Stars, water carriers, and the quest to answer a 41-year-old question at this year's Giro.

If you blink, you'll miss it. That's how quickly it goes by. As such, most anyone who has ever watched the 1973 film Stars and Watercarriers, never noticed it. But it's there. An extremely brief but significant record of the first Colombian rider to ever compete in a grand tour, all in full color. Cochise Rodriguez stands by the sign-in sheet, apparently looking for his spot on the large piece of paper, as the announcer points to him and says, "Rodriguez, Bianchi-Campagnolo". It's the only time that Rodriguez really appears in the movie (as far as I can tell, and thanks to my brother for pointing it out). It's not much to speak of, but its significance is immense.

And just as quickly as the moment comes, it goes, as the film moves on to document the rest of the 1973 Giro d'Italia, and understandably so. After all, Rodriguez, despite his talent and natural ability, was one of the "watercarriers" that the movie's title references. But in that instant, as insignificant and brief as it may seem, the film captures the start of Colombia's relationship with the Giro d'Italia and, in the absence of such footage featuring Giovanni Jimenez, professional cycling as a whole. It's a relationship that would grow significantly over time, as men like Lucho Herrera, Chepe Gonzalez, Oliverio Rincon and others would claim important wins in Italy's grand tour.

In that 1973 edition, Cochise Rodriguez was 31 years old, and his very best years were likely behind him. He was already a world champion in the pursuit, and also held the amateur hour record, which he'd set in Mexico City. He'd won the Vuelta a Colombia four times. Still, he managed to make his presence known in Italy that June.

Stage 15 was set to end in a bunch sprint due to its gentle, undulating profile. But with only 2 kilometers to go, Cochise accelerated away from the peloton. Sprinter teams sent their men to the front, working to reel back the man from Medellin, all to no avail. Rodriguez won the stage, and celebrated by raising one arm as he went across the finish line, three seconds ahead of the pack that contained some of the best sprinters in the sport. He'd won in definitive fashion, and in doing so became the first Colombian to win a stage in a grand tour. All this in his first race as a professional.

1973 Giro d´Italia, Stage 15
Sunday, June 3rd
Firenze - Forte dei Marmi
1. Martin Cochise Rodriguez, Colombia, 3:41:12
2. Marino Basso, Italy, 3"
3. Roger de Vlaeminick, Belgium, ST
4. Patrick Sercu, Belgium, ST
5. Rik Van Linden, Belgium, ST

In light of Cochise's unbelievable talent, palmarès and abilities, La Gazzetta dello Sport’s would go on to lament the time Cochise had lost while racing in Latin America as an amateur, saying “If he had come to Europe five years ago, he could have been a sort of Eddy Merckx.” In saying to, one of the biggest sports newspapers in the world had raised a valid but painful question, not just about Cochise, but about Colombian cycling as a whole. What if.

Colombia's El Tiempo newspaper had a more positive take on Cochise's victory, saying that he'd just begun to "taste the delicious honey of victory", a phrase that doesn't necessarily sound any less awkward in Spanish than it does when translating it verbatim into English. But its one that spoke of a bright future. Perhaps not just for Cochise, but other men from Colombia. 

Tomorrow, the Giro d'Italia starts with an unusually high number of Colombian riders, including two legitimate favorites in Uran and Quintana, two men who know each other well since they lived together until recently in Pamplona. Two men that no doubt will seek to answer that "what if" question that La Gazzetta dello Sport asked many years ago.

Though men like Herrera, Gonzalez, Betancur, Atapuma and Uran himself have undoubtedly started to answer this question in earlier editions of the race, this could very well be the year that matters are finally settled. Simple watercarriers no more, Colombia's moment in the spotlight is here, and many of us hope that this time, it will last longer than the blink of an eye.

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

Photo: Cycling Inquisition

Photo: Cycling Inquisition