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American races have always been good to Colombian riders. In 1982, Patrocinio Jimenez won the Coors Classic while he was still a relatively unknown amateur. Sergio Henao would later show himself at the Tour of Utah—before making the jump to team Sky—making American riders have to literally look him up on Wikipedia after he won the uphill time trial. Likewise, Janier Acevedo made a name for himself at the Tour of California, as did Esteban Chaves. At this year's Tour of Utah, it was Winner Anacona's turn to come to the forefront. Riding in support of Chris Horner, Anacona's chances were curtailed, but his abilities were obvious. He stuck with his team's leader on every climb, pacing him up without difficulty, while finishing third overall.
After Utah, it was on to the Vuelta a España, where he won stage 9 into Aramon Valdelinares, and briefly held on the fourth place in the GC. All this after he was second in Colombia's national championships.
Next season, Anacona moves from Lampre-Merida to Movistar, in support of Nairo Quintana, who he's known since childhood. I spoke with Winner in order to discuss the unusual story behind his name, his career, video games, animal rights and several other subjects. Thanks to Winner for his time, and to Luis for putting me in touch him him.
I know people probably ask you about this all the time, but I simply have to know. You have an unusual name, particularly for being Colombian. Winner Andrew Anacona. Where did it come from?
My name comes from my father. He has always been a huge fan of cycling, particularly during the 1980s. His two favorite riders at the time were Peter Winnen, the Dutch rider from Panasonic, and Andy Hampsten from the United States. My dad found them both to be tough riders who were always ready to go into battle while on the bike. So they were his inspiration for my name. Winnen and Andrew.
Right, and Hampsten won the Giro just two months before you were born in 1988, makes sense. But how did Winnen, become Winner? The “n” became an “r”.
Yes, it was a mistake on my dad’s part, in the birth certificate. He realized it, but he liked the sound of the name. He thought it sounded nice. In fact, he liked it better than Winnen, so it stuck, and it was left that way. So that’s the origin of my name, which I have to say is pretty unique. It was a happy accident.
I’m sure you also realize that your name, in English, is the word for “ganador”, the person who wins a race.
Oh yeah, and you know, from the time I was a kid just starting out in the sport, people joked about that. How would an announcer or the press mention my name if I ever won a big race? Well, this season, I had my first victory as a professional, and all we could think about was how funny the headlines could be. “And the winner is…Winner!”, “Winner wins!” or “Winner is the winner” (laughs). At the end of the day, I really like my name, and it’s something I keep in mind during races all the time to tell you the truth. You always think about winning, and focus on doing well. So for me, I concentrate on doing right by name.
Then there’s your last name, which many mistake for being anaconda, like the snake. Some teams during the Tour of Utah were even tweeting out race updates calling you that.
Oh yeah, that’s a common one too. I heard that one before, but usually from kids growing up. My last name is an indigenous one, from the southern part of the country. I think of it as being in line with last names from other riders from there, like Atapuma, and Chalapud.
So your dad was a big fan of the sport, obviously. Did he race at some point? What did he do, or does he do for a living?
My dad was a police officer. He worked during some difficult years in Colombia, the 80s and 90s in particular. He was stationed in a small town called Coper, in Boyaca. An area known for its emerald trade and emerald mines. That was a rough business in Colombia during that era [those interested in the topic that Winner alludes to should read Matt Rendell’s book Olympic Gangster, which details the life of the first Olympic gold medalist in road cycling, the Frenchman Jose Beyaert, who lived most of his life in Colombia and at one point became an emerald trader in this area, rubbing elbows with men who would become the most feared and violent criminals in the world].
Were you born in Boyacá then?
Yes, in Coper. But people think I’m from Bogota, because Coper was so small, that my dad opted to put in my paperwork as a newborn there, which is where my mom’s family lived. But I was raised in Boyacá, in small towns were my dad was stationed, and at 5 years old, we moved to Tunja [Boyacá’s capital]. That’s were I grew up. People say I’m from Bogota, but I feel completely Boyacense in every way [you can read about the importance and impact that the department of Boyacá has had on Colombian cycling here].
When did your dad introduce you to cycling?
At four years old. He’d take me out with my little bike, which had training wheels. He would always go out training on his days off from work, and eventually I started to go out with him. When we moved to Tunja a year later, I was enrolled in a cycling academy, and that’s where my adventure in the world of cycling began, I guess you could say.
You raced as a junior in Colombia, but eventually made the jump to racing in Italy, first as a stagiaire with Centri della Calzatura-Partizan [today’s Vini Fantini-Nippo], how did that come about?
Right, they took me in as a stagiare in 2008, but I had to buy my own plane tickets to Italy. They cost way too much money, about four and a half million Pesos [$2,100 US Dollars], and I didn’t have that kind of money. Neither did my parents. But my team at the time, IDRD [sponsored by Bogota’s cycling league] helped me buy the tickets, which was life changing. So I’ve been racing in Europe since. I was in other Italian teams from 2009 to 2011, and thankfully got an offer from Lampre for 2012 based on my results.
Second overall at the Girobio, where you won a stage, and you were sixth at the Trofeo Gianfranco Bianchin.
Was the move to Italy, especially at such a young age, a substantial cultural shift for you? Historically, many Colombian riders have had a tough time getting acclimated, and talk about the negative differences between Colombian and European temperaments.
You know, I don’t doubt it. But I think in some cases, riders arrive in Europe with preconceived notions, negative ones, about the mindset of people over there. They get there thinking everyone will give them the cold shoulder, or that they will be mistreated. All without knowing if that will really be the case. For me, personally, I found that I was always well received. I've had great teammates in European teams, and have always been treated like family. You know how it is, there are good people and bad people wherever you go, so it’s no different.
The really important part about making the move to Europe, really, is that you have to adapt to cycling there. They race differently, you have to adjust your diet, things like that.
How do you have to adjust your diet?
In Colombia, I can eat anything I want and I burn it off. In Europe, I had trouble managing my weight the first year. So you have to learn about nutrition and how to eat properly.
If you train hard, you come home and eat carbohydrates and some protein. If you take it easy and ride for only two hours, you can have some salad with mozzarella, some fruit and vegetables. That’s very different from the Colombian mindset, where you eat lots regardless of how hard you train. I don’t know if it’s the type or quality of food, or because we live so high up here in Colombia, but it’s harder to eat like that in Europe and keep your weight in check. I was so used to the typical sopa, seco [this is the term that Colombians use for a standard meal consisting of soup, rice with beans and maybe a salad or cut of meat on the side, and fruit juice. It literally means: soup, and "dry"].
This year’s Tour of Utah was a breakthrough race for you. You were third overall, and consistently hung in there during the climbs, always being by Chris Horner's side, who you were riding for. Were you surprised by how you did, or was it a matter of finally being able to prove what you felt you were capable of?
You know, Utah just suited me. I knew that going into it, and I loved that race. The race profile was perfect, racing at altitude was very good for me too. See, the start of the season didn’t go well for me, but I was still motivated, and wanted to test myself. I was looking ahead to the Vuelta a España, and really wanted to get there in good form. So that’s how I looked at Utah. After that race, maybe because of it, I felt great at the Vuelta during the first two weeks, but that last week felt a little long to me (laughs).
Talking about Utah reminds of something about Chris Horner. I should tell you that I admire his willingness to try to speak other languages. But at the same time, I find him speaking Spanish immensely entertaining, because he uses sound effects instead of words sometimes, and the whole spectacle is amazing. How was he to talk to during the Tour of Utah? Did you guys speak in Spanish or Italian? I saw him speaking in Italian at the Tour this year, and it was just as amazing as his Spanish.
Chris is a great person, and a great rider. I only got to know him a little bit, but I like him. Yes, his Spanish is limited, but when he talks, he’ll use a bit from every language he knows in order to get the message across. He’ll switch from Italian, to Spanish to English word by word. But I like that about him!
You appear to be concerned with both environmental issues and animal rights, with things like the abuse of animals and the use of their fur. How did that come about?
You know, those are things that I care about, but I don't simply talk about in order to get publicity or something like that. To me, those are simply issues that many people don't come across, so I gladly discuss in order to raise some awareness. For example, the way we are destroying the environment, that’s an issue brought on by humans, not by animals, that have to endure such hardship, while being absolutely innocent in the matter. Humans are, more or less, in charge of the world, and with that power comes responsibility, which we’ve not been good stewards of. So I wonder about future generations, and about the things that they may never get to see, which we are getting to enjoy during our lifetime, but may not last that long because of humanity’s concern and focus on profits and power. So I talk about this subject in hopes that I can lend a hand, even if it’s in a tiny way, to raise awareness.
You are concerned about bullfighting, something that was very much a part of life for many in Bogota and in Colombia when I was growing up. Some see it as a cultural event, but you see it very differently.
I do. To me, bullfighting is a very clear and obvious example of animal abuse. The mayor in Bogota had put a moratorium on bullfighting, but it expired [a court ruled against the ban]. And in Japan, for example, people excused removing the fins from sharks because of hunger and poverty at one point. But is that true in a society that is now so developed and well-off today? It becomes a matter of tradition, and custom, I understand. But we as humans have to evolve our way of thinking. If we don’t, matters will only get worse for all of us, and for the animals.
Which brings up the question: have you considered vegetarianism or veganism? I know it’s difficult because of your dietary needs as an athlete, and the structured nature of life within a team, with meals being shared and cooked at once. But I wonder if it’s something you’ve thought about.
I have, and I continue to. I know there have been at least one or two vegetarians in the pro peloton before.
Correct, Robert Millar was a vegetarian when he raced. Jacques Boyer was as well, and David Zabriskie was nearly vegan while racing the Tour one year.
Right. So it’s something I really think about. But the way I see things now, with the way that my life as a professional operates and is structured, it would be difficult. But I do think about it.
Any discussion about the consumption of meat within professional cycling warrants a review of the short video below, where the Schleck brothers enlighten us about this very subject with deep insight.
You have a tattoo on your chest that I’m having a hard time trying to figure out. It almost looks like Little Red Riding Hood, with a sickle, like the grim reaper, but on a tricycle!
(Laughs) Oh, that one. It's a little boy, dressed up for Halloween. Dressed up like the grim reaper. So it’s actually a caricature of me, as a little kid, and the colors on the tricycle match the colors of my first bike as a kid. My other tattoos are mostly based on my love for Asian cultures. So I have a dragon, which is my sign in the Chinese horoscope. I also have my name in Kanji characters.
Aside from cycling, what do you like to do?
I like music, mostly rock en español. I love watching movies, and I love video games.
What kind of video games?
Role-playing ones with missions. Assassins Creed, I really like that whole series. So I’m really looking forward to being in Spain soon, so I can pick up the new Assassins Creed for Playstation. It might be like the seventh one they put out, I have them all. In general, I like all role-playing ones, particularly ones with soldiers, and missions.
Do you play online or in person with any teammates?
Not really. They mostly like soccer video games, and I don’t like those. I’m more in the world of first person shooters, and I play alone, not online.
How well do you know Nairo? You grew up in the same general area of Boyaca.
I’ve known him since he was a pre-junior. He was always one or two categories below me, just because I’m a couple of years older. So I’ve known him for years, and since he joined Movistar, I’ve usually trained with him several times a week whenever we are both in Colombia. But this will be the first time that I race with him as a teammate, which means I’ll no doubt get to know him that much better.
Since you know Nairo, do you find it interesting that the press so often portrays him as being shy, to the point that they make him out to be weak, and doubt his ability to make decisions? His victory at the Giro, and how it came about, certainly puts that to rest, but what do you make of the way that he’s been portrayed?
Nairo is reserved, but not really shy. On a personal level, you do have to get to know him for him to start talking more, but that has no bearing on how he operates or thinks. It’s just an outward thing. I think people from Boyaca in general tend to be reserved, especially when compared to others in Colombia.
Certainly when you compare them to people from Antioquia or the coast. I've always assumed that Nairo is very calculated, more of a thinker than a talker.
Right, exactly. I think Nairo’s way of being is partly cultural, but that’s just something to do with the amount of talking he might do. Nothing more.
Have you discussed your goals for next year with Movistar?
Our first team camp will be the 21st of November in Spain. So we’ll talk about those things then, but I’ll be riding in support of Nairo and Alejandro Valverde, the two leaders within the team. I hope to be able to find some space, and some opportunities within the team. I also look forward to growing and maturing as an athlete, which I know I'm still in the process of doing. But I'll have to see when opportunities come my way, and I know that when they come, I'll have to take them and make the most of them.