Get access to everything we publish when you join VeloNews or Outside+.
Everyone knows Pablo Escobar, who ran the Medellín cartel until his death in 1993, was one the world’s most notorious “narcos.”
What’s lesser-known is how his older brother, Roberto Escobar, was once a top cyclist in Colombia who dreamed of racing the Tour de France before joining his brother in a life of crime.
The Spanish daily El País outlines the unlikely and ultimately violent story in a report on its website.
The story details Roberto Escobar’s cycling roots before he joined his younger brother, Pablo, and went on to run the financial side of the operation during the cartel’s rise and fall. Roberto was jailed for more than a decade and released in 2006.
He later wrote an autobiography called, “The Accountant’s Story,” which reveals details of the cartel’s operations that once controlled about 80 percent of the world’s cocaine market.
Roberto lost his sight in one of his eyes after a letter-bomb exploded when he was in jail in the 1990s, and he could no longer ride a bike.
Born in 1947, Roberto was a top cycling talent in the Antioquia region, and went on to race the Vuelta a Colombia. During his racing days in the 1970s, Roberto was nicknamed “Osito,” the little bear, because he would often arrive at the finish line covered with mud from head to toe, the report said.
Matt Rendell also outlined Escobar’s cycling story in his book, “Kings of the Mountains.”
Roberto raced three editions of the Vuelta a Colombia and two editions of the RCN classic, the biggest races in Colombia.
“Now people realize how good I was,” Roberto told El País.
The report describes how Roberto showed off a news clipping of a story of how he once beat Martín Emilio Rodríguez, known as Cochise, one of the top riders of the era. The story suggested that the victory was a gift, but Roberto told the Spanish daily, “It’s a lie. I had five minutes on him, and nobody gifted me anything.”
Roberto opened a bike shop and helped fund a cycling team, Bicicletas Ositto, which he managed. As Pablo’s crimes were becoming more violent and rumors that the team was supported with drug money, Colombian cycling officials eventually wanted nothing to do with him.
Roberto finally gave up cycling to help his younger brother, Pablo, who would emerge as one of the most notorious and violent narcotraficantes in Colombian history.
Today, Roberto lives in one of Pablo Escobar’s former mansions, which has turned into a shrine to Escobar’s infamous lifestyle. Some officials want to shut it down for fear it will idolize a life of violence.
Read the story about Roberto Escobar’s involvement in cycling in El País.