The Clásico RCN, an integral part of Colombia's cycling heritage

The Clasico RCN has long been regarded as Colombia's second most important stage race (after the Vuelta A Colombia). These days, the race is held in late September (into early October,) though its location in the calendar has changed many times since 1961. 

In the 1980s, the race became a common stop for European teams. Pascal Simon, Laurent Fignon, Bernard Hinault, Greg Lemond, Sean Kelly and Claudio Chiappucci all made the pilgrimage to Colombia in order to take on famed Andean climbs like the 52 mile (83 km) Alto de Letras. But despite the impressive list of foreign riders who have taken on the Clasico, only one has managed to win it, Oscar Sevilla. Other winners include Luis Herrera, Fabrio Parra, Pacho Rodriguez, Alvaro Mejia, and Rafael Antinio Niño, who won the race a record five times.

As has always been the case, the event is sponsored by RCN, one of the oldest radio and television networks in Colombia. These days, the race is also sponsored by EPM, the company behind the EPM-Une team

This year's race starts in the coastal city of Cartagena on September 28th, and finishes in Tunja (in the cycling-mad department of Boyaca) on October 7th. If you speak Spanish, you can follow the race through Radio RCN online. I'll post links to the live audio feeds once the race starts. 

Here's a quick overview of the race's past:

The feared Club Singer team claimed the overall title in the 1971 edition. At least at first. The day after the last stage, Alvaro Pachon was disqualified due to a positive test, so the title was given to Rafael Niño. A couple of years ago, I spoke with Pachon at his bike shop in Bogota, and he proudly told me how his team was so strong, that they struck fear in the competition. Looking at this picture, and despite the director's smile, I'd have to agree. From left to right: Jorge Gonzalez, Efrain Forero (director, and first winner of the Vuelta a Colombia), Juan de Dios "Escobita" Morales, and Fabio Navarro.

Race leaders pose for the camera before the stage starts. From left to right: Gonzalo Marin (who was later responsible of plotting one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Colombian history, and was subsequently assassinated), Fabio Navarro, Edgar Rios, Patrocinio Jimenez (one of the first Colombians to ride the Tour), Samuel Cabrera (who went on to ride with both Varta, Cafe de Colombia and Reynolds).

Early on in the race's history, European riders were attracted to the Clasico. Here, the Fiat-Trattori team can be seen as they hold four out of the five jerseys at an early stage in the race.

For several years during the 1980's, a female version of the Clasico RCN took place at the same time as the men's race. The female version (which was 8 days long) was widely known as one of the most grueling stage race's in the women's calendar. The race was commonly dominated by Jeannie Longo, but Colombians like Rosa Emma Rodriguez, Alicia Bulla, Adriana Muriel and Martha Luz Lopez were able to shine on home soil. They represented the female teams for some of the leading men's squads of the time: Cafe De Colombia, Postobon, and Pony Malta.

Only at the Clasico RCN. Hinault practices the podium duties he'd go on to fulfill after retiring, as he awards Herrera a watch for winning a stage. On his left wrist, Herrera still wears the Casio watch that he had for much of his career. As a result of Herrera wearing that watch (a super thin model, with the digits at a 45 degree angle) without fail, I begged my parents on several occasions to buy me one like it.

Pope John Paul II is given the overall winner's jersey that Pacho Rodriguez won at the Clasico RCN in 1985. Giving the Pope the jersey is ZOR director Javi Minguez. 

The race in 1986 was billed as a duel between Herrera and Hinault. This prompted RCN to run these TV commercials, which showed a bizarre cowboy-style showdown between the two. Subtitled.

An overview of the race in 1983, including highlights of the European and American riders and teams that traveled to Colombia in order to compete in the race. Subtitled.