Racing in a Colombian team, and being left behind at the finish line while wearing the yellow jersey. An interview with Danish Cafe De Colombia rider Jørgen Pedersen.

(Photo: Cycling Archives)

With the Giro in full swing, and with fifteen Colombian riders competing in the race, there's been a fair amount of talk about Colombia's present and past in the sport (admittedly, some of this talk was my own, just look at my last post.) As I've written in the past, I grew up watching these teams, and couldn't help but cheer them on from my family's home in Bogota all those years ago. Today, one of the aspects that keeps me coming back to those teams, and the riders that made them up, are the varied personalities and life experiences they represent. Even their takes on the time they spent racing in Europe and among Europeans are varied, and far from homogeneous.

This prompted me to ask myself, what if the shoe was on the other foot? In other words, how would Europeans feel racing in Colombia, and perhaps being the odd man out, among an all-Colombian team? Well, as it turns out, that question is not merely a rhetorical one. Jørgen Pedersen, the Danish rider who was part of the Cafe De Colombia squad (one of two Danes in the team), experienced this exact thing. He raced and trained in Colombia, all while being surrounded by a team almost entirely made up of Colombians, which itself was the centerpiece of a nation's maniacal love for the sport. I decided to speak with Jørgen, to find out about his experience within Cafe De Colombia, but also about his experiences within the peloton during his time as a professional.

Thanks Jørgen for his time, and to Adam Hansen from for helping make this interview possible.

(Photo: Jørgen Pedersen)

How did you first become involved in cycling, and how did your first pro contract with Carrera come about?

My father was as young amateur bike rider, I got the interest from him. 
I went to Italy with the Danish Bike Federation in the beginning of the 80es and got some good results, which created interest from an amateur team, Fiat Agri.  After the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984,  I was contacted by Davide Boifava from team Carrera, where I signed my first pro contract.

In your first full year as a professional, you won a stage at the Tour de France, an impressive accomplishment by any measure. What are your memories of that day, and what was your strategy going into the final sprint?

Close to the finish line, I realized that there were only three of us for the sprint. I then saw the two other riders talk among themselves. Then, one did the sprint for the other, but I was in his wheel and just gave it 100%. 
When we passed the finish line, we were so close that I did not know at once if I had won.
 Winning a stage in my first Tour de France, as a neo pro was a big result, and my first thought after was that after stage win I had to finish the race, and arrive to Paris.

Stage 10, 1985 Tour de France

In 1986, you held the yellow jersey for five days at the Tour. Did you have any idea when you were in the break, that this could happen?
With today's technology and radios, it would have been obvious, but things were different in 1986.
 No, I had no idea, I remember a Danish journalist coming up to me, and he had made some calculations and explained that according to him I had the yellow jersey. A fantastic day.


After getting the yellow jersey on the podium ceremony, you were left without anyone from the team to guide you to a team car, or hotel. You were lost, and wearing the yellow jersey. How on earth did that happen, and what did it feel like?
That’s right, I have never had an explanation from Davide Boifava [from Carrera], but I assume that he never imagined that this could happen.

I remember having a little piece of paper with the name of the town and hotel in my pocket, just in case, this happened. When I came to the hotel on my bike, I remember my masseur coming towards me and starting crying, very emotional.

(Photo: Cycling Archives)

What was the greatest benefit of having the yellow jersey?

First of all, respect in the peloton and amongst my team mates.

In 1989, you signed with Cafe De Colombia. How did that come about?

In 1988 I was riding in Spain at Team BH and during TdF that year I had several offers from different teams. Rafael Antonio Niño came with an offer that I could not refuse. Cafe de Colombia was in need of big and strong riders to help mainly Herrera against the wind on the flat stages

Before your contract with the team, had you had any interaction with Colombian riders or the team, beyond simply riding alongside them?

Was anything different in Cafe De Colombia from other non-Colombian teams like Carrera and BH? How were you treated as a Dane by Colombians?
The team was different, but on the good way. I remember all my teammates in the Team Café de Colombia as extremely nice and happy people. Maybe because they already knew what it was like to feel like a stranger in the peloton?

1989 (Photo: M. Ashton)

Since you were hired to part to protect riders like Herrera in the flats, was that a job you enjoyed? Did you develop a relationship with Herrera? He's notoriously quiet.

Yes, we would mainly protect Herrera and I loved my time with the team. Probably because of language problems my relationship with Herrera did not develop much, but I remember that the four riders in the team who were from Europe were invited to visit him at his home in Fusagasugá.

One of those riders was Jesper Worre, a fellow Dane. Was it helpful for you to have a countryman there with you? Worre aside, how did you communicate with your teammates? Had you learned some Spanish during your time with BH?

Off course it was a big help having Worre on the team, actually I was the one who suggested Worre to Niño for the team. Worre and I had been friends for many years and lived next door to each other in Italy. 
Living in Italy gave me the opportunity to learn Italian and during my year on BH I learned a little Spanish, so a mix made me able to understand and have a simple conversation.

Jørgen in Fusagasuga, with the bull that Lucho Herrera won at the 1985 Tour de France. The bull, named Buquest, took two years to make it into Colombia, and was quarantined for two months at Bogota's El Dorado airport upon his arrival. He became Herrera's beloved pet, and lived until 1993. (Photo: Jørgen Pedersen)

What are your fondest memories of your time with Cafe De Colombia?
I remember my time on the team as being some of the best years as professional, everyone was nice and very helpful to us. A funny thing that I remember was my first visit to Colombia. We were picked up in the airport of Bogota and some people from the team brought us to a special exit that meant that we jumped the passport control, I remember this as a very funny thing.

Did you ever visit Colombia for team camps, or races? If so, what did you think of it?

Yes, the first year started with a team camp and team presentation at the head office of Café de Colombia, followed by some races. I remember all the riders going 100% from first second of the race, and Worre and I were lost in the back end of the peloton having problems following the high speed. The altitude and lack of red blood cells in our blood made it very hard. Actually we did several races in Colombia, among others the Clasico RCN

Under his city of birth, and birth date, the caption reads, "30 years old, married, one son" (Photo: Jørgen Pedersen)

How were you treated by Colombian fans? Having a Dane in a Colombian team was certainly unusual at the time.

They understood that we were on the team to help Herrera, so I was treated very well.

What do you miss most about being a professional cyclist, and what do you miss the least?

The feeling of success and recognition when you have a good race and all my good teammates, and the exciting life of a professional.
 What I miss the least is all the time away from your family.

After your retirement, you were a director at CSC. Did you enjoy working as a director during those years, particularly having your cousin Jakob Pill in the team?
Yes, Bjarne Riss called me and offered me a job. I was a key account manager, and part time sports director. It was a fantastic opportunity to come back to the world that I had been a part of years earlier. I could see the chance that had happened for good and bad.

Cycling has always evolved, both in technology, how races unfold, and team tactics. Do you prefer the way things were during your time as a professional, or do you see validity in how things have changed in the sport?
I don’t like the radio communication, from my point of view it takes the spontaneity and fast decisions from the riders. They don’t have to think anymore, they wait for instructions from the director, and this spoils the race.
 A part from that we still see fantastic races and dramas in the big hills and time trails.


Grand tours generate a great deal of content in the form of video, text and photography. Thus far in the Giro, the photo below is my absolute favorite, courtesy of Manual For Speed.


I bring up Manual For Speed in order to show you the photo above, but also because I'd like to tell you that during this season, I'll be contributing content to their site as well. You can get a tiny taste of what's to come here. It will be very good stuff. Stay tuned.