I grew up in Colombia during the 1980s, a time when nothing was at it seemed. Watching the nightly news with my parents, I quickly learned that there were always hidden agendas, and ulterior motives. Corruption ran deep, people could be (and often were) bought, and violence was used to silence the opposition. This was true at the highest levels of government and business, and was also visible in everyday life. I say these things as way of letting you know that to me, there are simply no "big reveals" in life. I assume the worst, and am never surprised by nefarious motives, no matter how hidden or surprising they may be. This is not because I'm always wise to what is actually happening. No. I simply assume these things by default. The contrarian who assumes the worst is not smart, and cannot relish in being right. Instead, he begins to realize how sad it is that he's right so often.
Forgive me for speaking about myself in the third person in those last two sentences, but that's sort of where my mind is right now. Why am I telling you this? Because, as I said earlier, there are no big reveals in life when you assume the worst. But when something you assumed would happen actually does, it can still be maddening and sad, even if it's not totally unexpected. Let me explain.
Back in February, I did an interview Juan Pablo Villegas. In it he discussed the current state of the Colombian peloton in terms of doping. He did so in a measured but open way. He spoke (on the record) in a way that professional cyclist who are currently racing seldom speak. Juan Pablo knew that the interview would not be well received. He's not naive, and knows how the sport operates, and how things work in Colombia. I do too. But he felt the need to talk, as the state of the sport that he loves was pushing him into retirement. Listening to him speak was heartbreaking, but I also got the sense that it was probably liberating for him. Above all, it was sad to hear.
The interview was translated to Spanish (both here and on the Colombian site Ruta Del Escarabajo). It was widely read in Colombia, and I knew something would eventually come of it. Now it has. So it's at this point that I too will use very measured language for reasons you will no doubt understand.
As a result of that interview, Juan Pablo Villegas is now receiving threats. Very real threats, through anonymous messages on his phone, through social media, and sometimes by registered accounts, from Colombian riders who are freely threatening him out in the open. If this doesn't sound bad to you, believe me when I tell you that I'm holding back a bit, so I ask you to give me the benefit of the doubt. The Colombian newspaper El Tiempo ran a piece about this by political columnist Gustavo Duncan, where he states his intentions to track and report anything that may happen to Villegas, and to publish the names of those riders who continue to make any threats (or deliver on them).
I should tell you that the short paragraph above was originally much longer, and went into more detail, both about this case, and others that leave no doubt about the credibility of such threats. But due to what is at stake here, I ended up cutting it down by more than half. I'm not proud of telling you this. In fact, I hate that this is the case, because it means that threats work.
Long time readers of the blog no doubt remember posts like this one, that begin to show what is possible when it comes to covering this topic. So I'm hold back, because this isn't a post about how one rider or another looks "PRO", or about the length of someone's socks, or about gravel bikes being great or awful. This is scary shit, and I don't like it.
I've always objected to the use of the term omertà by cycling fans and the cycling press, as it alludes to something far more real than simply riding bikes, through the use of a loaded term. But as I've said before, in Colombia, that word returns to its original meaning very quickly. And when people like Villegas speak out, the aim to silence them is obvious. But this, in turn, only gives greater credence to what Juan Pablo said to begin with. And those who threaten him reveal themselves in doing so. And while I find that interesting, I'm sure it's not enough to comfort someone who is being threatened.
So, does any of this come as a shock to me? No.
Did knowing it would likely come prepare me for it? To be honest, no.
Is cycling as enjoyable now (considering that this is just one in a list of ordeals along these lines, including some that are far grimmer)? Sadly, no.