Colombian riders gather before the start of Roma Maxima (Photo: Team Colombia)
2013 was a landmark year for Colombian cycling, and because of it (as I mentioned in part 1 of this post riders like Uran, Quintana, Betancur, Atapuma and Serpa are now known quantities. But beyond those riders, there are even more waiting in the wings, eagerly awaiting their chance to make make their presence known. And there's lots of them, that's just how deep the Colombian talent pool is.
Though by no means exhaustive, this list is simply intended as a way of calling attention to riders who may soon become as known as their compatriots. But there are even more than those featured here.
Julian Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing)
When Nairo Quintana first signed with Movistar, he let it be known that he was ready for the Tour de France from day one, and went on to win races right away to prove this point. Perhaps Julian Arredondo feels similarly. Though Trek has already scheduled him to race the Giro (it's unclear what his role there will be), Arredondo knowingly came into the season with good form, in order to show his worth tright away. The native of Bolivar (same town in Antioquia as Carlos Betancur) won the tours of Kumano, and Langkawi last year, prompting him to be signed. This season, he's already won two stages at the Tour of San Luis, and he was also third at the GP Camaiore. Though he's likely to excel in shorter stage races at first, he's also expressed great interest in one race, which he refers to as his favorite in the World Tour calendar: Fleche Wallone. The race would certainly suit his explosive climbing style, and his predilection for that race may indicate that young Colombian riders—who have historically put a great emphasis on grand tours—are starting to see the importance and beauty of one-day races like Fleche Wallone. Hopefully Colombian fans, who have sometimes also been single-minded in their focus on grand torus, will follow.
Arredondo's calendar for the early season is:
Tirreno-Adriatico, Milano-Sanremo, Cataluña, Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallone, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Romandie, Giro d' Italia
You can read a full post about Arredondo and his roots in Colombian cycling here.
Photo: 4-72 Colombia
Juan Chamorro (4-72—Colombia)
When the team (and technical director) that hand picked and helped develop riders like Nairo Quintana, Darwin Atapuma, Esteban Chaves, Fabio Duarte and Sergio Henao place a great deal of attention on a new prospect, you simply have to sit up and take notice. At only 22 years old, Juan Chamorro is one of the riders that 4-72—Colombia expects big results out of. He's a very complete rider, and has already shown his ability to deliver as well. In 2012, Chamorro narrowly missed winning the Tour de l'Avenir (where he was second overall, as well as being second in the mountains classification and third in the points jersey). In 2013, he won the Ronde de I'sard. Before Vacansoleil closed down, the team had expressed interest in Chamorro, and it was almost certain that he was Europe-bound. That will likely still be the case at some point, so look for Chamorro and his team this season, as they'll be competing in Europe for short stints, aiming for wins, and also to show off their riders on a larger stage.
Photo: Cycling Inquisition
Edwin Avila (Team Colombia)
While GC duties at Team Colombia have now been placed on the shoulders of Fabio Duarte, there are other promising riders in the government-backed squad, like Edwin Avila. After signing with Team Colombia, the two-time points race world champion on the track (he just became world champion again in Cali two weeks ago) has taken to the road with ease. Avila has proven to be a strong rider in sprints that take place after enough climbing to tire others out, managing top ten placings many times last year. His development has been slow but steady, and with an experienced sprinter like Leonardo Duque (Vuelta a España stage winner with Cofidis) by his side, Avila is likely to keep improving. His talents would likely come in handy in hilly one-day races, and he dreams of one day doing well at Milan San Remo. Sadly, his team has had a tough time getting invites to many of the races that would suit him. Still, he’s likely to do well in many of the one-day races in Italy that are the mainstay of the team’s program.
Juan Pablo Villegas (4-72—Colombia)
The 26 year old absolutely demolished the competition at the Vuelta a Mexico last week. He won the overall, along with three out of the six stages. His teammate Diego Ochoa won another stage. Colombian riders from the Claro team also took the mountains and point classifications. Villegas' win in Mexico comes after his 8th spot at the Tour Do Brasil, and could help him secure a contract with (at the very least) a US-based continental team, a few of which (Jamis, 5 Hour Energy, Smart Stop, Optum) saw his dominance there first hand. For a first-hand account of Juan Pablo's abilities, you can simply take the words of
Nate King to heart:
"Juan Pablo is a manbeast. Intervals with him brings new meaning to the phrase 'seeing Jesus' for this atheist."
Photo: 4-72 Colombia
Heiner Parra (Caja Rural)
Another product of 4-72 Colombia, Parra signed with Caja Rural last fall after a stage win and taking the mountains classification at the Ronde de l'Isard. Parra is from
Boyaca , and is a strong climber as many other riders from that area are. His talents lie in shorter, steep climbs, though he's not as complete of a riders as Chamorro. Parra hopes for a spot on the Vuelta a España team, so look for him to make his worth known mid-season. It's also worth noting that Parra going from a Colombian development team to a pro continental team is almost a rarity, among all the Colombian World Tour signings as of late. As such, his performance will likely be watched by other pro continental teams in Europe, who are no doubt eager to sign young and relatively inexpensive Colombian talent in years to come.
You can follow Heiner on Twitter here
Photo: Nuestro Ciclismo
Eduardo Estrada (Chambery CF)
With last week's surprise announcement about
joining Tinkoff-Saxo, Colombian fans thought they were in store for a repeat, as it was reported that Eduardo Estrada would be joining Ag2r, and would be racing alongside fellow Colombian Carlos Betancur. Only that's not really the case. Estrada is actually joining Chambery CF, the Ag2r-backed u-23 team in France, which is undoubtedly an important step, and most certainly worth noting. But the propensity of Colombia's cycling media to knowingly make these incorrect statements to make a story seem bigger, is simply troubling. At any rate, with his new team, Estrada will compete in the Tour de l'Avenir, and GiroBio hoping for strong results in order to make the jump to the the team's World Tour counterpart. He's openly said that he's ready to compete, and doesn't merely want to be told that he's there to grow and learn due to being only 19 years old (an ongoing theme with Colombian riders making the jump to Europe).
Eduardo comes from the
, and has a very strong background on the track. He recently beat the PanAmerican individual pursuit record previously held by Taylor Phinney. Last year, he also won six medals (five of them gold) at the PanAmerican junior championships in both the road and track, including his win in the road race, and second place in the time trial. Like Edwin Avila, Estrada presents a case for Colombian riders to be seen as having the ability to do well in disciplines other than climbing. While some suggest he's a sprinter or a time trialist, it's probably too early to tell where his real talent are, but his abilities are certainly not in doubt.
As stated earlier, this list really could go on and on. That's how deep the talent pool is. But for the sake of brevity, I leave you with a handful of riders who get an honorable mention, though they really deserve a good bit more. Feel free to weigh in, and add some of your own to this list through the comments section.
Carlos Alzate (United Healthcare)
Colombian sprinters are the Rodney Dangerfields of cycling. They seldom get the respect, attention or love that their climbing brethren do. Alzate has shown his abilities in the US (nearly winning the NRC), and will look to do the same in Europe as his team's calendar expands. You can read an interview with him
Cayetano Sarmiento (Cannondale) and Winner Anacona (Lampre)
Perhaps it's unfair and disrespectful to put these two guys together in such a short listing, but these are two riders who often ride in supporting roles, but both have the ability to win races, and are often given a long leash as a result. In Colombia's sometimes shortsighted view of the sport, all riders should be leaders at grand tours. That's clearly not the case, and these two riders show how their job can be done with grace, and in a way that makes them be both loved and valued by their teams.
Jessenia Meneses (Affiliated with 4-72)
The only female on this list (but feel free to add your own picks in the comments section) narrowly missed out on a medal at the world championships due to an untimely puncture. She's the current champion in her home state, national champion and PanAmerican champion as well. She'll be backed by 4-72—Colombia this year (though they don't really have a women's team), and will serve as a case study for just how much a rider with natural talent can improve by having the right guidance, training advice and support.
Jarlinson Pantano (Team Colombia)
A multi-talented rider from Cali who will be given some leeway this year after the departure of Esteban Chaves and Darwin Atapuma from Team Colombia. Seventh at Roma Maxima, Pantano looks to be in good form early this season.
Jose Serpa's Facial Hair (Lampre)
? Those pointy 90210 sideburns might be good for two stage wins this year alone.
Commentators at US races would like to have you believe that the Tour of California is a grand tour, and that racing here is exactly the same as in Europe. We know that's not the case, but there's at least one category in which the similarities between European and American cycling are startling: the rider's love for
A group ride in Colombia = 150 people taking over a highway. Yup, that's how it goes.
The photo below was taken by Nate King, who is once again spending his winter in Colombia. You can read my interview with Nate about his time in Colombia
, and you can follow his Colombian adventures on Twitter