Cycling in Colombia: Working in coal mines, and making sure mom knows you didn't crash

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Route up to El Pescadero, in the Santander department of Colombia



I suspect that some of you may have noticed a certain pattern here at Cycling Inquisition. No, I'm not referring to my my chronic spelling and grammatical errors, or my endless references to Cavendish and his khaki-colored teeth. I'm referring to the fact that I tend to post on Mondays and Thursdays. If you've noticed this pattern, give yourself a well deserved pat on the back, because it means that you're an adult that can operate a calendar, which is more than I can say for myself. Anyway, in an effort to continue to bring you quality content twice a week, I will be scaling back the length of the Thursday posts a bit. If any of you have complaints about this announcement, please take it up with the Cycling Inquisition complaints department (dial #3 when you call our 1-800 number). If you want to praise me for making arrangements that will allow me to more easily bring you quality content in the long run, then write me directly, and send me free stuff. Lots of it.


A little (Colombian) cycling history
With that out of the way, I wanted to share two images that exemplify some of what my Thursday posts will now consist of. These are images from Colombia's cycling history which I've been collecting from different sources. As I share them with you, I will try to give a little background on the significance of the images. I hope that these pictures give readers an idea of what Colombian culture (cycling and otherwise) is like. I hope they also show how the sport and its participants are really not as homogeneous as they may appear to some. Enjoy.





Click on the image to see it bigger.
Photo by Horacio Gil Ochoa


Why are all these cyclists lining up at the junior version of the Vuelta A Colombia? Doping control? Signing in for the day's stage? Nope. Colombia is a truly matriarchal society, and these riders are lining up after finishing a stage in order to greet their mothers through the radio. Although many foreign visitors would believe that Colombian households are headed by men, particularly because of the machismo that exists in Latin American society, all of us who were raised in a Colombian household know better. The one you fear is your mom, the one that runs the finances is your mom, the one that makes all the decisions is your mom, and the one that will punish you is your mom. As such, the one you have to greet on the radio at the end of a stage, is your mom.

The white truck they are lining up in front of functioned as the headquarters for Radio Caracol, the large communications company that still owns TV channels and radio stations throughout Colombia. Before the broadcast would be over, almost every single rider in the race would have a chance to come by and say hello to their mom over the airwaves. If a stage had an unusually high number of crashes, the broadcast would end up running long, since all the riders wanted to come by the radio truck, and let their moms know that they hadn't crashed.





Click on the image to see it bigger.
Photo by Horacio Gil Ochoa



Colombian men are, for the most part, mama's boys. In the dark days of the 1980's, many teenage assassins would willingly take assignments that would get them killed, only once they were promised that their mother would receive a refrigerator or stove after they were gunned down. Not all displays of love for Colombian mothers are that morbid though. In the image above, Luis Hernan Diaz from the Canada Dry team gives his concerned mother one last kiss before the start of a stage. Note the tan lines on his hands from his gloves. Diaz was known as "La Bala Colombiana", The Colombian Bullet. He had over 250 podium placings in races all over South America and Europe. This picture was taken in 1969.






Colombia's cycling greats don't just exist in the past tense though. The picture above is of Ruben Restrepo, the 46 year old Colombian mountain bike racer who shares his diminutive bike with his ten year old son (who also races). Ruben is a coal miner, who works under terrible conditions (even by coal-mining standards) to fund his passion. A highly recommended article about him can be found here. Thanks to the anonymous commenter who mentioned this video.