The Colombian teams’ low-budget assault on Colorado
DENVER, Colo. (VN) — It’s not easy to contest a major cycling stage race on a shoestring budget, but two Colombian teams did well at it at the 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge. In order to accomplish it, they did some things you never see professional teams do, like sharing bikes between riders, sharing the same truck between teams, and sharing mechanics chores between teams as well.
After putting a scare into Levi Leipheimer and the RadioShack team at the Tour of Utah by winning three stages, holding the leader’s jersey, and finishing second and fourth on GC, the Gobernacion De Antioquia-Indeportes Antioquia team pulled off a second place in the USAPCC’s critical first stage in Crested Butte (with Sergio Henao) and figured strongly in breakaways through the week. It joined in a marriage of convenience to share costs with its archrival team in Colombia, EPM-Unes, which placed a young rider, Rafael Infantino, on the podium of the decisive Vail time trial. Between the two teams, they took four of the top five places in the king of the mountains classification.
Both teams are based in Medellin, the capital of the department (one of Colombia’s 32 states) of Antioquia. Once in Colorado, the race provided them with hotels, but the costs were daunting for the two squads to compete, and they made do by sharing a Budget rental truck, borrowing equipment like training stands and wheels from other teams, and teaming up on driving and mechanic work.
Former world time trial champion, Tour de France mountains classification champion and multiple stage winner Santiago Botero manages Gobernacion De Antioquia-Indeportes Antioquia, the team that he started out on before moving to Europe with Team Kelme. The team pays for all of its equipment and chose Giant bicycles because the price was best. It buys wheels of many brands and prefers its Campagnolo wheels on rough roads in Colombia because of their durability. If riders prefer a certain handlebar or saddle, they often purchase those items themselves. When the team got a free box of handlebar tape from Lizard Skins, it was rationed, and only the best riders got that tape on their bars.
In the prologue, Gobernacion De Antioquia’s Colombian national time trial champion Carlos Ospina raced on a Giant Trinity time trial bike. The driver of his follow vehicle grabbed the bike as soon as he finished and drove it back to the start, where team mechanic Antonio Parra removed some spacers from its integrated seatpost so Janier Acevedo could ride the prologue on the same bike. The team only has three time trial bikes, and they are shared between riders. The morning of the Vail time trial, Oscar Sevilla jumped on the little Trinity that Henao had been riding, found it to his liking, and, after much saddle adjustment, as Sevilla is considerably taller than Henao, he raced the bike in the time trial. It was the first time he’d ever ridden it! No adjustment could be easily done to the front, so he rode with his bars as low and short as Henao had them.
After the stages, Gobernacion’s Parra washes the bikes of both teams with EPM-Une mechanic Nicolas Laverde. Parra’s bike stand is one he welded together himself 10 years ago and subsequently had chromed, including elaborate semicircular tabs welded on the bolt heads for ease of hand tightening.
“I have taken that stand all over the world,” Parra remarked through team interpreter and dogsbody Alejandro Bello. “Lots of mechanics have copied it.”
“It is very expensive for us to do this race,” Botero said. “We had to go to Bogota to the U.S. embassy to get travel visas for everybody, which cost lots of money and time. And then flying all of us here with bikes cost a lot.”
The team also pays for rental vehicles, gas and food while in the U.S. Warming up for the Vail time trial, neither Colombian team had an awning or pop-up tent for shade. One EPM-Une rider warmed up in the back of the Budget truck while another rode his trainer alongside the truck where there was some shade, and a third grabbed a little space for himself and his bike and trainer under the pop-up tent of the Skil-Shimano team.
The black-clad Gobernacion De Antioquia riders, however, warmed up in the middle of the parking lot under the blazing sun and heat. Botero had borrowed the three trainers they were using from three different teams, and he had borrowed three rear clincher wheels from HTC-Highroad so they didn’t ruin their tubular race tires on the trainers. “The girl from SRM came by and told me I should have said something; she would have been happy to lend us a pop-up tent and some trainers,” said Botero. “Next time, we’ll have a lot more of what we need now that I know so many people here who can help us.”
About the teams
The EPM-Une team is 10 years old and is made up of 20 riders: 10 elite and 10 U-23. EPM stands for Empresas Publicas de Medellin and is a public utility company. Une is a branch of the same company and offers telephone, Internet and television services.
Gobernacion De Antioquia-Indeportes Antioquia has 50 riders on its roster, 13 of whom are elite, with the remainder being juniors and U-23s. The team has had the same sponsor for its entire 18 years of existence — the state government of Antioquia and its ministry of sport.
Botero said that the intention of the state government in sponsoring the team is to take underprivileged kids with cycling talent from the countryside to Medellin, sponsor their education and mentor them through sport to become contributing members of Colombian society. He has a business degree after studying for six years at the University of Medellin, paid for by the Gobernacion De Antioquia team (he came back in the offseason to complete his last year while he was on Team Kelme).
The Gobernacion De Antioquia-Indeportes Antioquia jersey proudly displays the green and white flag and Egyptian-looking coat of arms of Antioquia on it.
“Antioquia is great for riding, and it’s where all of the best Colombian riders are from,” Botero said. “It has mountains, oceans, altitude, high plateaus, many good roads, and drivers who are careful about and respectful of riders.”
He went on to explain that Sky rider Rigoberto Uran (also a Gobernacion De Antioquia alumnus) brings his teammates there to train. “Antioquia was colonized by Basques; most of us have Basque ancestry, and it looks a lot like the Basque Country there,” he said.
When asked about the drug violence that constitute the majority of what Americans know of the Medellin area, as well as the kidnapping of former Coors Classic and Tour de France King of the Mountains Luis “Lucho” Herrera by the FARC, Botero replied that that was all in the past and that Medellin is now a much safer place.
“You learn where to ride and where not to ride (to avoid dangerous places),” he said. “The guerillas generally respect “deportistas” (athletes); their conflict is with the government.”
As for the racing, Botero reports that his riders love being in Colorado and are over the moon about being able race against the likes of Cadel Evans and the Schleck brothers.
“But we had expected steeper mountains like in Colombia,” he said. “These big roads with lots of wind and gradual climbs are not good for us. But still we try every day to make breakaways and to finish well.”