2013, a tale of bedazzled jeans, sleeping babies, and surprising surprises that surprised no one

photo: Cycling Inquisition

In my personal life, I obsess about being on time. This is often difficult, since I'm Colombian, and thus have a somewhat relaxed sense of timeliness about me. So in a sense, this very post is an example of that inner struggle, since it's being published in 2014, but is intended to be a review of 2013. What can I say, the struggle (like that of getting people to come to a cyclocross race in Rome, am I right?) continues.

What follows are random thoughts, insights and memorable things I saw and noticed during 2013. 

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

Oddly quiet
When I was 14, I saw a guy get hit over the head with a beer bottle. The bottle didn't break, and the sound I expected to hear (of glass breaking, as it would in the movies) never happened. Instead, there was a frightening thud, followed by the man collapsing like a sack of potatoes. It was a terrible visual, but the most memorable part of the ordeal was just how eerily quiet it all was.

I bring this up because at the Giro last year, I was in the last kilometer of stage 20 to Tre Cime di Lavaredo. Despite sizable crowds, cars, and helicopters, I was amazed by how insanely quiet it was (though no one got hit with a bottle this time). Deep snow cover seemed to mute just about every sound, making the whole event more surreal. Ongoing snowfall often prevented me from seeing what rider was coming up the road, until he was almost at my feet. The whole thing felt a bit like a sensory depravation chamber, this despite the fact that I was at a sporting event, and surrounded by people. Still, because of how odd everything felt that day, it was not until later that I realized how special the day had been, particularly for Colombian riders, who finished second, third and fourth on the day.

Marentes and Betancur

So vivid and unusual is my memory, that I've chosen not to watch video of that day's stage. As studies have proven, there's really no correlation between how vivid a memory is and how accurate it is. So I chose not to ruin a good thing, even if (sadly) it comes at the expense of those things that I never got to see that day. So be it.

A surprising surprise that didn't surprise me
When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Anyone who has followed the career of Mario Cipollini would surely expect him to wear bedazzled, sparkly jeans. And he most certainly does. And while I half-expected that, seeing a grown man (Cipollini or not) wear pants that look like they came from a sale rack at a Value City in rural Iowa (no disrespect to my midwestern brothers and sisters) was one of the most memorable things I witnessed in 2013. But also one of the most obvious.

Leonardo Duque sleeps during a transfer at the Giro (photo: Cycling Inquisition)

Like babies
Like Cipollini's pants, I know that what I'm about to tell you will not surprise you. But here it goes anyway: riders spend huge amounts of energy during a grand tour , which leads to them being exhausted all the time. I knew this before going to the Giro, but being around riders from Team Colombia during the race was still surprising, because I noticed just how much they slept throughout the day. Even a five minute gap in activities was be filled with a tiny nap, since their bodies are ready to fall asleep at any moment. Sitting on the bus, sitting before dinner, in their hotel rooms before the massage, and after. Actually, their sleep patterns were more akin to my dog than any human I know.

Speaking with one rider about this, he also explained to me that there's often little else to do when they are not racing, so why not spend the time sleeping? Which brings me to my next point. 

photo: Cycling Inquisition

It never dawned on me that transfers during a grand tour could be as long and horrible as they were at the Giro. And this was a supposedly a very easy year in that regard, but the tedium must me maddening to the riders (hence the existence of the pro cycling book club). They have to sit in traffic far longer than even big-city commuter. 

Again, this is a testament to the fortitude of riders and staff, who go through this day in and day out...a process that would likely bring most of us to our knees very quickly. And to be honest, it nearly brought me to my knees, and I wasn't even riding a bike during any of this.

photo: Cycling Inquisition

Eh, what can you do?
I know I mentioned this on the blog before, but it was surprising to be at the Vini Fantini hotel the day that Danilo DiLuca's positive was announced at the Giro. Surprising because of the relaxed attitude that nearly everyone seemed to have on the matter. Sure, this was not his first time at that rodeo, but the (literal) shoulder-shrugging was interesting to see.

How fast do you want to go?
It hadn't occurred to me, but it's something I learned quickly. When you have a rental car with a sticker across the top of the windshield stating that you're allowed to be on the race course, you are almost royalty. I mean, that's a stretch, but it does allow you to do some crazy things. My favorite was this: if you get ahead of the race, by about half an hour or so, the roads will be closed, and you are free to drive as you please. The only rule you must follow is simple, you can't backtrack. So as long as you are moving in the right direction, feel free to drive as insanely fast as you want on empty, winding roads, all as cops wave you through with a smile. The only people who mind are spectators on the side of the road, who rightfully fear for their lives. Because of this, they all (regardless of the country) do an international hand gesture to get you to slow down. It's done with either one or both arms, flapping them up and down, in a manner reminiscent of the House Of Pain "Jump Around" video. When you see people do this, you can almost hear that weird, high-pitched squeal that is used as that song's primary sample play in your head.

Because of this, you respect those areas that are crowded as much as you can, but then go nuts in the vacant ones. But at that some point you'll realize that a Fiat Panda is not intended to be driven at insanely high speeds, and for such long periods of time. And trouble will find you in some way. But until then, it's very, very fun to drive around like a lunatic, simply because of a sticker that you've been given, which in turn grants you super powers.

photo: Cycling Inquisition

Trouble wherever we go
At the Tour of Colorado (sorry, the real name of the race escapes me), there were endless warning over race radio, and on the race bible about riders not going back to their team buses after the uphill time trial to Vail Pass by riding on I-70. After hearing about this many times, I asked a race official how come this was being stressed so much, and so often. Who would ride on an interstate to get back to Vail? 

"A couple of years ago, a Colombian team was at the race. They didn't have enough cars or vans to take riders back, so they went down the runaway truck ramp, onto I-70, and just rode to Vail on the highway" 

I had to laugh. Of course it had to be one of us Colombian trouble makers. But then I thought about it. I-70 in Colorado is not that different from the roads that some Colombian train on. Wider yes, but 18 wheelers are common training companions for many in Colombia, so they probably thought nothing of it.

Pozzato at the Giro's uphill time trial (photo: Manual For Speed)

Pomp and circumstance
This year, I learned just how much some riders enjoy the pageantry that surrounds the sport. Sure, some of this could be explained by the mere fact that on days or races that don't suit them, some riders are far more relaxed than others. But how else can you explain the fact that while some riders hide away (rightfully) in their team bus, others walk among the fans simply waiting to be recognized? At the Giro, I saw Pozzato doing this several times, delighting in people's surprise to find him standing right next to them. In some cases, his ability to mingle was encumbered by the speed at which he could walk. Solution? A mountain bike (reflectors and all), which allowed him to ride in circles around the crowds for no reason in particular, other than to be seen...much to the delight of fans.  He did this for hours.

photo: Cycling Inquisition
Like they say in American football...
Certain teams within the world of American football are said to "travel well". This refers to the fact that their fans will actually travel to see them play away games, or that their fan base is so widespread and active in other cities, that even an away-game can feel like one at home to the team. 

Perhaps by the strict definition of the term, it would be a stretch to say that Colombian riders "travel well", but it's interesting to see just how many Colombian fans, flags and attention these riders get when they race abroad. This is perhaps due to the fact that those of us who live outside of Colombia feel so far from home, that we get madly excited to have ambassadors (of sorts) for the country in our neck of the woods. This leads to unusual circumstances, like entire Colombian dance troupes showing up to races to perform outside team buses, and tiny grandmothers making homemade food for the riders. Unusual, but amazing to see. 

Nevertheless, there's something unusual about all this: we Colombians feel an instant connection and limited sense of ownership over these riders when we encounter them abroad. That much is clear. But what does this feel like to them, and would they ever admit to it? Is it always a happy exchange? Is it always flattering? Not the food, mind you, but the fact that others have this connection to you, an an unspoken sense of ownership.

photo: Cycling Inquisition

Bonus content: Playlist overheard during a transfer in the Team Colombia bus at the Giro (as originally reported in Manual For Speed)

Still Into You by Paramore
Quien Eres Tu by Frank Reyes
Cositas Que Haciamos by Farruko
Rechazame by Prince Royce
Se Me Olvido Que Te Amaba by Frank Reyes
Ayer Te Vi Con El by Frank Reyes
Molinos De Viento by Mago De Oz
El Presente by Julieta Venegas
La Herida by Heroes Del Silencio
Me Voy by Julieta Venegas
Angelito by Aventura
You by Romeo Santos
Pienso En Ti by Frank Reyes
Amore Disperato by Nada


At the risk of repeating myself, I want to remind you that winter caps are back in stock (and some summer ones still remain). For more information, you can go here

A few copies of Matt Rendell's Kings of the Mountains also remain

Some of you may remember that back in February of 2012, I mentioned a project I had helped with, whereby Rapha would donate part of the proceeds from a Colombia-themed jersey to kids in the Rigoberto Uran Cycling Club in Urrao, Colombia. Well, just last week, Rigoberto himself delivered five brand new, fully built up bikes to the club, which were purchased with the funds that were raised. He also gave out his remaining kit and shoes from last season, as well as jerseys and socks from local companies to the cycling club that now bears his name.