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Carlos Betancur was once of the shining stars of a new wave of Colombian riders sweeping the European peloton. While the likes of Nairo Quintana, Rigoberto Urán, and Esteban Chaves have thrived, Betacur fell off the map.
After struggling with his weight and motivation, Betancur was cut by Ag2r La Mondiale mid-season, and he joins Movistar on a two-year deal that could be his last chance to prove himself worthy of a WorldTour contract.
“I am starting from zero,” Betancur said in an interview released by his agent. “I want to find myself on this team. It’s not going to be easy, but we’re going to try.”
Now 26, Betancur is now viewed as damaged goods by some teams. He won the Baby Giro in 2010, and quickly made his mark on the peloton, riding strong in the Ardennes. He was fifth and the best young rider at the 2013 Giro d’Italia, and winner of the 2014 Paris-Nice, big results that confirmed his promise.
But during that time, he knocked heads with his bosses at the Ag2r team. He would return to his native Colombia, often gaining weight, and not training properly. Things reached a head with his team when staffers couldn’t track him down, and only found out via the media that he wouldn’t be racing the Tour de France as planned. When he returned to Europe later that summer, he was more than 10 pounds overweight.
“Did I have problems, yes, like any anyone else, but I believe things will go better at [Movistar] because it’s a professional team,” Betancur said. “Apart from the language, there is a different philosophy. I want to thank Ag2r, because they gave me the chance to come to the WorldTour, but there were some problems that left with you a bad taste. In 2016, things will be different.”
After going winless since Paris-Nice in 2014, Ag2r La Mondiale finally lost its patience, and cut him loose this summer.
Movistar offered Betancur a two-year deal through 2017, and the team is betting the so-called “Bananito” (little banana) will be able to rediscover his winning ways.
Team manager Eusebio Unzué said the revival of Betancur is a big challenge for the team. “Betancur is a challenge, for us, for the team, and for him,” Unzué told Biciciclismo.com. “He’s confided in us that he can put the ‘cyclometer’ back to zero, and we are going to see between all of us if we are able to reach his potential.”
Betancur will train and live in Pamplona, Movistar’s European base, under the supervision of team directors and staffers. They will watch Betancur’s weight and make sure he’s consistently following a training program.
“I am going to train and do things the right way,” Betancur said. “I already feel good on this team, and I believe they can help me. The most important thing is to work and learn.” At Movistar, he will be surrounded by Spanish-speaking teammates and staffers, in contrast to the French at Ag2r.
Betancur will debut at the Tour de San Luís in January, and then ride in support of Alejandro Valverde and Dani Moreno at the Ardennes classics. A return to the Giro d’Italia is likely.
For Betancur, the most important thing is to regain his confidence, and earn some results. “I want to win; I don’t care where,” he said. “That would be an important step. That would allow me to say, ‘I am a racer.’ Step by step, that would help me even more to convince myself that Carlos Betancur is still there.”