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Carlos Betancur is back from the brink with a morale-boosting return to form last week.
The once-promising Colombian notched his first victory in two years with a stage win Friday at the Vuelta a Castilla y León. Dogged by weight issues, bouts with depression, and conflicts with his former team Ag2r La Mondiale, Betancur said he’s much happier with his move to Movistar this season.
“After everything that happened, I am once again happy on the bike,” Betancur said. “I really don’t know how to do anything else than cycling, and it’s what I like most. At a certain point when I realized it was going to be a hard road, I was sad, but now I am going to enjoy it to the maximum.”
The 26-year-old is racing this week in the Ardennes to help team captain Alejandro Valverde, but he admits he’s still nowhere near the form he had in 2013 when he bolted out of relative obscurity to finish third at Flèche Wallonne. That same year he was fifth overall and won the best young rider classification at the Giro d’Italia. At the time, many expected big things from the feisty Colombian.
A move to Movistar for 2016 after Ag2r booted him mid-season last year is helping Betancur get back on track.
“The team follows you in everything, and they see that I am improving, in the power, the fat, the weight,” he said. “I am motivated as if I were a junior racer again. At the end of the day, the head is the most important thing. I am super good right now.”
That’s encouraging news for Betancur, who was once one of the shining lights of a new wave of Colombian riders to hit the peloton over the past five years.
Despite a big win at the 2014 edition of Paris-Nice, however, Betancur failed to meet expectations as he struggled with his weight and feuded with his managers at Ag2r. The French team dropped him from a planned Tour de France debut in 2014, in part from delays in requesting a visa, and when he returned to competition later that summer, he was clearly overweight and out of shape.
Things looked to be on the rebound last year and he raced a busy spring calendar — which included a 20th-place finish at the Giro d’Italia with more than 60 days of racing — but he went MIA once again. An exasperated Ag2r cut him from the team last August. Movistar offered him a lifeline with a two-year deal.
Betancur struggled in early races and did not finish his first four in which he started, but he got through the Circuit de la Sarthe in early April with improving form. He won the opening stage at Castilla y León but was gapped on the final mountaintop finale, settling into ninth overall as Valverde dashed to the overall victory.
For Betancur, his mental happiness was the essential element for him to get back making the sacrifices that come with being a professional bike racer. He seems to have found the right place at Movistar.
“The most important thing right now is that I am happy,” Betancur said. “I am on a team where everyone is very professional, and they like what they do, and they always do what is best for the rider … I am motivated because I am enjoying the bike again. This is a very hard and demanding sport, and you have to enjoy it to be able to do it.”