The Tour Colombia 2.1 begins Tuesday and will be the first big test for the climbers in the early season.
EF Pro Cycling is hot off its sweep at the Colombian National Championships that saw Dani Martinez successfully defended his TT title, and Sergio “the Monster” Higuita best Egan Bernal for the road race victory. All eyes will be on the Colombian stars along with their compatriots in the peloton, looking to make the most of their home field advantage.
The race also marks the unexpected return of Rigoberto Urán to competition, following his crash last season at the Vuelta a España that resulted in a lengthy hospital stay and months of recovery. Last season it was Urán who wore the first leader’s jersey in Medellín, and later finished 6th on GC. He had not been on the initial start list, making the decision only days before the team convened in Boyaca to race.
“Physically I have been feeling very good, when I was training at home…the therapy has helped me a lot to regain my mobility,” Urán said, speaking to the press Saturday. “For me it’s very special to be back at the Tour of Colombia, it’s been many years since I’ve raced in Boyacá. The effort this past December and January has been big – many hours of therapy and on the bike so that I am able to be here.”
The WorldTour teams in attendance have brought their Latin American strongmen, including EF. Joining the Colombian trio Tuesday, will be Ecuadorian Jonathan Caicedo wearing the 41 bib number, Lawson Craddock returning for the second year, and Tejay van Garderen racing for the first time in Colombia.
The country captivated van Garderen after he visited for the first time to train at altitude with Urán after last season’s Tour of California. Planning for this season, he requested to compete in the race for the opportunity to return and experience everything Colombian cycling has to offer.
“I told the team I had to do this race,” van Garderen said. “I had to soak in everything I could being in this country because Colombians are taking over cycling. I’ve had nothing but great experiences with them.”
Leadership will be decided on the road, according to the team, though with Uran’s form unknown, and van Garderen focused on later goals, it is likely to be Martinez or Higuita that will take the reins.
“The Colombians are going to be on another level here, not just motivation wise, but also the altitude and knowing the roads,” van Garderen said. “I’m happy to help out these three guys who are on great form, especially our recent national champions.”
Racing begins with a team time trial in Paipa, not far from where the national championships were held. Favorites Team Ineos and Deceuninck-Quick-Step must always be considered, but EF Pro Cycling will be defending their stage 1 win from last year.
“Without a doubt, the team time trial is going to establish big gaps in this Tour of Colombia,” Higuita said. “Especially, because we only have the final stage that will be decisive because the others that we will be doing will arrive fast but there is not a day like the final. The time trial is going to be influential where one can win the race. We have a team that does well in the TTT’s.”