The Vuelta a Guatemala: A case study on how differently different we are.





I can remember it like it was only two weeks ago...and perhaps that's because it was only two weeks ago. It was then that I posted an image of Paris-Roubaix winner Johan Vansummeren and Thomas Dekker in blackface. Like most of my posts, that one was largely ignored by everyone. Luckily, because of my short stature and less-than-stellar personality, I learned how to deal with being ignored at an early age.

So if you were one of the many people who ignored that post, allow me to tell you that it dealt with the topic of cultural differences around the world. In a way, today's post deals with the same topic, but does not feature professional cyclists in blackface. Instead, today's offering highlights more pleasant differences across cultures, all through the lens of the Vuelta A Guatemala.

Exhibit A is the photo above, which was taken at the finish line of a Vuelta A Guatemala stage in the mid 1960s. Yes, the finish line for that stage was a soccer goal. Could the race have ended this way in another country? Perhaps, but it certainly speaks volumes about that time and place. It's specific to the place where it was taken. In my eyes, that's a fantastic achievement when you think of it from today's point of view, a time when homogenization is often seen as "brand consistency".

As much as I like that photograph, I have to say that the short video below is even better. It's better because it shows how small towns in Latin American countries—and the people that live in them—absolutely love both cycling and spectacle. They love a party, a parade, and any reason to be joyous. This is something that my American wife experienced first-hand some years ago, when we spent a Saturday afternoon near the rural town of Nemocón in Colombia. As we were walking down the street, a band went by, playing festive music, as people in the neighborhood came out to dance and sing. The crowd on the street grew as they moved down the block. My wife, having never seen such a thing, rightfully asked what the special occasion was. "Are we here on a special holiday?" "No" I told her, "it's just a Saturday afternoon."

If you've been in small Latin American towns like this, you'll know what I mean. The energy simply can't be compared to anything I've experienced in the United States or Europe. It's uniquely Latin American, because of its honesty. It's not a put on, it's not meant to be ironic, it's not meant to be funny or look good in pictures that will be posted on blogs. So when a cycling race comes to town, it gives people one more reason to celebrate.



It's worth noting that due to all the confetti and balloons, the person who the commentators thought was going to win, was actually passed by another rider, leaving them both a bit confused and surprised.



So, perhaps some of you had never heard of the Vuelta A Guatemala, which is understandable. But I hope that this video gives you an idea of just how important these races are to many other people. In Colombia, the Vuelta A Guatemala has always been thought of as being an important part of the calendar. It's perhaps for this reason that Colombians have won the race more times than riders from any other nationality (Guatemala included). The latest winner, as a matter of fact, is Colombia's Giovanny Baez.



How does a rider from a mountainous country like Colombia know when his weight is optimal for racing at a high level? If the podium girls can pick him up, that's certainly a start, as shown by Baez in Guatemala.




If you want to learn a bit more about the Vuelta A Guatemala, below you'll find some great newsreel footage of the event in 1957 (it's first year).

Some highlights:

at 4:33
The first "leader's sweater" is awarded. The jersey is formally referred to as the "Quetzal Sweater". Quetzal being the Guatemalan currency, and the name of a small bird whose green tail feathers were said to be used as currency by the native population prior to them being colonized.

at 6:19
President Carlos Castillo Armas cheers riders on, and rides along with them on his motorcycle. The announcer states that Castillo Armas is there as a "true Guatemalan", but for obvious reasons chooses not to mention that he was put into power by a CIA-backed coup in 1954 in order to overthrow the democratically elected Jacobo Armenz Guzman. Castillo Armas was assassinated in 1957 while still in power.

at 7:40
An unpaved climb forces riders off their bikes



The second part of the report can be found here.




Lastly, I'd like to say that things may be a bit slow over the next couple of weeks here at Cycling Inquisition. If the last two years are any indication, traffic to the blog will go down dramatically as people take vacation, and endure spending time with family for the holidays. As such, I expect to be back in the New Year, though I may post here and there before then.

In the meantime, you should go listen to my brother's podcast. This latest episode features a guest named @mmmaiko, who judging by her picture on Twitter, appears to be a beauty-conscious house cat. How my brother managed to talk to a cat about cycling, I'll never know...so tune in and listen to his latest feat in cycling broadcasting.



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PS:





While cycling fans may be saddened by likely loss of a great athlete in the peloton, I'm certain that Mauricio Soler's family will be happy to have him home and alive for the holidays...regardless of whether he rides again or not. ¡Fuerza Mauricio!

Update:
In the comments section, Steve was kind enough to point out that a video of Mauricio's return to Bogota was just posted on YouTube. In the interview he apologizes for the fact that his voice is not very strong, and that he gets very tired when speaking and walking. He thanks all those in Colombia who stood by him, and mentions that his wife spent the whole time in the hospital sleeping in a couch next to his bed. Please note his parents, who are shown 9 seconds in, are wearing traditional clothing from his home department of Boyaca. His mom stands next to him throughout the interview as well.