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‘Chavito’ writes history with Lombardia win

Colombian Esteban Chaves (Orica – BikeExchange) rode into the history books Saturday, becoming the first rider from his country to win one of cycling’s five monuments. Chaves initiated the day’s decisive move in the mountains surrounding Bergamo, led through the famous high city, and sprinted ahead of his remaining rivals for the Lombardia win.

Third-placed Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale – Drapac) added extra weight to the day’s importance, rounding out the podium with a second Colombian. Italian Diego Rosa (Astana) lost the tight sprint to Chaves and placed second.

“It was a dream for me to win Il Lombardia,” 26-year-old Chaves said in the fan-packed Bergamo streets.

“I can’t believe I’ve won this race. This is a monument! When I turned professional, I settled down here in Bergamo. I knew the roads but I wasn’t sure to win today. I want to thank all the people who have helped Esteban to become a winner here.”

Chaves’ close friend and rival, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) won Colombia its first Giro d’Italia in 2014. Chaves took aim for the Giro this year after placing fifth overall in the Vuelta a España in 2015. He won the queen stage, led the overall, and held on for second behind Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). He recovered and returned to place third in the Vuelta a España behind Quintana and Sky’s Chris Froome.

“I’m very happy with the number of Colombians here now in cycling because we are making history and Colombian cycling is improving,” Urán said. “I would have preferred that it was me who won today and not someone else, but that’s not important. It’s fine how it is.

“[Chaves] won Lombardia, it’s a monument and that’s very special. You’ve seen how he’s been going this year, a very good year where he’s been going well everywhere and now he closes the race the way he’s been going all year, and with the win.”

Quintana’s Giro win was only Colombia’s second grand tour title after Luis Herrera won the 1987 Vuelta a España. There is a feeling that Quintana could become the country’s first to win the Tour de France soon, too. He placed second in his debut in 2013, second again in 2015, and third overall this year. Chaves is only re-enforcing that Colombian charge.

Experts say it is the strongest generation yet. The former generation in the 1980s and 1990s, ate, slept and trained strictly in Colombia. The new wave has established bases in Europe. Chaves did so with what could have been seen as an unlikely match, with Australian WorldTour team Orica – BikeExchange. The squad welcomed him in its Aussie “mate” way after he spent a few years in the Italian/Colombian Coldeportes team and a battled back from a career-threatening crash in the Trofeo Laigueglia.

During his recovery, Chaves also helped establish a youth team at home to ensure more generations follow successfully.

“What Colombia has done this year is incredible but you’ll see in the next five or six years, there are many more Colombian guys to come. I’ve had an incredible season but the hardest is to maintain being competitive at this level,” Chaves said.

“The first Colombian in the history books… It means dreams can come true, not only for Esteban Chaves but for everyone. You only have to work and believe. I’m a normal bloke from Bogotà, I come from a normal family, it’s huge to become the non European to win Il Lombardia and the first Colombian to win a monument.”

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