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Tour de France

Tour de Hoody: Rigoberto Urán and his Zen-like approach to the Tour de France

Colombian superstar is the calm eye of the Tour de France hurricane as he pedals within podium range ahead of two decisive climbing stages.

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PAU, France (VN) — It’s hard to crack Rigoberto Urán.

But he cracks up everyone around the dinner table every night.

There’s no grey zone with the 34-year-old Colombian iconoclast. He’s the consummate pro,  but he’s never going to lose any energy worrying about the could-have-beens in the chaotic world of pro racing.

Stress beads off Urán like he’s wearing a Gore-Tex jacket, who didn’t even know he’d climbed into second place overall after finishing fifth on the double-climb of Mont Ventoux last week.

“You’re now second in the Tour de France,” a Colombian TV journalist told Urán in Malaucène, who replied, “Oh, yeah? It’s good to know, huevón, but this is all about working it day by day.”

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Cycling lexicon is full of clichés — one stage at a time, day by day, it is what it is — yet Urán, and his nearly two decades, of racing has taken those lessons to heart.

Urán is riding under the radar so far in this Tour, and that’s just where he likes to be. Always ready to pounce, Urán is expert at playing the long game.

“Every stage in the Tour de France is important,” Urán said earlier in this Tour. “We have to be attentive to try to avoid troubles and be there when it counts. The time trials will mark big differences and the final week will put things into place.”

That moment has arrived.

Back-to-back summit finishes in the Pyrénées could well decide the final podium in Paris.

With a solid time trial in his pocket, if Urán can maintain his gap to riders such as Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), Ben O’Connor (Ag2r-Citroën), and Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe), a podium spot in Paris could be within his reach.

No stress, no unnecessary waste of energy. Urán is the prince of avoiding trouble and staying in the game.

So far in the 2021 Tour, Urán has avoided the crashes and bad luck that took out pre-race favorites Primož Roglič and Geraint Thomas, and used his racing acumen and bunch smarts to stay out of trouble.

Urán famously floats at the back of the bunch during the nervous opening stages. It’s a high-risky tactic; if the bunch splits, and he could get caught out. On the upside, it means less stress, less work for his teammates, and if there is a crash, “there is time to brake,” as he put it.

“Rigo is super-relaxed. He never gets too stressed or too tense, and he has the experience to bide his time and wait and let the other ones tire themselves out,” said teammate Neilson Powless. “I think his ability to stay relaxed and be smooth in the peloton has helped him get this far. He’s been conserving every ounce of energy he’s been able to.”

Also read: Neilson Powless checks personal ambitions to help Urán

In a sport as calibrated and measured as modern cycling, every single watt of energy or each unnecessary effort eventually gets paid for in the Tour.

Urán surprised many in this Tour, but everyone inside the EF Education-Nippo bus believes in the veteran Colombian. As funny and irreverent as he is off the bike, he is the ultimate professional and savvy racer on it.

“Rigo knows how to race, he projects tranquility,” said teammate Sergio Higuita. “He never panics. He’s very regular, and he has a lot of experience. He knows when it counts.”

You’d never know Urán is the vice-president of the peloton. Starting Wednesday’s key stage in the pole position, at 5:18 back, one misstep or error by Pogačar, and Urán could be king of the Tour.

“Everything is positive, very positive,” Higuita said. “We have to keep fighting every day. We have a lot of motivation within the team. Rigo lifts everyone.”

Urán pushed Chris Froome to his narrowest margin of victory in four titles

Urán is not only the captain of the EF ship, he’s wildly popular with Colombian fans.

He’s achieved rock-star status back home and converted his image into a branded “Go Rigo Go!” line of caps, T-shirts, and clothing that he sells in shops across Colombia.

After rising from his hardscrabble childhood when he sold lottery tickets to help his family and after his father gunned down in Colombia, his successes in Europe helped pave the way for today’s wave of Colombian superstars.

Nairo Quintana, Esteban Chaves, and Sergio Henao all became superstars in their own right thanks to Urán’s trailblazing ways more than a decade ago.

Also read: Generación Urán and how ‘Rigo’ helped revive Colombia cycling

After racing for the Movistar, Sky/Ineos, and Quick-Step franchises, Urán found a new home at the Slipstream organization in 2016, where he’s emerged as an outright leader inside the bus and enjoyed a racing revival under the team umbrella.

“A long, hard Tour always plays in favor of Rigo,” Higuita said. “One day you can lose, one day you can win, but you can never give up in a grand tour. We have to wait until the campos in Paris.”

Twice second at the Giro d’Italia, Urán finished second to Chris Froome in 2017 just 54 seconds back in the narrowest margin of victory for the four-time Tour winner.

Top-10’s in 2019 and 2020 proved it was no fluke, but Urán was coming off an injury in both cases. This year, he’s back in top shape and proved it with second at the Tour de Suisse behind podium rival Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers).

Unfortunately for Urán, just as he came up against a superior Froome in 2017, this season he’s running headlong into Pogačar, who seems poised to emerge as the peloton’s new dominant Tour rider.

VALENCE, FRANCE - JULY 06: Stefan Bissegger of Switzerland, Rigoberto Urán of Colombia & Jonas Rutsch of Germany and Team EF Education - Nippo at start during the 108th Tour de France 2021, Stage 10 a 190,7km stage from Albertville to Valence / @LeTour / #TDF2021 / on July 06, 2021 in Valence, France. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
EF Education-Nippo are rallying around Urán going into the Tour’s decisive moments. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

EF Education-Nippo insiders are hesitant to even comment on it, for fear of jinxing Urán’s otherwise seamless and near-perfect race across two weeks of the 2021 Tour de France.

“‘Mano-a-mano’, Pogačar is the strongest right now,” Powless said. “We’re all here to support Rigo. We knew coming into this Tour he was in great shape, and if he ends up with a podium in Paris, it’s a dream for all of us.”

Only a perfect Tadej Pogačar is keeping Urán from dreaming even bigger.

Everyone’s human, none more so than Urán.