Monday, June 2, 2014

How Did Colombian Cyclists Suddenly Get So Good?

Nairo Quintana celebrates his victory in the Giro d'Italia.
Colombian riders did phenomenally well in the Giro d'Italia, which ended yesterday. Boyacense Nairo Quintana finished first, Antioqueño Rigoberto Urán second and fellow Antioqueño Julián Arredondo took the King of the Mountain jersey. Perhaps we should have seen it all coming since last year, when Quintana finished second and won the best climber's jersey in the Tour de France and Urán took second in the Giro d'Italia.

Rigoberrto Urán celebrates winning
stage 12 of the Giro d'Italia.
These guys are only the best known of a crop of young riders. What's happened to produce such great cyclists all of a sudden? Here are some ideas:

Colombia's economy has strengthened - enabling local businesses to sponsor young riders and help them up onto the first rung of the ladder toward professional racing.

Colombia is safer - This has made Colombia's own tour, the Vuelta a Colombia, more attractive to foreign riders, giving Colombian cyclists more opportunities to be discovered by racing teams.

Cycling authorities have cracked down on doping. According to this theory, Colombia's many
Julian Arredondo, the Giro d'Italia's King of the Mountain.
mountains and opportunities for high-altitude training give its riders a natural advantage - but that advantage was for many years nullified by the common use of drugs like EPO, as well as transfusions, which artificially boost red blood cell levels. In the post-Lance Armstrong era, doping seems to have dropped - or at least changed - perhaps restoring high-altitude trainers' natural advantages.

Whatever happens, Colombia's cycling boom has potential to last, and even grow. That's pretty good for a relatively small, relatively poor developing nation.

Even so, as others have observed, cycling still receives only a fraction of the attention of futbol. Hundreds of Colombian journalists are following the national football squad during its World Cup training, but only few covered the Giro d'Italia - even tho Colombia's not likely to win the football World Cup. El Tiempo, the country's main newspaper, covered its front page today with a picture of Quintana kissing the Giro's trophy, and even dyed the paper pink (representing the winning rider's pink jersey). But by this afternoon, the paper's website had returned to World Cup coverage.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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