What's next for Colombian cycling?

Last weekend, as Nairo Quintana stood on the Tour's final podium in Paris, a sudden and somewhat predictable spike in visitors to the blog began. This was understandable, as people began to search for information about Quintana, and eventually found themselves here. But then the number of visitors grew wildly as though a log scale were being used to calculate readers. This continued for days, and throughout last week often reached comical proportions as non-cycling news organizations began to link and mention my last post. The spike in readership was such that I quickly realized it was not sustainable. In a matter of days, I told myself, things would just go back to the way they were. Just me, typing on my computer, and six people reading. I'm fine with that, and today's post may very well be the beginning of things getting back to normal.

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

A question
Just as I had to ask myself what would be next for the blog after such a spike in visitors (answer: same ol'), a few readers have emailed me asking what's next for Colombian cycling in the face of recent events. In other words, where do things go from here? What's around the corner, and what can we expect? As with all matters (cycling related or not), I don't hold all the answers. Hell, considering how I've been unable to get my weed-whacker started this year, I may not hold any answers at all. But let's take a closer look at a few different riders, teams and events, to see what's next for Colombian cycling. This post won't cover every single rider now in Europe, but will hopefully serve as an overview of what's to come for next year and beyond, particularly for those riders whose future is in flux.

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

The native of Combita's contract with Movistar will come to an end this season. Figures I've heard about his current salary put him in the lower rungs of the sport, almost painfully so. His current financial situation won't remain this way for long, howerver. His amazing season has shown his ability to compete at the highest level, while keeping a cool head, and gladly repaying favors to his teammates. Don't underestimate the power of being a good teammate, and easy to deal with when it comes to negotiations. These are qualities that teams value. As a result, other teams are very interested in Nairo, for obvious reasons, though he's stated his strong and positive feelings about Movistar as a whole many times. As such, it's likely that he'll stay with the Spanish team. This would allow him to stay in a comfortable environment that he knows well, including the ability to speak Spanish with teammates and staff. We'll have to wait and see, since he's such a desirable commodity right now.

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

After his second place in the Giro, many teams showed interest in the native of Urrao, Antioquia. Rigoberto is back in Medellin (where he lives when he's in Colombia), training for the Vuelta and the World Championships. Reports have him signing with Omega Pharma-Quick Step for next year. Could that change? Unlikely. Could that hurt his chances to lead Sky at the Vuelta (as has happened to other riders in the past who are leaving their teams)? Let's hope not. Omega Pharma will be a nice match for Uran, as the team has no major GC riders for grand tours. But the team is highly focused on the spring classics (for obvious reasons), and may need to hire a few riders to help Uran in his quest to win a grand tour. Will Omega Pharma do that for Uran, particularly when Cavendish requires a great deal of focus and support during grand tours, and he's had trouble even getting that from the team?

Photo: Mundo Ciclistico
World Championships
Due to the amazingly high level of Colombian cycling in Europe this season, Colombia's national squad at the world championships will be made up of 9 riders, a full team. This is the first time that Colombia has been allowed to field such a large group at the world championships, and the list of who will occupy the spots is simply impressive.

Rigoberto Urán
Sergio Luis Henao
Carlos Betancur
Nairo Quintana
Fabio Duarte
Darwin Atapuma
Robinson Chalapud
Jarlinson Pantano
Rafael Infantino

Alex Cano
Jánier Acevedo
José Serpa
Miguel Ángel Rubiano
Leonardo Duque
Winner Anacona
Julian Arredondo

Of the top nine riders, only one does not race in Europe, EPM-Une's Rafael Infantino. Infantino is of dual Dominican and Colombian citizenship (though he was raised in Medellin), and raced in Italy briefly. I've written about him and his team before, here.

Reader Mark A. correctly points out that in 1989, Colombia fielded a team of 12 (!) riders. See a photo of the list above, courtesy of Mark.

Photo: Cycling Inquisition
Team Colombia
As a few figures within Colombian cycling look for ways to find the team more funding, there are also reports from journalists in major Colombian newspapers about riders from the team getting offers from World Tour teams, who are suddenly hungery for Colombian riders. Pablo Arbelaez, from Medellin's El Colombiano newspaper has said that Fabio Duarte, Jarlinson Pantano and Robinson Chalapud all have offers from World Tour teams on the table. Esteban Chaves, who sadly lost of most of his season to injury is also rumored to be going to a World Tour team. Should these riders all leave, the team would be gutted, which perhaps begins to explain why Claudio Corti made his way to the Vuelta a Colombia this year, as a way to scout talent? This, in turn, brings up that race itself.

Photo: Ciclismo De Colombia
Vuelta a Colombia
Once a beacon of the sport within the Americas, the Vuelta a Colombia has become more of a national and regional affair. Gone are the days when the likes of Renault, La Vie Claire and Peugeot would make the pilgrimage to Colombia to compete. But this says more about the modern cycling than it does about the race, or Colombia itself. The advent of the Pro Tour/World Tour, changes in calendars and the like have slowly made taking on a brutal climb-filled race in June less desirable to foreign teams. Even if that race has a sixty year plus history to go along with it. And what makes this fact hard to swallow for us Colombians is that a race like the Tour de San Luis has managed to thrive so quickly, and now draws a selection of teams and riders that would make Colombian audiences weep in ecstasy. The reason? Placement in the calendar, and an easier route.

But there may be another issue at play. Hector Abad Facioline, one of Colombia's most revered novelists and columnists, wrote a piece for El Espectador on the day of Quintana's stage win at the Tour de France. Among other issues, Abad raises a troubling point.

"Something strange is occurring. These Colombian cyclists [like Nairo Quintana] who win Europe, can't and don't win here in Colombia. The ones who win the Vuelta a Colombia and our other races are different riders altogether. And while doing so, they have power outputs that are very well beyond the 6.1 watt per kilo. And at least until now, it would appear as though the Colombian Cycling Federation hasn't seen this as unusual or worth looking into. It is as though domestic Colombian cycling is stuck in the past, a time when cheating was so very common in Europe, and unlike the clean cycling that is the future."

Still, the Vuelta a Colombia remains as perhaps the most precious jewel in all of Colombian cycling, due in great part to its history and its value as a way of chronicling the past of the country itself. Let's hope that it finds its way back to what it once was...hell, maybe it can be something even bigger and better.

Photo: Team 4-72 Colombia
Speaking of crown jewels, it's impossible to look at the future of Colombian cycling without noticing the importance of what is easily the most promising incubator of Colombian talent. Yes, I've written about this team and its importance before, but needless to say, Nairo Quintana's performance at the Tour has brought a substantial amount of attention their way. As a result, World Tour teams want in on this latest bounty of Colombian talent, and many have quickly realized where to go to get it. Due to 4-72s bio-passport program, riders within the team are even more attractive to European teams, which helps explain the interest that currently surrounds them. Look for some of them to be racing in Europe next year.

Over the weekend, 4-72 claimed the team classification at the Tour de Alsace, while Fernando Orejuela was second overall. This is preparation for the team's primary target, next month's Tour de L'Avenir, which they've won with Nairo Quintana, Esteban Chaves and nearly had won again last year with Juan Chamorro (on Twitter here), who will lead the team again this time around.

Be on the lookout for some of the team's riders to be racing in Europe permanently next year, along with other Colombians like Sebastian Henao from Coldeportes-Claro. Henao, who is Sergio's cousin is talks with Sky, while Daniel Jaramillo (Indeports Antioquia) is talking with Orica Green Edge about a contract as well. Nairo's brother is also in negotiations with Movistar. So if this season has been called a "rebirth" of Colombian cycling by some, next year could qualify as an outright invasion.

Photo: Team 4-72 Colombia

Clearly things are looking up for Colombian cycling, as a massive amount of interest in teams and individual riders comes about after the strong showings of Quintana, Henao, Uran, Betancur and Team Colombia this year. In fact, this is the best that things have looked for Colombian cycling...maybe ever, even if one goes back the golden era of Herrera and Parra. And luckily, there is much more to come.