Road

Fabio Duarte climbing to new heights in Europe

Fabio Duarte (Geox-TMC) is a name to watch this season as the former U23 world champion makes inroads into the European peloton. The 24-year-old Duarte promises to be in the thick of the action this week at the Vuelta al País Vasco, a race that fits his characteristics as he enters his first full season in Europe after racing three years in his native Colombia.

Colombian leads Geox this week at Basque Country

Duarte winning the 2008 U23 worlds

Fabio Duarte (Geox-TMC) is a name to watch this season as the former U23 world champion makes inroads into the European peloton.

The 24-year-old Duarte promises to be in the thick of the action this week at the Vuelta al País Vasco, a race that fits his characteristics as he enters his first full season in Europe after racing three years in his native Colombia.

“After I won the U23 world title (in 2008), I had a nice offer to race in Colombia. There’s some good racing there and it gave me a chance to keep progressing as a rider without the pressure to perform in Europe,” Duarte told VeloNews. “Now I am really motivated and prepared to race at this level. I hope to be able to win a few races this year.”

Duarte has certainly been giving it a try so far this spring in his European debut with Geox-TMC. He’s been on the attack in several races, scoring second at GP Lugano and fifth overall at the Vuelta a Murcia behind winner Alberto Contador.

Duarte lines up Monday as team leader for Geox-TMC this week at the Basque tour, where team brass expects a lot from their young talent.

“He’s a very complete rider. He can climb with the best and he can defend in time trials. This year, we’ll take him to the Giro to help Denis and Carlos, but he will have some freedom to ride on his own for some stages,” said Geox-TMC sport director Joxean Matxin Fernández. “He’s an exciting rider because he’s never afraid to attack. He reminds me a little of the Colombians that came over to Europe in the 1980s. I think he is part of a new generation that people will start to take notice.”

Duarte joins a handful of young Colombians keen to make their mark in Europe. Others on the rise include the highly touted Rigoberto Urán (Team Sky) and last year’s Tour de l’Avenir winner Nairo Quintana, who edged out American Andrew Talansky in the important U23 French race.

The compact Duarte boasts fine climbing skills, honed on the monster, 20km to 30km climbs in his native Facatativá, a town on the outskirts of the greater Bogotá metropolitan area. He also brings surprisingly consistent time trialing skills as well as packs a punch in the sprint, characteristics that delivered the U23 world title in Varese, Italy, in 2008.

Duarte was already racing with Gianni Savio’s Diquigiovanni squad in 2008, based out of South America, when he pounced to victory in Varese.

That U23 world title gave him a chance to turn pro with the Colombia es Pasion team. That three-year run included some European race time, something Duarte maximized in 2010 by winning a stage and finishing second overall at the Vuelta a Asturias and winning the mountainous Circuito Montañes, the same race Tejay Van Garderen won in 2009.

The Basque tour is one of Duarte’s top early season goals. He’s expected to make his grand tour debut at the Giro, where he will ride in support of Denis Menchov and Carlos Sastre.

“One day I think I can become a contender in grand tours, but we’ll have to see,” Duarte said. “I know I can handle myself in the big climbs, so it’s a matter how well I can adapt to the longer time trials against the specialists. This season, I want to race hard and learn the ropes.”

It’s obvious that for Duarte, “learning the ropes” means being at the sharp end of the action. Don’t be surprised if his name doesn’t pop up at the top of the leader board throughout the week in Basque Country.