Carlos Julio Siachoque. One man, one big win, and a one metric ton of pure cocaine.

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The commissaire that the UCI sent to Colombia for the Clasico POC race in 1974 was asked by the press in Medellin what he thought of Colombian cycling after the race. His response was straightforward:

"Cycling in Colombia is amazing. I was extremely impressed by how riders are able to climb here. The number of fans and their passion is unlike anything I've ever seen. The way that fans and riders approach the sport here is absolute madness!"

The comissaire's response to the Clasico POC race was warranted. The five-day stage race had hosted an impressive line-up, which included Felice Gimondi, Vuelta winner Jose Manuel Fuente, Vicente Lopez Carril (fresh from his victory over Merckx at that year's Tour de France TT), as well as other luminaries of the sport like Giovanni Bataglin, who would go on to win both the Vuelta and the Giro in 1981 and Jose Gonzalez Linares, four time winner of the Vuelta Al Pais Basco. Also present was Colombian Cochise Rodriguez, then racing for the Italian Bianchi team, and Merckx himself was to be there for the race, but a nagging knee injury kept him from making the trip. Even without him, the competition for the local amateurs and young professionals was nearly insurmountable.

Who's the Italian rider in the middle? It's actually Colombia's own Cochise Rodriguez

The grueling Colombian terrain, with its severe shifts in temperature proved difficult for the European riders. On the stage to Santa Helena, Gimondi lost ten minutes, and found himself 23rd in the GC. On the last stage, from Medellin to La Pintada, a young Colombian rider by the name of Carlos Julio Siachoque decided to go it alone. He attacked during the final climb, and dropped all his adversaries. Siachoque would go on to win the Clasico POC, perhaps his greatest victory, although he had also won the Vuelta A Tachira and stood on the podium at the Piccolo Giro years prior. Because his victory had come against such high-level European talent, he was hailed as a national hero.

Carlos Julio Siachoque

As with so many stories in Colmbian cycling, however, things soon changed for Siachoque. It's at this point of the story that I must admit to you how hesitant I am to sometimes share these bits of Colombian cycling history with you. The image of Colombia as a whole has been so tainted, that I sometimes fear I'm making things worse by relaying these stories to you. Perhaps these are my delusions of grandeur working over time, the notion that so many read the blog that it could actually influence how a whole country is viewed. Be that as it may, I will now assume that those of you reading this know that there's more to Colombia than the headlines, and that Colombia is a nation full of wonderful people, and amazing places. So while I worry about the negative image these stories may portray, I find them to be so wildly different from those of cyclists elsewhere, that I simply must share them. So with that out of the way, let me go on.

From 1979 until he retired in 1984, Siachoque raced for the Perfumeria Yaneth team. Perfumeria Yaneth was a known money-laundering operation for one of Colombia's most infamous drug traffickers, Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha. Gacha was responsible for bombings, brutal massacres, and along with Pablo Escobar, had paid for the assassination of Luis Carlos Galan. Galan was a charismatic politician who was widely loved, and would have certainly become Colombia's president in the late 80s. In 1989, Gacha himself was shot down near the coastal town Tolu, after he was pursued by over 1000 members of the Military Police (as Navy SEALs and American Delta Force squads waited in the wings to give assistance).

A rare picture of the Drogueria Yaneth team (a precursor to the Perfumeria Yaneth team). Siachoque sits in the middle row, to the right of the rider with the stylish mustache.

Gacha was an unusual member of the Medellin Cartel, mostly because he ran his operation from Bogota's surrounding areas, which is where he was from. After Gacha's death, however, his operations in and around the capital city weren't completely dismantled. As a matter of fact, one of his stately homes (a full city block in size) still stands behind its massive walls in one of Bogota's most luxurious neighborhoods. By most accounts, it was from that home (which now stands oddly vacant), that many of Gacha's business dealings continued well after his death. Unlike Medellin, which was ravaged by violence because of the drug trade, most violence in Bogota was aimed at politicians (albeit funded by drug money). It's for this reason that large drug busts in Bogota were rare, even during those years.

In 1996, as pressure from the Colombian president mounted, the National Police started what they dubbed "Operacion Triangulo", in which they aimed to seize large shipments of illegal drugs, as well as arresting those involved in trafficking. On November 22, 1996, based on newly acquired intelligence, Carlos Siachoque's home in the San Antonio neighborhood of Bogota was raided by 60 agents of the National Police. Hidden behind sacks of coffee (which were commonly used in an attempt to trick drug-sniffing dogs) police found one metric ton of highly pure cocaine. Some reports said that it was 95% pure, placing its street value well above 35 million dollars. With the advent of crack cocaine, the value could have been nearly double that, due to the amount of fillers that were added in its production. Few remembered the the man in question had been a great figure in the sport of cycling, and had been hailed as a national hero in 1974 as a result of his victory at the Clasico POC. He was now just a man who had been arrested due to having an astonishing amount of pure cocaine in his modest home in Southern Bogota. Bogota's El Tiempo newspaper ran a single story about the arrest, a clear sign of the climate in both the city and the country. A man, once hailed as a national hero, was found to have a full ton of pure cocaine, and the article is only a few paragraphs long, and was buried deep in the newspaper. Such were the times.

In 1999, Siachoque was sentenced to six years in jail. After serving his time, he was released, and has largely kept out of the public eye. He does continue to ride and train in and around Bogota however. In July of 2010, at 61 years old, he participated in the Senior Master's category nationals in Colombia...where I'm sure he was greeted as nothing more than the man who beat Gimonidi.

Suggested reading:

A post about Pablo Escobar, his involvement in cycling, and what happened to many of the professional riders who crossed his path

The story of Alfonso Florez, the Colombian cyclist who won the Tour L' Avenir, and was later murdered.

A post regarding the elation and misery that was the 80s in Bogota, and how cycling played a role in it, as well as the extreme emotions displayed by Colombian broadcasters during cycling races.

A closer look at the connection between coffee and cycling, from the point of view of an actual, real-life Colombian citizen (me).

A little story about the isolation that Colombian riders felt in Europe during the 80s

Pictures and stories about racing in Medellin.

Interview with Cesar Grajales, where he discusses his time at Rock Racing very openly

An interview with the proprietor (a frame maker) of one of Lucho Herrera's bikes