Sunday, May 26, 2013

Colombia's Cycling Renaissance

'Heroes of Steel' roars El Espectador.
This is turning into a Banner Year for Colombian bike racing.

Rigoberto Uran, second place
in the Giro de Italia.
Yesterday's second-place finish by Rigoberto Urán in the Giro de Italia was only the latest in a string of achievements. (Fellow Colombian Carlos Betancur finished 5th and won Giro's the best young rider title.)

This was the first time that a Colombian rider has stood on the podium at the Giro de Italia and Urán, who is only 26, has many years of accomplishment ahead of him - as of course Betancur does as well. It was also, incidentally, the first time in 15 years that an all-Colombian team rode the Giro, one of cycling's Big Three multi-stage races.

Carlos Betancourt,
the Giro's best young rider.
But the Giro accomplishments, which a breathless El Tiempo called "sensational, historical and without precedent," shouldn't overshadow Colombian cyclists' other recent feats. This year, Colombian Janier Acevedo won Stage Two of the Tour of California and Nairo Quintana won the Tour of the Basque Country.

Why this new success? The excellent blog Cycling Inquisition suggests that a dialdown in the doping culture has permitted Colombians, with their natural climbing abilities, to shine. The country also has a generation of good riders and But deeper causes may be Colombia's strengthening economy and improving security situation, which provide more money for cycling and create opportunities for Colombian riders to get contracted by European teams.
Nairo Quintana, winner of this year's
Tour of the Basque Country.

The next big rides are the Tour de France in June and the Vuelta a España in August. It'll be exciting to see what those young Colombians can do!

This chapter of Colombian sports success (Colombia also has a strong shot at making it to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil) makes a refreshing contrast to the country's previous successes in the 1980s and 1990s. Back then, drug money flowed into sports, financing teams, buying bicycles and paying for plane tickets - but also taking a horrible toll in corruption and killings. Drug kingpins like Pablo Escobar (whose brother Roberto was a talented bike racer and who set up a cycling team and bicycle factory) used riders to smuggle drugs, and numerous riders ended up in prison or in early graves. On the soccer/football side, the tragedy of Andrés Escobar still hangs over Colombian football.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

1 comment:

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