PAIPA, Colombia (VN) — In its third edition, the Tour Colombia 2.1 has again attracted a smattering of WorldTour heroes to open their respective seasons in the warm climates here in South America. The lineup here is as impressive as you will find at any race prior to the season’s opening grand tour. Egan Bernal, the Tour de France champion, is here, alongside Giro winner Richard Carapaz, and a former Vuelta a España winner Fabio Aru.
Other heroes of South American cycling, such as Rigoberto Urán and Sergio Higuita, are also in attendance. Everywhere the riders go, throngs of fans follow them, often chanting their names and trying to snap a photo.
Also following the star riders is a long procession of reporters, television personalities, and other media. In fact, the press corps here is sizable. The media director for the race organization, Eder Garces, told VeloNews that the race issued 320 press credentials to reporters from 20 different countries, as well as 40 photographer credentials between television and still photography. A few of the countries represented in Colombia are Spain, Australia, France, Japan, Denmark, Poland, and Ecuador, besides the throngs of national and local press covering the race.
VeloNews also spoke to media and press liaisons from numerous teams to get a sense for how this sizable media crunch is impacting the teams and the riders. These press officials told VeloNews that the post-race pandemonium, and interview requests, rival what they see at the Tour de France.
“It’s crazy here, on a level that I have never really experienced before to be honest,” said Hannah Troop, communication officer for EF Pro Cycling. “The grand tours can be quite insane with the fans but it’s not the whole throng of Colombia around the bike race which we have here.”
EF Pro Cycling has a number of South American riders on its roster, including Ecuadorian National Road Champion Jonathan Caicedo, both Colombian National Champions for the road and time trial, Sergio Higuita, who currently leads the general classification, and Dani Martinez, in addition to Urán, who some Colombians joke could run for president. Troop’s job is to make sure the team manages the rider’s time outside of racing itself, so they are able to disconnect and get the proper rest needed for the days ahead.
“We did the [pre-race] press conference because we knew we were going to get quite a lot, which we had about 60-70 members of the press, and then in addition to that I’ve had another 10 requests so far this week for Rigo alone,” Troop said. “People are doing documentaries and interviews with him, it’s been crazy.”
It’s a similar story across the peloton, as the WorldTour squads have been inundated with requests for photos, interviews, and television images of the riders.
“Speaking with my colleagues that are at the Sun Tour, we think we’ll have less requests being this early in the season but it’s changing,” said Phil Lowe, press officer for Deceuninck—Quick-Step. “I’ve had about 20 interview requests for the team here in Colombia.”
Soeren Sliwa, the press officer for Team Ineos, has seen a similar dynamic. Sliwa is in Colombia for the first time, and said the British team brought nearly a full South American squad to the event, having replaced Ivan Sosa with Leonardo Basso after Sosa broke his thumb. Sliwa said half of his job is acting as a bodyguard for Bernal and Carapaz when they venture out in the open.
“The fans feel more enthusiastic here,” Sliwa said. “The Tour [de France] is a lot of the same thing, if you go to the Giro and the Vuelta only in the bigger cities do you get this kind of atmosphere. Here you go to some small town and its hundreds of people everywhere and they’re going completely nuts for all of the riders going past, especially the Colombians.”
Race officials provide several police officers and other security to help open the way for Bernal and others when they need to move around the start and finish line areas.
“It’s not easy. Otherwise, we would get jumped by people wanting selfies and autographs all the time,” Sliwa said. “Of course, Bernal is one of the biggest stars here so we can understand it, but he also needs to get to the hotel. I was not at the Tour but compared to the Giro before he crashed, we have four times as many media requests here in Colombia.”
Security for the riders has also been increased. The hotel where the WorldTour teams are staying is treated like a military base; every vehicle is checked and signed in to the hotel grounds upon arrival. Additional security is also present in the hotel lobby and breezeways. Around the start and finish lines, tall fencing is strategically placed, seen on occasion around the team buses and pathways to and from the start and finish line areas to allow riders to arrive in a timely manner and safely.
“When we were getting Rigo out of the stadium in the team presentation the other day, we had six body guards around him trying to get him out,” Troop said. “That happens a bit like that at the Tour but it’s not anywhere near as much because there is a whole wealth of different real high profile stars there. Here, they just have to touch them. One of our photographers got a photo of a fan’s hand on Rigo’s head, in the middle of the crowd just to try and touch him.
“This country I love it so much,” Troop adds. “It’s absolute chaos, but it’s really beautiful chaos.”