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Possible grand tour sweep reveals growing UK-Latin American connection

Latin American riders could match the UK sweep of all three grand tours this year, setting up a new Ineos era of domination

Last year, it was the Brits sweeping all three grand tours. This year it could very well be Latin American riders completing the unique domination of the season’s three-week races.

Richard Carapaz of Ecuador won the Giro d’Italia in May and Egan Bernal is hot off winning the Tour de France on Sunday. Though from neighboring nations, both victories are milestone achievements for their respective countries and confirmation of the recent wave of success for Latin American riders in Europe’s top stage races.

Though anecdotal, a Latin American sweep of all three grand tours would confirm a resurgence that began a decade ago. And the recent Latin American successes mirror the rise of British cycling that now sees the two threads merging with Bernal’s victory, on a British team, in the Tour.

With the Vuelta a España just around the corner, there is growing anticipation that another Latin American rider could win the Spanish grand tour and round out the continental sweep.

Carapaz won the Giro d’Italia in May. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

“We’ll go to the Vuelta and see if we can make a strong result,” said Colombia’s Nairo Quintana, a Vuelta winner 2016. “The Tour didn’t go as well as we hoped. We’ll keep fighting.”

The 2019 Vuelta should see four legitimate chances for outright victories for Latin American riders.

Quintana and Carapaz will headline Movistar, both bringing big ambitions for what are likely their last grand tours in a Movistar jersey. Although Bernal isn’t expected to race the Vuelta, Colombian compatriot Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott), third in the 2016 Vuelta, will be looking to reconfirm his GC ambitions following a long illness. Miguel Ángel López (Astana) is another Colombian GC favorite for the Spanish grand tour starting August 24.

“It’s a good Vuelta route for me,” López said. “This year’s course sees longer, less explosive climbs, and that’s better for me. I will try to better my third place from last year, but I will have to arrive in top condition.”

Nairo Quintana
Colombian Nairo Quintana will lead Movistar at the Vuelta a España next month. Photo: ©Tim De Waele | Getty Images

The rise of the new wave of Colombian riders coincides with the emergence of the UK as a powerhouse cycling nation. So it’s no surprise that riders from both regions are dominating today’s grand tours.

At the start of the decade, no rider from the United Kingdom or Latin America had ever won the Tour de France. Since then, riders from both regions have grown to rule the sport. Three British riders have now won the Tour — Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas, and Bradley Wiggins — and Bernal delivered the long-desired first yellow jersey for Latin America on Sunday in Paris.

“I still cannot understand what I have done,” Bernal said. “This victory is not just me, but for everyone in Colombia. It is long overdue and very well-deserved.”

Symptomatic of the recent British cycling invasion, riders from the United Kingdom won all three grand tours in 2018. Froome (Ineos) won the Giro in May, Thomas (Ineos) claimed the Tour in July, and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) completed the grand tour sweep with the Vuelta.

That was the first time since 2008 when riders from the same country won all three grand tours. That year, Alberto Contador won the Giro and Vuelta, while Carlos Sastre won the Tour.

Rigoberto Urán helped usher in the current generation of riders from Colombia. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

In fact, since World War II, riders from the same nation have won all three grand tours only on one previous occasion, in 1964, when Jacques Anquetil won both the Giro and Tour, and Raymond Poulidor won the Vuelta.

And now Latin Americans are poised to equal the feat in September. Until this season, Quintana was the only other Latin American rider who had won a grand tour since Luis Herrera won the 1987 Vuelta.

Over the past decade, just as U.K. cycling was emerging as a cycling force, Colombian riders also pushed to the fore. Rigoberto Urán was the trailblazer for the current generation of Colombians, and led the way with the first of three career grand tour podiums, all second places, when he was second in the 2013 Giro.

Bernal came to Europe riding for Savio’s Androni-Giocattoli team. Photo: Tim de Waele/Corbis via Getty Images

Weeks later, Quintana hit second behind Froome’s first Tour victory in 2013 and became the first Latin American to win the Giro the following season.

With Quintana winning two grand tours, López, Urán, and Chaves have also hit grand tour podiums over the past half-decade. Carapaz, who made history in May as the first Ecuadorian to win a grand tour, raced much of his development career in Colombia.

With riders from both regions emerging as grand tour leaders, it’s no surprise that UK and Latin American lines have cross-pollinated in more ways than one.

Team Sky, keen to the wealth of Latin American talent, has signed such riders as Urán, Sergio and Sebastian Henao, often riding in support of the British captains. With the arrival of Bernal, Ineos is shaking up its leadership hierarchy. New signings, including promising talents Jhonatan Narváez of Ecuador and Iván Sosa of Colombia, give the team an even stronger Latin American flavor.

Bernal, who became the youngest Tour winner at 22 since World War II, finally delivered what seemed inevitable with Latin America’s first Tour winner.

“Egan is not a surprise at all for me,” said Gianni Savio, the Italian team manager who brought Bernal to Italy in 2017. “I’ve always said when I signed him when he was 19 years that he is a true talent and he is going to achieve great things. And he’s proving me right.”

The double hegemony between the United Kingdom and Latin America seems destined for the next several years. Movistar, which has long nurtured Latin American talent, is being nudged aside by Team Ineos.

With Bernal under contract with Team Ineos (formerly Team Sky) through 2023, and with Carapaz also likely to join next season, the strong Latin American-UK connection could deliver more grand tour success for years to come.

Cycling’s two strongest strands have now merged. Though unlikely, a scenario could play out with a complete sweep of all three grand tours by the same team — Ineos — with riders from the UK or Latin America.