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Tour of the Gila: Meet Colombian talent Oscar Sanchez

Sensational Colombian climbing talent Oscar Sanchez hopes to unseat the favorites on the Gila Monster at Tour of the Gila.

Canel’s Specialized Oscar Sanchez is currently leading the King of the Mountain classification at the 32nd Tour of the Gila that ends today. The Colombian was leading the race up until the time trial Friday, after an explosive win on Mogollon for stage 1. The time trial tends to be the Achilles heel for many Latin American cyclists, and though the Tyrone time trial can favor climbers, Sanchez was simply hoping to minimize his loses.

“I did the best I could, trying to lose the least amount of time as possible,” Sanchez said of the TT. “I knew it would be difficult to maintain the leader’s jersey. We’re happy and motivated for Sunday’s Queen stage. I have a great team; my teammates are strong and I have their 100% support.”

Canel’s Specialized returned to Gila this year for the second time with a new squad including Roman Villalobos, stage 2 winner at Vuelta a San Juan this January, Mexican National Road Champion Efren Santos, and Sanchez. In 2017 the team came within 1 point of winning the KOM classification, losing it on the final day.

Sanchez raced Gila back in 2015, with a different team. The 32-year-old is a new signing for 2018, after racing for a mirage of Colombian teams including Argullo Antiqueño and Bicicletas Strongman, both UCI Continental teams.

“I’ve known Oscar for ten years, watching him race,” Juan Jose Monivais said, director sportif for Canel’s. “We saw him win the Vuelta a Costa Rica in 2012, and since then it has been many years that we have been following him. He is a rider that we like how he races. It was two years ago now that we first began talking with him. It didn’t work out in the past but this year we came to an agreement. We’re very happy that he’s with Canel’s Specialized, we’re a big family and we hope to have good results this season.”

The Tour of the Gila is the first big objective for Sanchez, before heading back down to Central and South America for races in the summer that include the Vuelta a Colombia.

“He’s Colombian so we have to support him there, and hope he wins,” Monsivais adds.

Sanchez is from Manizales, Colombia, the famed cycling destination thanks to its climb, Altros de Letras – the hardest climb in Colombia. Many past and current professionals call Manizales home.

“In Colombia, cycling is a passion,” Sanchez says. “I raced with Nairo Quintana, Sergeo Henao, Esteban Chavez, Darwin Atapuma, and Jarlinson Pantano all as a U23. In one Tour of the Juniors race that I won, Pantano worked for me to help me win.”

The final Gila Monster road race stage is a 100.6 mile (161.9km) point-to-point race that includes over 9,000 feet of climbing with two category 2 climbs and one category 1. Sanchez is down 1:52 from the current leader, Rally Cycling’s Rob Britton. UnitedHealthcare’s Gavin Mannion sits in second 57 seconds behind Britton. Rally also has Kyle Murphy sitting in third, with a 5-second buffer over Sanchez. Despite the numbers, Canel’s is hopeful.

“We’re happy with what we have accomplished so far in this race, but of course we came here to win, so we plan to give everything,” Monivais said. “We’re proud to be leading the King of the Mountain jersey, but of course we will fight for the GC.”

The team kept Sanchez safe during Saturday’s crit, saving the attacks in order to go all in for Sunday’s finale.

“I did one race in Mexico prior to this but it was a one-day race, this is the first stage race of the season,” Sanchez added. “I arrived here with very little racing form, racing against teams that have various competitions they’ve done already. I am finding myself in good form and when I do, thus I am stronger mentally in any terrain.”

Canel’s will head back to Mexico after Gila for some smaller races, before returning to the States for Winston-Salem and Tour de Beauce. The team is also hoping to secure a special invitation to the Tour of Utah after their success thus far this season.