Yesterday, Colombia had it’s national road championships. For the first time since 1984, when Fabio Parra won, the race was held during a time in the season when the country’s most prominent riders (Uran, Quintana, Betancur, Serpa, Pantano etc) were actually able to compete. This is a significant change from year’s prior, though 2014 did see Winner Anacona and eventual winner Miguel Angel Rubiano compete. Is this a step in the right direction for Colombian cycling? One that perhaps leads to those in charge finally realizing that there's actual racing going on outside Colombia's borders, and that some of the the riders competing at the highest level are their own? Let's hope. Though several issues were still obvious in the race. A crash in the finishing straight was caused by a lack of barriers, team cars were not diverted, causing a traffic jam at the finish that held up chasing groups (not that their time had much significance in a one day race). Similarly, there didn't seem to be a women's race, and the U23 category was suddenly rolled into the the elite one.
That aside, this was also the first time (ever?), that the race had a proper TV broadcast, an absolute rarity in a country where cycling is, by and large, a sport you listen to on the radio. Especially domestic races. This has clearly been brought about by the rise in the sport’s marketability, best explained by the reception that men like Quintana and Uran received. Local fans have not seen some of these riders race on home soil since they were young amateurs.
In the end, Rigoberto Uran won the TT championship, and Robinson Chalapud won the road race, in his first year back after having left Team Colombia.
But as you know, the real stories in the sport are usually happening away from the finish line and the podium. Here are a few things worth nothing...ranging from feedbags to spectators being brutally struck by cars on live TV.
Cloth musette bags for Movistar riders? No. White plastic bags with a knot tied at the top, thus making them look like poop bags from someone who just took their Great Dane for a walk.
If you think team alliances can get complicated in World Championships (trade team versus serving your country’s team), you should see what happens in Colombia’s national championships. Riders race for their department (equivalent of a state in the United States). But can also opt to ride for their trade team, in the case of those who race in Europe. Thing is, if you win, the medal is awarded to the Department you are from, not your trade team. So there are riders racing for one department, but clearly doing work for their trade team. But what makes matters more complex is someone like Nairo Quintana. He had two teammates (brother Dayer and Winner Anacona) from Movistar. But he also had at his disposal the riders from the South American Movistar team (same kit, both groups getting support from the Movistar America car and director).
The last matter that makes things complicated is what Winner Anacona told me last year, that World Tour riders can also work together, as he did with Rubiano, to make sure the win went to a World Tour rider, a "European" as they are known among those who race in Colombia. Likewise, riders from small continental teams take great pride in making World Tour pros suffer, and try to band together to see that happen.
Dayer Quintana’s pedaling style is frighteningly similar to his brother’s. Stiff torso, slight head bob. Even his mannerisms when he stands to pedal are exactly the same as Nairo’s. Only his build is slightly different, but in most camera shots, he could be his brother's body double.
Carlos Betancur has clearly had another tough off-season (I've heard many rumors regarding details on the matter, but they are just that, rumors). He was getting dropped early on in the race on relatively short and easy climbs. As this was happening, and Betancur was falling back into the caravan of cars, commentators assured the public that he was likely going to “attack from the back of the pack”. Right, that's the strategy, go all the way back to the broom wagon, and really let the peloton have it from two kilometers back!
He eventually finished 22-minutes down on what would be described as a rolling, transitional stage for a breakaway if it were in a grand tour.
By the way, as all this was happening and the TV camera kept panning to Betancur, his body language was absolutely clear. He was done for and struggling early on, anyone could see that. His upper body, shoulders in particular, were rocking around like he'd been taking dance lessons from Ozone and Turbo (from the movie Breakin’). That's a good look when you're busting out sweet moves on a piece of cardboard or linoleum for your friends, but not so much when you are racing your bike.
I don’t know nearly enough about athletic performance or mathematics to speak about power to weight ratios in cycling with confidence. But here’s an interesting bit of information, make of it what you will. In the last Vuelta a Colombia, riders putting out around 6.5 watts per kilo was not uncommon. In the uphill time trial, the first eleven riders were above 6. w/k Those are some—cough, cough—amazing numbers. As a point of comparison, Rigoberto Uran won the time trial national championship this past Saturday at “just” 5.9 watts per kilo.
Heated arguments between a moto driver and race officials. Live on the air, with good audio mid-race? Yes please.
After his win, Robinson Chalapud on why he left Team Colombia (via journalist Pablo Arbelaez). “I left Team Colombia, because in that team I was never valued." Ouch.
8. If you watch enough cycling, you know that getting angry at the misguided and incorrect things that commentators say is a foolish thing to do (despite my comments about their take on Betancur above), unless you enjoy being angry for hours upon hours during an entire season.
So, like all commentators, Colombian ones say all kinds of things that are wrong, perhaps because they are just trying to fill up air time, and/or are generally clueless. But one comment that came out seemed odd to me. It was suggested that men like Nairo Quintana and others who race in Europe asked that the route be changed, and have less climbing, since their form won’t be peaking until later in the season, and that organizers complied. Did that really happen? Who knows, but it reminded me of the sh*tstorm that hit Klaas Vantornout a few years ago, when he apparently suggested to officials (and maybe tried to bribe them?) that barriers be taken down at the Belgian cyclcocross championships, which would suit him far better than the course they were working on.
Those who followed cycling in the 80s and early 90s would have likely noticed a familiar logo all over Colombia’s national championships, Postobon, who sponsored the other Colombian team during that time. Could this mark the beginning of Postobon’s renewed interest in the sport, perhaps as a potential team sponsor? Rumors seem to point in that direction.
During the race, the TV channel producing the broadcast (Teleantioquia) showed clips of races they had covered in the past in a video retrospective, including the 1994 Vuelta a Colombia. As part of those clips, an absolutely insane moment was shown, which neither the original commentators, nor the ones for the championships this time around acknowledged in any way. A spectator runs out onto the street, is struck by a car, and is sent flying into the air. The car stops, then moves forward, as the person gets dragged to the side of the road by others. No biggie.
Video (without sound, sorry) is below. It happens toward the bottom of the frame.