycling Federation hasn't seen this as unusual or worth looking into. It is as though domestic Colombian cycling is stuck in the past, a time when cheating was so very common in Europe, and unlike the clean cycling that is the future."

Still, the Vuelta a Colombia remains as perhaps the most precious jewel in all of Colombian cycling, due in great part to its history and its value as a way of chronicling the past of the country itself. Let's hope that it finds its way back to what it once was...hell, maybe it can be something even bigger and better.

Photo: Team 4-72 Colombia
4-72—Colombia
Speaking of crown jewels, it's impossible to look at the future of Colombian cycling without noticing the importance of what is easily the most promising incubator of Colombian talent. Yes, I've written about this team and its importance before, but needless to say, Nairo Quintana's performance at the Tour has brought a substantial amount of attention their way. As a result, World Tour teams want in on this latest bounty of Colombian talent, and many have quickly realized where to go to get it. Due to 4-72s bio-passport program, riders within the team are even more attractive to European teams, which helps explain the interest that currently surrounds them. Look for some of them to be racing in Europe next year.

Over the weekend, 4-72 claimed the team classification at the Tour de Alsace, while Fernando Orejuela was second overall. This is preparation for the team's primary target, next month's Tour de L'Avenir, which they've won with Nairo Quintana, Esteban Chaves and nearly had won again last year with Juan Chamorro (on Twitter here), who will lead the team again this time around.

Be on the lookout for some of the team's riders to be racing in Europe permanently next year, along with other Colombians like Sebastian Henao from Coldeportes-Claro. Henao, who is Sergio's cousin is talks with Sky, while Daniel Jaramillo (Indeports Antioquia) is talking with Orica Green Edge about a contract as well. Nairo's brother is also in negotiations with Movistar. So if this season has been called a "rebirth" of Colombian cycling by some, next year could qualify as an outright invasion.

Photo: Team 4-72 Colombia

Clearly things are looking up for Colombian cycling, as a massive amount of interest in teams and individual riders comes about after the strong showings of Quintana, Henao, Uran, Betancur and Team Colombia this year. In fact, this is the best that things have looked for Colombian cycling...maybe ever, even if one goes back the golden era of Herrera and Parra. And luckily, there is much more to come.

32 comments:

  1. Once again, a great write-up. Thanks, Klaus!

    On the subject of the Colombian Worlds team, it's pretty hard to argue with the 9 riders selected for it. One could say that Serpa and Acevedo are deserving as well, but the former is close to being over-raced while the latter would depend on how he does on the upcoming American stage races.

    My biggest question is, who leads the team? Pre-Vuelta a España, it would seem that the strategy involves Urán and Betancur as co-leaders, as they have had the most success in one-day races, plus Betancur already "won" in Florence this year. Henao and Quintana could then be on leg/soul crushing patrol on the two main climbs

    There are endless possibilities with this team. I just hope that there is a clear, winning strategy and everybody is on board with it

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  2. Christian,

    I had heard it was Uran as well. I've now talked to the person who made the selection, and plan to interview him before the worlds, so hopefully we'll get a straight answer

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    1. That would be the most logical scenario, but I guess it would depend on how the next month of racing goes.

      Anyway, Sidi sure seems to think that Urán will lead. Hence those sweet Colombian-themed kicks he posted a few days ago. I wonder if the other Sidi-sponsored riders (Henao, Beta, Quintana) will get the same style shoes...

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  3. Mariana Pajon should have made the team as well!!!! :)

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  4. jimjimjimjimjimjimJuly 29, 2013 at 9:43 PM

    This is what I have taken away from your excellent post Klaus.

    It is quite possible that within the next few years Colombia will field more legitimate GC contenders than any other nation. At some point many of them may be leading teams in Grand Tours competing against each other. Exciting!

    How cool would it be if the TDF turned into a Colombian battle royal one season! That would be neat to say the least. Alas the TT is so important these days. The mountains will be exciting for years to come regardless. If it happens I would eat a golden arepa every day of the LeTour and two a day for a Colombian in yellow!

    Yo for real though, I can't stop thinking about the arepa cart.

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    1. The thing is, you have to wonder how teams will want to use these riders. Nairo is a unique case, in that he was insanely talented from a young age, and his numbers proved it. Others could need a bit more help along the way, but teams may simply want to use them as climbing domestiques (as was the case with many Colombians in the past). WHo knows, maybe the sport's internationality (I made up a word there I think) will help in this regard, whereas before they were seen as mules. talented mules, but mules nonetheless. Luckily, teams like 4-72 have worked on making their riders more complete (see Nairo's TT abilities), including learning how to ride echelons, and different surfaces...skills that were missing in the 80s. However it all turns out, it's exciting to think that there will be lots of riders and different Colombian personalities and potential triumphs to follow and keep track of.

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  5. Klaus
    Consider me one of the 6 or at least 6.5 plus i listen to you, your brother SkullK and the dude from G+D carry on late at night to seed my dreams of cycling. In all seriousness, can you explain Hector Abad Facioline's statement? Is he referring to doping or talent - by your statements i infer the former but want to be clear. Especially given 4-27-Colombia's bio-passport program. BTW, could you tell SkullK to invite Lemmy on one of the shows - even if he doesn't know shit about cycling I'm sure he'll add some color...

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    1. I keep inviting Lemmy, but he's always drunk and forgets to call in!

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    2. Ok, take a tour West and do your podcast at the Rainbow Bar and Grill!

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  6. Hello,

    Abad's comments are about doping yes, and the fact that riders like Nairo and others from 4-72 seldom if ever win big races in Colombia (the Vuelta GC in particular). So you'll see 4-72 competing in Europe, and creating great riders that are largely unable to win back home. As for Lemmy, what a great score that would be! Honestly, however, I'd just ask him about his facial warts for an hour if I ever got to talk to him.


    Jim,
    Once you have an arepa, there's no going back! There's websites where you can buy them online, by thew way. They ship overnight, frozen, like those places that ship steaks to you.

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    1. if you're talking arepa de chocolo (relleno) then yes, otherwise I'll pass!

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  7. Here's my rant:

    It blows my mind that the Colombian Cycling Federation continues to ignore the HUGE elephant in the room. How could it be possible that guys like Quintana, Uran and Betancur (for example) can race against Contador, Froome, Gilbert, Nibali... they race the best in the world as equals, but couldn't win their own national championship or their national tour? If Oscar Sevilla and Felix Cardenas are SO amazing, why aren't they racing in Europe? A Team like Sky would never go to the Vuelta a Colombia. Why? Cuz they'd get beat by a third rate team. Tour of Turkey anyone!? Oscar "Mr. Operacion Puerto" Sevilla won the Vuelta a Colombia this year at age 36. Things that make you go hmmmm...
    That's why you never see the Colombian National Champ jersey in the peloton in Europe. Cuz it's being worn by some random dude in a small team with a dubious background in Colombia. Is he better than Betancur? No, but Betancur won't bother going to the National Championships. Not worth it if he knows there's a chance he'll be beat by a 38 year-old has-been on a "second kick." Yet the Federation keeps at it like this is totally normal, like the rest of the world is stupid and doesn't realize what's going on. It's beyond corruption over there, that's why it's so amazing that Team 4-72 are doing shit right.

    PS, I've said this before on 2 different Colombian cycling sites and both times the post has been taken down. Once, after a "VIP" accused me of slander and putting down Colombian cycling.

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    1. It's pretty telling that, of all the members of the long team for Worlds, there's only one Vuelta a Colombia GC winner (Henao, 2010) and one national champion (Atapuma, 2008).

      Hell, Colombia-Coldeportes went to the 2012 Vuelta with a very solid team (Duarte, Atapuma, Chaves) and got their ass handed to them by Félix Cárdenas. Something's not right...

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    2. Christian,
      Ding ding...your answer is correct. Matt Rendell made an interesting and correct (I think) point. All the riders in europe now got there one of two ways: through Colombia Es Pasion/4-72 or they got out young.

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    3. Just to point out, both Betancur and Serpa separately stated that they couldn't compete in the colombian national championships because of timing, not ability. They have asked for them to be changed to accommodate riders in Europe. This is easier said than done. Current championship occurs during a critical time (April 21st this year). Most countries have it later in the year. The problem is that during that time, Vuelta a Colombia occurs. Solution is to move the Vuelta a Colombia, but the with Clasico RCN and with the Vuelta trying to become an UCI event, you have to take the slot given by the UCI.

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  8. Awesome write-up as always Klaus! Quintana's success at the TdF is easily the most uplifting and refreshing thing to happen in the pro peloton in a long time. And it looks like we're in for more of the same from other riders.

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  9. I would love to see the beautiful Colombian flag on the roadside more often.

    Quintana is already a mature rider and it will be great to see him, Froome and Uran go head to head next year at the Tour.

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  10. does anyone know how I can follow the Tour de L'Avenir in the states?

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  11. Aaron,

    it's not always televised, so it's hard to say. if it is, your best bet in the states would be an internet feed. 4-72s twitter feed usually posts feeds of races they are in if they are available

    https://twitter.com/pedaleamosCOL

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  12. Klaus,

    I counted 12 colombians on the 89 worlds team. If I didn't send you that pic earlier, let me know and I'll send it.

    Either way, 9 is still a big team.

    Marco

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  13. 12! that's awesome! yes, by all means, I'd love to see a picture!

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  14. Have you guys read the book about colombian cycling "King of the Mountains" by Matt Rendell?

    I feel like colombian cycling is back to that point around 1987-1989 that Mr. Rendell describes as what could have been the turn point for colombian dominance in major races. Back then we missed that chance, in part because doping became a widely common practice in the sport, in part because the scarce funds there were available for sports in the country at the time went into football or simply vanished with the struggle of some businesses...

    Today, as back then:
    1) We can see Colombian riders placing well in the GC of almost all the world tour races,
    2) We dont have a strong all colombian pro tour team yet, but it seems like we might be getting there (by the way Klauss, how about a post discussing about the pros and cons of having an exclusively all colombian team) @col_coldeportes could benefit from young big/strong riders to go in front in the flat stages.
    3) The football national team is performing at a high level and chances are they will return to a world cup (I hope). Same as in the late 80's
    4) There are peace talks going on
    5) etc, etc

    It sounds to me like we are getting a second chance. A second chance to take advantage of all that natural talent and the natural conditions Colombian geography offers. A second chance to allow ourselves to corroborate that when it comes to cycling, colombians ride the way brazilians would play soccer, kenyans would run marathons or jamaican would destroy speed world records.


    P.S: If Cochise was once regarded as 'Pele on a bike', could we say Nairo is Neymar on a bike? If thats true, Colombia will be bringing a 9-men Barcelona to the world championships.

    P.S 2: Excelent the work and the results obtained by the team 4-72 Colombia es pasion. Pobre el cubrimiento de la prensa nacional

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    1. Sozimof,
      I did a three part interview with Matt about that book, and his other two books that deal with Colombian cycling. You can read the first part here:

      http://www.cyclinginquisition.com/2011/06/olympic-champion-who-trafficked-arms.html

      There are certainly some similarities, although there's always peace talks going on in Colombia, so that's not saying much.I too have made comparisons, and it's certainly enticing to do so...at the same time, I think we should take these riders on their own merit, because if we don't, we miss some of the great advances that have happened in Colombia. For example, Nairo comes from a team that trained with power, did internal testing, and understood physiology, training and diet in a way that Leche Gran Via and Freskola (precursors to the national teams that raced in Europe, and then became Varta/Cafe de Colombia) never did, at least at the level of information that was available at the time. So in a way, we can make the comparisons, but should also focus on what has changed. Doing so also allows us to see certain patterns. For example, all the riders excelling today did one of two things: Got out of Colombia really, really early (Rigoberto and Betancur) or went through Colombia Es Pasion (Henao, Atapuma, Pantano etc etc). When you take that into considertaion, you start asking yourself more important questions.

      As for national teams, there's a certain charm to them...but you'll never, for example, have Betancur and Henao in the same team. They are too similar. Also, it's worth noting (as Nairo himself has said) Colombians always want to be leaders. It's almost impossible to find a Colombian who is a willing domestique. This is something that I know 4-72 works on, but for the most part, Colombians have a hard time in that role. I had never thought of it, but Nairo has now said it a few times. Just a thought. Still, I love seeing the big Colombian flag on a jersey, and it was a thrill seeing it in the Giro.

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  15. another point to research (and now I'm 2 of the 6 readers) is the actual number allowed. UCI rules state that the riders must be WT riders with individual points. If that's the case, Colombia as a country gets 9 but Colombia as individuals only get 4. Because of this, rules state that Colombia can get maximum of 6 riders. Can someone confirm this is true or state why it is not true?

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  16. Here: http://www.uci.ch/Modules/BUILTIN/getObject.asp?MenuId=MTYzNDI&ObjTypeCode=FILE&type=FILE&id=ODQ1MzM&LangId=1

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  17. Yep, Colombia will only be allowed 6 riders in Firenze. Points achieved by ProContinental riders like Atapuma don't count. What a stupid system.

    Anybody know why Betancur isn't racing? Is he going to do the Vuelta without riding any preparation race?



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    1. Ok, I did more research on this. Colombia can have up to 9 riders thanks to country ranking. These spots are filled from WT point scorers, which Colombia only has 4 (Quintana, Henao, Uran, Betancur) spots from WT point scorers (not riders, since they have 8 WT riders, adding Ospina, Anacona, Serpa, Sarmiento).
      The rules state that if they cannot get a full roster from WT point scorers, they get 6.
      Now, ff the country happened to be top 10 in WT and does not have the ability to fill their roster, they can fill them by adding to the roster from the continental championship.
      The top 2 in the UCI America Tour get to take 6 guys. Colombia is #1 in UCI America (thanks to Acevedo and others). US is #2 but far away. So Colombia can add 6 to their 4 up to the maximum allocated by WT, which is 9.
      The rules don't state whether or not those 6 need to be continental riders, so Colombia will chose WT riders plus should give Acevedo a bid for his work in UCI America.
      He is racing today in Utah, btw, and is a favorite for the overall.

      In summary, false alarm guys, it will be 9 :)

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    2. Betancur, Quintana, Sarmiento along with the "Colombia" team will be in Burgos starting tomorrow

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    3. Uff,
      Thank you for looking into this. Holy crap, this stuff is complicated!

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  18. Just love this update very much.It's too awesome for cycling lovers.
    http://www.apparelnbags.com/champion/index.htm

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