A mother to all Colombian cyclists

With  Cochise Rodriguez  (All photos by: Horacio Gil Ochoa)

With Cochise Rodriguez (All photos by: Horacio Gil Ochoa)

Though I've written about this beautiful character in Colombian cycling before, I thought it was appropriate to do so again this weekend for mother's day, particularly for those of you who are new to the blog."La viejita de Manizales" (the little old lady from Manizales), was a fixture in Colombian cycling for many years, and with good reason. The loving, elderly woman would go to all the races that went through her hometown, and hand out small bags of food for each of the riders and commentators before the race. She was a motherly presence for a large traveling group of Colombian men who no doubt missed their mothers terribly while competing in stage races away from home. Sadly, no one really knew who she was. She was at once joyous ans somber, always dressed in black, perhaps in mourning for someone she'd lost long ago. Through her ongoing presence at races, she became known as the collective mother of the Colombian peloton. But who was she?

With Manuel Puerto, winner of the first U23 Vuelta a Colombia (1968)

Over the years, as I spoke to different riders, commentators and team directors in Colombia, I'd ask each one about her. They all remembered her, but no one knew her name, or why she was so loving toward cyclists in particular. Even Horacio Gil Ochoa, who took these pictures was unsure, telling me,

"You could see that she was not dressed in ragged clothing, but being from Colombia you could still tell that she was poor. And yet she dressed elegantly. Seeing her then, and thinking about her now still moves me. I would watch her closely, often putting my camera down to really look at her and what she was doing, because I found her to be so interesting. I would look at her as she gave a little bag with food to one rider, and then slowly move toward another rider...sadly I never learned her name."

With Ariel Betacourt

Thankfully, once I posted these pictures, I received a message from a reader of the blog.

"I have the answer of who was this woman, she was my grandmother, I could not believe when I saw her picture. Her name was Lastenia Lopez, she lived in Manizales and she was the mother of Arturo "Peluca" Lopez a cyclist from Manizales. If you want to know more please contact me.

I contacted this person right away, and quickly found out more. The person who had left the comment was Maria Lucy R., and that was indeed her grandmother giving small snack bags to Colombia's leading cyclists.

Lastenia Lopez was Maria Lucy's maternal grandmother, the elderly woman pictured in the series by Horacio Gil Ochoa. Lastenia passed away in 1974, when Maria Lucy was only 6 years old. Maria Lucy never met her uncle Arturo "Peluca" Lopez, who sadly died at only 24 years old (she believes in 1963, though she's not certain) when he was run over by a truck while training. Arturo spent several days after the accident in a hospital, but eventually passed. Maria Lucy says there is now a small monument in Manizales with his name in the spot where the accident took place, though she's not certain of its exact location. 

Lastenia had a small stand in the local market, where people would buy their fruits and vegetables. She didn't have much, but loved bringing snacks to the riders, since she loved both cycling and the memory of her deceased son. She always dressed in black, even before her son's passing. Once "Peluca" died, she continued to bring bags to the riders, in memory of her son. 

The loss of "Peluca" troubled her deeply, and her advancing age didn't help matters. Lucy's mom said that Lastenia eventually died from a broken heart over the loss of her son. Her last years were spent bedridden, though Lucy remembers her as a woman with a firm temperament. She doesn't have many memories of Lastenia, as she passed when she was only six years old. Still, Lastenia made an impact on many riders, and through the work of photographer Horacio Gil Ochoa, she's remembered today as as a Mother to all Colombian cyclists. 

With Carlos Arturo Rueda, "The Voice of the Vuelta a Colombia"