An integral part of life for cyclists in Medellin

There's always been a great deal of controversy about Carlos Gardel's place of birth. The man who single-handedly came to represent tango music in the 1930s was perhaps born in Argentina, or maybe Uruguay, or (more than likely) France. No doubts exist about where he died though. On June 24th, 1935, Gardel's plane stopped in Medellin in route to Cali, to refuel. On takeoff, the plane crashed with another small airplane, killing Gardel and his entourage. From a young age, I knew about the singer's death, in particular because—as I've mentioned before—my mom found him to be dreamy, and wanted me to slick back my hair like him, and wear three-piece suits, even though I was six years old at the time.

Over the years, the Enrique Olaya Airport, where the crash took place, continued to serve the city of Medellin. Eventually, it became a regional airfield, after it couldn't handle the the amount of flights and passengers that the city required.

Not far from the site of Gardel's death, a plot of land had been set aside for an airport, which never took place. That land was eventually used to build a park called "Aeroparque Juan Pablo II", named after the Pope who flew into the airport in 1986 when visiting the city.

Today, that park (which locals usually refer to simply as "el Aeroparque") plays a crucial role in local and regional cycling. Go at almost any time of day, and you'll see cyclists doing laps around the 1.5 kilometer loop. Some are young, some old. There are mountain bikes, road bikes, and everything in between. Thursday mornings are when the professionals race (Rigoberto Uran, Carlos Betancur, Sergio Henao and many others are regulars), in what is referred to as a "chequeo", a training race. You can see Nate King's pictures of a typical Thursday morning here.

Every other day, huge groups do laps as early as 5am, sometimes numbering well in the hundreds. Afternoons are fairly busy too, sometimes with juniors who come test themselves after school, sprinting in every lap. Many belong to cycling academies that train there, and hold meetings in the grassy areas inside the training loop.


Here's a video taken with a phone of juniors (some as young as 12) doing laps on a Wednesday afternoon. The group was small due to thunderstorms that hit only minutes later. Forgive me for the non-existent production values.


On a windy, and horribly rainy Friday morning, I went to the Aeroparque. Despite the weather, it was still busy. Before 6am, as the sun was coming up, thirty or so riders did their fast laps. Ten more rode slowly on the outer perimeters of the road, staying out of the way of those looking to train at speed. On a usual Friday, it's not unusual to see 300+ riders there.

Dawn came, and riders began to head out. I asked if they'd had enough of the rain. They all told me the same thing. No. They weren't stopping because of the rain. It's just that they were already done with their one, two, or three hour ride for the day. I took pictures of a few of them, as they went home or off to work.

Just another Friday morning in Medellin.