Road

Higuita and Colombian stars to benefit from lockdown altitude camp on return to racing

EF Pro Cycling's rising Colombian star feels his countrymen will be at advantage on return to racing, sees world championship opportunity for his nation.

Colombian riders heading over to Europe to restart the season August 1 will be packing the benefits of a four-month altitude camp in their legs.

As the pro peloton emerges from quarantines across Europe and South America after a spring spent on the indoor trainer, some could argue that those that endured the strict quarantines of France, Italy, Spain, and Colombia are on a level playing field. In theory, form should be dictated by how willing a rider has been to endure hour upon hour on the turbo trainer.

Except that the likes of Egan Bernal, Nairo Quintana, Rigoberto Urán and Sergio Higuita have been doing it in the thin air of Colombia.

“Most of us live at height and I think we have an advantage because we can train more than 2,000 meters above sea level,” Higuita told El Tiempo, Tuesday. “In Europe, they have not been able to do that.”

Some grand tour riders, notably Tom Dumoulin, feel that top form can only be achieved after a spell perched atop a mountain in the Canary Islands or southern Spain. With travel across the world and concerns about flights rendering typical altitude training destinations off the agenda, teams are scrambling to find local high-elevation locations in the Alps as replacements. Some riders hope for two trips at altitude before the Tour de France, some may be lucky to get anything.

With the Tour de France falling as the first grand tour in the calendar and just four weeks after the resumption of top-tier racing, many are forecasting fireworks and unpredictable racing as riders come off the back of an unprecedented build to La Grande Boucle. Higuita was of similar view.

“The body responds to you differently,” Higuita said when asked about the impact of a disrupted training schedule.

“Some will be fine in the first weeks and not in the last one, or vice versa,” he continued. “It could happen, because training only on the rollers is not ideal and, in addition to that we must add the lack of background [i.e., previous races].”

It’s not just the South Americans who may be afforded some benefit by their conditions in lockdown; riders in Belgium, the Netherlands, UK and Switzerland have been free to train on open roads through the coronavirus racing pause, with Flandrien rider Oliver Naesen predicting a “two-speed peloton” when racing resumes.

Higuita also spies an advantage for his Colombian nation’s hopes in the second prize of the pro calendar, the September world championships, likely to be staged on a challenging lumpy course in Switzerland – unless a late call is made to revert to a Plan-B venue in the Middle East.

“The route is good for Colombians,” Higuita said. “We could win it, because we have the engine to do it. If it is not done in Switzerland, then we will lose that opportunity. If we go to Qatar, then there would be the chances of Fernando Gaviria, Álvaro Hodeg and Juan Molano. Colombia no longer benefits as much as in the mountains, but we also win in sprints.”

With all looking promising for Colombians’ hopes in the restarted season, the only hurdle is to navigate through the nation’s ban on international travel which has been imposed through August 31. Higuita is relaxed that the government will come to the aid of the cyclists that are elevated to national heroes in their homeland.

“There will be some measure, that’s for sure,” he said. “Maybe make a decision among all of us who are going to travel. I don’t know, a charter trip with the WorldTour cyclists, the continental ones. The government should support us.”

Higuita’s schedule is still yet to be confirmed, though it is looking likely that he will be making his Tour de France debut this August. With four months of altitude training in his legs, expect great things.