If the emails in my inbox, and the keywords that people use to get to the blog are any indication, there are many people out there who are interested in riding in Colombia, but aren't really sure how to go about it. In the past, I've interviewed Nate King, who has spent two winters living and riding in Colombia, along with others who have made a permanent move there, in order to gather more information on the topic.
For many, however, moving to Colombia to ride is simply not realistic. That's where companies like Equipo come in. The Boulder-based company offers bike tours in Italy and Colorado, but largely focuses on Colombia. I decided to ask them some questions, in hopes of giving readers more information about riding in Colombia, especially as the winter draws near, and snow is sure to start falling soon enough in the places where many of us live. Thanks to Equipo for their time.
Full disclosure: Equipo is now an advertiser on the blog, but this interview predates that arrangement. I have never produced "sponsored content" and never plan to.
How did the idea of doing cycling tours, especially in Colombia, come about?
We've lived in Colombia for years, and cycling is an integral part of our lives. Cycling is embraced as a national sport, and along with its long history of producing great climbers, the climate allows us to enjoy cycling year-round. We discovered an endless supply of cycling routes, and being surrounded by Colombia's natural beauty inspired us to share our own experience with others. We started by having cycling tours informally with our friends, and word quickly spread that we had created the ultimate cycling experience in an amazing destination, Colombia. That’s when we decided to launch Equipo.
In your opinion, why is Colombia an ideal cycling destination for your customers? How does it compare to Europe, where most people go for these kinds of trips?
Cycling is mainstream in Europe. It’s also where the media pays attention.
Colombia has an astonishing diversity to explore: modern cities, Amazon jungles, Caribbean beaches, archeological ruins, a cornucopia of the world's best coffee plantations – and this region is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Colombia is the second most biologically diverse country on Earth. The tropical mountain landscapes are very unique.
There is a dream-like quality to Colombia, which the famed writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote about here. Life at the equator, the sun shines year-round and the warmth of the locals offers a change of pace for cyclists.
Have you found any hesitation or apprehension from customers or interested parties in Colombia, due to the image many have of it?
Yes, and we address it. Colombia has evolved from its past history, but that news hasn't reached everyone yet. Over the past decade, there has been a significant growth in Colombia's tourism and overall, it has transformed to be one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America. The government has invested significantly in: infrastructure, public safety and security, the economy and eco-tourism.
In fact, there has been a surge in hotel development and direct flights to Colombia due to the dramatic rise in UK visitors. Colombia is only about a 3-hour flight from Miami. It comes down to awareness, and we are helping to get the word out by featuring cycling tours in Colombia, by writing about it, and by sharing our cycling stories.
On the flip side, we also see a natural curiosity of where these professional Colombian riders come from.
What type of accommodations, transportation or other services can people expect during a trip to Colombia with a company like yours?
Equipo offers a luxury cycling experience and we select top accommodations in each of the 3 regions we visit: Quindío, Antioquia and Valle. We have relationships with boutique hotels, and these meet international standards for comfort, quality and service. We also partner with exclusive residences that are not open to the public, for customers who request a custom-designed, private tour.
Our team (equipo means "team" in Spanish), includes pro cycling mechanics and drivers who currently work with professional teams, a pro chef who makes exquisite Colombian meals for U.S. dignitaries when they travel to Colombia, and pro cyclist guides on their "off" racing season. We work within this pro network, because the team, as a whole, is the best at what they do.
Each cyclist receives a gift basket with two full Equipo cycling kits (by a top Colombian brand, Safetti), along with socks, t-shirt, poncho and cycling cap. We also include daily massages, a 6:1 SAG car ratio, daily laundry, all the meals (including snacks and hydration by Skratch Labs), airport pickup and transfer, bike assembly, excursions, and other things if a cyclist needs it: tubes, tubulars, chains, brake pads, cables.
In fact, if we receive a booking with at least 90 days notice, we will also customize the cycling kits with your national flag on the arm band, and your name. My kit has the American flag and Rene's has the Colombian flag. It's this attention to detail that sets us apart. Our vision is to continue to build a loyal base of Equipo clients who keep coming back.
Also, as safety is our top priority, we depart from our hotel or if we are staying in the city limits, we navigate around traffic zones by boarding our minibus for a short ride. Finally, we support cyclists who are seeking to challenge themselves. If Alto de Letras is on the menu, a cyclist simply cannot carry enough water bottles to do this 60+ mile monster climb. If at any moment the cyclist either needs food or water or simply needs encouragement to shift gears, we're by their side and tuned in to their needs.
What advice would you give to cyclists looking to visit Colombia?
Colombia is a destination not to be missed. It's no surprise pro cyclists from all over the world come here to train year-round for the altitude, great food, beautiful scenery and warm welcome. By joining an Equipo tour in Colombia, we take care of everything, and we have all the bases covered. We advise being prepared to ride in the mountains at high altitudes, in a variety of temperatures and to train for whatever goals they are aiming for. We share our insights from having lived there and knowing the lay of the land. We’re also able to help cyclists tune their training program in advance.
What do you hope to accomplish with Equipo, and where would you like to see the company in one year, or five?
Equipo is on your side, focused on delivering authentic, challenging and utterly unforgettable days and that’s our signature. We are raising the bar by delivering on this statement.
Colombia stands out as a destination to go anytime, but in different seasons we also feature tours in Italy and Colorado. We recently opened a cycling showroom in Boulder, Colorado, where we are based, and there are many amazing routes nearby including Flagstaff, Peak to Peak, and all the way to the high country by the Maroon Bells and Independence Pass near Snowmass and Aspen.
We have big plans for next year. We had great positive feedback from our customers when we were joined by Santiago Botero on a tour in Quindio, including Alto de Letras. Next year, we are working with the Colombian Pro Cycling team to feature their top riders. We’re also giving back by creating more awareness of development teams rising from Colombia. We’d like to thank sponsors who joined us in creating 37 cycling kits for the Urrao Youth Cycling program. This is the hometown from where Rigoberto Uran is from. We are crafting more ways to help the next wave of cyclists coming out of Colombia and getting behind important causes like this.
Our future is to grow our community of cyclists, our customers, who share in the notion that cycling is a great lifestyle choice. If you haven’t yet traveled with your bike to someplace new, now is the time to seize that opportunity.
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After spending time with Team Colombia riders at the Pro Cycling Challenge in 2012, it became clear that their salaries had not been paid in months. Once the race ended, I emailed a few of them, to see if they'd be willing to talk about the matter. None replied, and thus the issue was largely kept under wraps. How things change. Today, riders are once again faced with the same issue, but have chosen to speak out on the matter through Twitter.
So what's happening? As with so many things in Colombia, the explanation is often lengthy and cloudy. Riders were first unhappy with the team. The team said that the funds had not been sent by the Colombian sports federation, which in part accounted for them not asking for a license renewal for next season. La Ruta Del Escarabajo reports that the Colombian sports federation (Coldeportes) gets its funds from the Ministerio de Hacienda (Ministry of Finance and Public Credit), and Coldeportes says that the budgeted amount they were supposed to get from them still hasn't come. This leaves the riders with no other hope than to plead on Twitter, or maybe take legal action against the Colombian government (very unlikely) which more or less employs them.