Here we go, part 2 of my review of just how far off (or how right) I was in my posts from earlier this year (see here and here), in which I called attention to Colombian riders that may otherwise go unnoticed in the shadows of men like Nairo Quintana and Rigoberto Uran.
For the sake of efficiency, and to keep myself from crying in the fetal position, I'll stick to those earlier posts, not address all the times in my life when I've ever been wrong. That's because 5th grade alone would take more than 4,000 words...starting with that one time during the class trip to my friend Sebastian's farmhouse north of Bogota, where I slipped and fell in a gigantic pile of cow manure, but tried to play it off like I had done it on purpose.
"No guys, I do this for fun all the time...I'm not ashamed...and why are you running away from me...I don't smell that bad. Do I? Come on...guys?"
At any rate, let's get on with it.
Juan Pablo Villegas
Okay, I have to give myself a pat on the back on this one, because I was spot on. This is what I said about Juan Pablo:
The 26 year old absolutely demolished the competition at the Vuelta a Mexico. He won the overall, along with three out of the six stages. Villegas' win in Mexico comes after his 8th spot at the Tour Do Brasil, and could help him secure a contract with (at the very least) a US-based continental team, a few of which (Jamis, 5 Hour Energy, Smart Stop, Optum) saw his dominance there first hand.
Well, guess what happened. As 4-72–Colombia returns to being a U23 team next year, Villegas was scooped up by SmartStop, who (as I said then) saw his domination first hand. Interestingly, Villegas could have also chosen to race in Colombia, but he told me very clearly last month in Medellin that doing so would likely mean having to race in a team where doping would be commonplace (remember, he raced with 4-72, who have a strong anti-doping ethos). Rather than having anything to do with what he called "the dark side of the sport", he retired, and went back to the world he knew before cycling: coffee farming. A contract with SmartStop was procured, a week into his retirement, and he'll be racing in the US in 2015. Villegas has an insane work ethic, largely brought about through his upbringing (he started carrying 80 pound baskets of coffee uphill when he was only 11 years old). He can time trial, go in breakaways, sprint and can hang in the climbs as you might expect a Colombian to. He'll bring GC hopes to SmartStop. Look for an interview with Juan Pablo here soon, the guy is beyond interesting.
What I said:
After signing with Team Colombia, the two-time points race world champion on the track (he just became world champion again in Cali two weeks ago) has taken to the road with ease. Avila has proven to be a strong rider in sprints that take place after enough climbing to tire others out, managing top ten placings many times last year. His development has been slow but steady, and with an experienced sprinter like Leonardo Duque (Vuelta a España stage winner with Cofidis) by his side, Avila is likely to keep improving.
Well, I wasn't terribly wrong. Avila remains an a very talented rider, but the development I thought could happen (on the road) form him in 2014 didn't pan out. This, in turn, brings up a bigger question about Team Colombia. Results have been slim, and near misses plentiful. This has to be incredibly frustrating for riders and staff, who know that funding for the team is granted on a year-by-year basis. Riders like Avila, who is not a climber but a scrappy sprinter who can win in small groups and could excel in one day races, is sometimes forgotten about within the landscape of Colombian cycling. This must change, because riders like him can bring victories to a team, and a country, that too often focuses on climbing exclusively.
Here's to a positive 2015, and the likelihood of a strong result in a one day race, which I still think he'll get at some point.
In future posts, I may look at other rider that I highlighted early in 2014, and see how their season went, but more importantly, what they'll be up to in 2015.
Yes, I saw the news about Darwin Atapuma being robbed and attacked while training. Horrible. And yes, I too found the use of the word "bandits" to be unusual in the english-speaking reports of this bit of news. But let me explain...Colombian news outlets often use the word "bandidos" as an easy euphemism for "thieves". The word may sound funny in English, but less so in Colombian Spanish. Oh, and as awful as Atapuma's ordeal is, at least he wasn't left for dead as Amador was in 2011. Worth noting that in Amador's case, it was Costa Rican "thugs" who attacked him.
Jose Serpa had a similar incident happen to him in 2013, when two men in a motorcycle blocked his path, punched him, and took the bike he'd ridden the Giro with the previous year.
In the end, and I hate to say this because perhaps it reveals a negative side of my Colombian upbringing, I'm actually surprised that this type of thing doesn't happen more often, and in more countries. When you consider the deserted places where many of us ride, the value of many of the bikes out there, and how helpless we are when wearing our leotards...I'm merely thankful for the fact that it doesn't.