Culture

How Richard Carapaz became Ecuador’s first WorldTour star

Carapaz steps into pro cycling's spotlight with his win at the Giro d'Italia.

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Richard Carapaz wasn’t a star of the WorldTour peloton at the onset of the 2019 season. Unassuming and soft-spoken, Carapaz was overshadowed by his Movistar teammates Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa, and Alejandro Valverde. And then, in a short few months, Carapaz’s entire life changed. He became just the second Latino in history to win the Giro d’Italia, bringing the first grand tour win to his native Ecuador.

VeloNews recently sat down with Carapaz to talk about his Giro win and his ambitions to defend his title at the 2020 race. This interview was translated from Spanish.

What is your fondest memory from last year’s race?

The fourth stage is one that I remember a lot. I was frustrated because I had fallen the day before and was feeling bad, and so for me at the start of that fourth stage I told myself, “This is a new start.” It was special because the day before I was speaking with my wife and she told me, “No, no, stay calm, sometimes things happen and you have to stay positive.” I started the next day with that mentality. I forgot about the days before and I said, “Okay, I have lost a little time but that start felt like a new Giro for me.” That’s something that I remember perfectly, and that I also won. It was very special for me to win ahead of a sprinter and then a climber who had won stages before.

Your victory sprung from your attack on stage 14. Was that planned or improvised?

The finish of that stage was quite hard, that climb up the Colle San Carlo did a lot of damage. On the climbs prior to that I could see the group was becoming pretty spent and I had the perception that everyone was riding at their limit, and so it was a moment of decision that I thought, “Okay it’s now or never.” It turned out pretty well, didn’t it? I attacked and I was able to take roughly 25 seconds, and on the descent I gained more time. I had studied the profile and I knew it wasn’t that complicated so I kept it up and I could see in the final 8km it was good for me because I knew I would be able to push a lot more, and so like I said, it turned out pretty well and for me that was the most decisive stage of the Giro d’Italia. It was a dream.

Now looking at the 2020 course, what do you think will be the decisive stages?

This year, the Giro has a little bit of everything. Looking at the course, analyzing it stage by stage, the course overall is very, very difficult. It starts with a time trial that will mark some seconds and then the two stages in Hungary. Then the 5th stage up Mount Etna, that climb will be more than 20 minutes and then the long time trial.

The next week is going to be a little crazy along the sea, and then the long time trial comes, which I think will mark the most time. I think that’s where it will be very, very important, that TT will probably be about an hour of hard effort and I think that’s going to decide a lot. Then, the final week is crazy with a lot of mountains, stages at over 4,000m in altitude, and so that’s the finale of the Giro.

Individual time trials tend to be the Achilles’ heel for many South Americans. Is that something you worry about?

I’m not worried about the time trial. I think it’s just a matter of work. In the years past I didn’t put too much importance on the time trial because I wasn’t concentrating on being a leader, so I always put it to one side, and so the TT was always bad. If I was going to fight for the win in a race, the time trial would always be a challenge and I figured then it’s not for me. But now, I’m focused on another vision in that if I want to repeat what I did last year, it’s a matter of putting the work in. This year I have already put in a lot of effort, I’ve been doing a lot of tests in the velodrome, studying my position, a lot of things that at a glance are small but things that will help me. If I lose a minute rather than three, then it will be in my favor.

Richard Carapaz celebrates during the 2019 Giro d'Italia.

Richard Carapaz celebrates during the 2019 Giro d’Italia. Photo: Justin Setterfield / Getty Images

We’re seeing more and more Europeans come to South America for their altitude training. How much time do you spend training at home in Ecuador during the season?

I’m planning now for what I’m going to do for the Giro. More or less I want to do what I did last year — train at home, at altitude. I’m with my family, at a good altitude in my natural habitat, all of that motivates me more because I know I can train well and rest well. I believe it will be something good, because I’ll be at home for a month ahead of the Giro, here at home before I travel over for the race.

It’s a new year for you with a team at Team Ineos. How are you fitting in? What are some of the differences after racing several years with Movistar?

When I came to the team, people would come to me and say, “They’re English.” OK, but it’s a team that I feel at home with. I don’t have anything bad to say about Movistar, they always treated me well and the staff was always the best. I think this change has gone well because I believe I’m on the best team in the world. It’s the first time that I’ve done a training camp, for example, 15 days before a race. For me, all of this is new, it feels like I’m starting over, but I’m very comfortable here. Before I arrived in Mallorca, I was nervous because they speak a lot of English there. We were there four or five days but it went by so quickly. When I arrived here in Colombia, it was a complete change. It was the first time with a team that I didn’t have to worry about anything. Everything is taken care of from the smallest detail; we have everything covered for us. They’re very organized.

Ecuador embraced cycling after your win, with President Lenín Moreno announcing plans to abolish import taxes on bicyles and an increase in support of the country’s athletes. How do you see it now, close to one year later?

It’s a shame to say but I haven’t seen the growth that I was hoping for. For two or three days it was crazy — Giro d’Italia!! Giro d’Italia!! Personally, I was very disappointed because I expected much more from private companies and the government to create more cycling schools and a base for kids in cycling. In five or six years we could have another winner of a Grand Tour, or at the same time maybe not. The main reason to support cycling is not just to go for a Grand Tour but to instill the values of sport in society, it’s what our country needs. Not only to seek economic benefit, but to promote sport, especially with the kids because it does so much for your personal growth. That’s why I expected more from Ecuador.

Is it a money issue?

I don’t believe it’s about money, in the end is the effort that you put into it. It’s making the decision to build cycling schools because you want to make a change. Sport is either a passion or an obligation. The country needs to invest more in sport, not just for cycling but in football, in basketball, in athletics. But everything has remained the same.

It’s something that I’m ashamed of, at times when I am asked about it, it hurts. Ecuador has a great athlete, Jefferson Pérez, who went to the 1996 Olympics, and the truth is that people have forgotten him. After close to 20 years we have not had any other successful athletes. I know Ecuador has a lot of talent in sport, but we don’t have the support.

There is so much talent, with some of the riders like Jonathan Caicedo, Jefferson Cepeda, Jhonatan Narváez, that are now in the pro peloton. We all came from the same school. When the trainer from that school passed away, the school ended and now the talent isn’t being found. Imagine if that process had continued? We could have been 10 or 15.

When I started in the school we were about 60 riders, and I was the first to make it, and then came Caicedo, and Narváez, and then later Jefferson Cepeda, but they stopped that process.

Your path to the WorldTour led you through Colombia. Do you think that’s what the next generation has to continue to do until things begin to change in Ecuador?

People always believe I came through Colombia, but when I arrived [in Colombia], I knew what I had and what to expect. I had already been training with my coach, Carlos Rosero and had the proper training and arrived in good form. After I had gone to the Pan American Games in 2012, I knew what I was made of. In 2014, I suffered an accident and I had to spend the entire year recovering in Ecuador. Then, in 2015 the door opened to come here to Colombia.

By chance a team here in Colombia helped me out for the Vuelta de la Juventud. Sometimes people want to take credit to say it was because of this or that. The truth is, I will always have love for Colombia because the country helped open a lot of doors for me that without them it would have been impossible.