MILAN (VN) — With the professional road season set to all-but shut down this weekend in Beijing, Colombian cyclists have enjoyed their most successful season in over 10 year’ time, recalling the glory days with Café de Colombia in the Tour de France.
Colombia ranks eighth in the WorldTour nations standings and 10th in the wider-ranging CQ Ranking, sits right behind the United States in both competitions and within shot of cycling-strong nation, The Netherlands, in the latter.
Colombian fans have had reason to celebrate this year. Rigoberto Urán (Sky) won the white jersey in the Giro d’Italia, placing seventh overall, and the one-day classic Giro del Piemonte. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) escaped to take the Morzine stage in the Critérium du Dauphiné in June and helped Colombia dominate the Italian one-day races last week, winning the Giro dell’Emilia Sunday, two days after Fabio Duarte won the Coppa Sabatini.
Duarte’s win came thanks to the backing of his Colombia-Coldeportes squad, which is supported by the government this year, based in Italy and directed by experienced hand Claudio Corti.
“We’ve had to wait some time for him to reach this point, but Urán has matured a lot. Quintana is a natural talent and strong in the climbs, so he has been successful. Add in our 16 riders, it just makes sense to see this rise. The more riders, the more chances you have for a result,” Corti told VeloNews. “It’s sort of contagious, too. One sees his teammate win and believes he can win too. I remember when [Mauricio] Soler won in the Tour and [Robbie] Hunter wanted to win a stage too. Of course, you also have to be a quality rider.”
Corti is not short of quality riders. Duarte won the under-23 road world title in Varese, Italy, in 2008. Johan Chaves won one of the most important amateur races last year, the Tour de l’Avenir. And John Atapuma won the Passo Pordoi stage in the Giro del Trentino and placed second to Robert Gesink (Rabobank) in the Amgen Tour of California’s stage to Mount Baldy.
Colombia’s minister of sport Andres Botero gave the ok to the team’s funding last winter. He wants to invest in the sport and produce something greater than the golden years in the 1980s, when Luis Herrera won on Alpe d’Huez in the Tour and Café de Colombia put Colombian sponsors and riders in the spotlight.
Corti’s experience with Soler and other Colombians made him the perfect man to re-vamp the fledgling Pro Continental squad in 2012. The Italian created a base near Brescia, Italy, where he based his Barloworld and Saeco teams, and taught the riders about racing and nutrition. He hopes the efforts will pay off, earning his team an invite to the Tour de France or Giro d’Italia next year.
“They deserve their chance in the Giro or Tour,” explained Corti. “Colombia is at a high level, the riders are strong climbers and can put on a good show, and even change the race. The Tour sometimes needs this.”
Urán already proved capable of grand tour success and able in one-day races, winning Piemonte and taking the silver medal at the London Olympics. His Sky teammate Sergio Henao — signed in 2011 from the Colombian Continental Gobernación de Antioquia-Indeportes Antioquia team — has followed along, scoring several top-five results this year in both one-day races and grand tour stages.
Sky’s general manager David Brailsford hired Urán and Henao to re-enforce the stage race team. He told VeloNews at the Giro d’Italia that, like Corti, Sky had tried to help provide more structured training and support for its Colombian recruits.
“Things like warming down,” Brailsford said. “We’ve starting doing that, Bradley [Wiggins] saw the logic and got onto it. Rigo too, he was ready to do it straight away. He embraces things, he’s an intelligent guy.”
On the eve of his team’s departure for Italy in January, Corti said that the change in lifestyle would be the most significant hurdle for many of his riders. It was a rough start, but the Italian says he is content with the growth he’s seen in the team’s first year.
“It’s a great experience bringing these guys to Europe, even if we’ve had to teach them a lot of things,” said Corti. “How to race in one-day races, for example. In Colombian races, they hardly attack and the rhythm hardly every changes. They suffered a lot at the start of the season due to that.”
Corti says that his 16 riders mostly live near the team’s base, visiting him two or three times a week for advice on how to improve. Thanks to support from Corti, the Colombian government and teams like Sky, riders like Henao and Duarte — and their home nation — are moving back up the rankings. Today, their results match, or perhaps even top, what Herrera and his compatriots accomplished in the glory days a quarter century ago.
Other top Colombians
Carlos Betancur (Acqua & Sapone): Three wins this year; will join Ag2r La Mondiale in 2013
Miguel Rubiano Chávez (Androni Giocatolli-Venezuela): Winner of Giro d’Italia stage to Porto Sant’Elpidio
José Serpa (Androni Giocatolli-Venezuela): Tour of Langkawi winner, will join Lampre in 2013