jueves, 5 de junio de 2014

Cycle Racing and the Armed Conflict

Cyclist Rigoberto Urán, whose
father was murdered by paramilitaries.
Colombian cyclist Rigoberto Urán's second-place finish on Sunday in the Giro d'Italia would have made headlines - if not for the fact that another Colombian, Nairo Quintana, finished first.

But Urán had to climb over more than hills to achieve cycling greatness. He also had to overcome illness, poverty and the tragedy of Colombia's armed conflict.

Born in 1987 in the municipality of Urrao, Antioquia province, Urán grew up poor, helping his father to collect milk from farms and sell lottery tickets. The young Urán suffered from asthma, and to cure this his father took him cycling thru the region's hills when the boy was 13. The exercise soon helped cure the asthma.

However, like much of Colombia, the Urrao region was roamed by violent bands of leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries. One day, the elder Urán - also named Rigoberto - went out on a training ride and encountered an illegal paramilitary checkpoint. Altho what happened next is apparently uncertain, the younger Urán says that the paramilitaries forced his father and other kidnappees to steal cattle for them - and then killed the men.

Fatherless, the 14-year-old Urán was forced to support his family by selling lottery tickets. Nevertheless, he continued training, and soon after was signed by the Orgullo Paisa racing team. Now, he supported his family with his cycling income.

Luis 'Lucho' Herrera 
By age 18 Urán was in Colombia's national team, and a year later Team Tenax had signed him and moved him to Spain. However, after Urán suffered a severe bicycling accident, the team sent him to live with a family in northern Italy to recover and train.

Other Colombian cyclists' scrapes with the conflict have fortunately not been so tragic. Luis 'Lucho' Herrera was a legendary climber who achieved immortality in 1987 by winning the Vuelta a España. He retired in 1992 to dedicate himself to his family.

However, in 2000 Herrera was kidnapped by guerrillas. The kidnapping lasted only one day however. According to one report I read, only after the kidnapping did the guerrillas discover who they were holding. They then asked their captive to recount his racing glories, and freed him after only 24 hours, apparently embarrassed about having kidnapped a national hero.

Also in 2000, fellow cyclist Oliverio Rincón was kidnapped twice, once together with his family, by the ELN and later by the FARC guerrillas. The first time, he was held for a week, and the second for only one day. After his second kidnapping, Rincón said that the guerrillas apologized to him.

The kidnappers "told me that I wasn't the person they were looking for, that it was a mistake and that they were very sorry about it," Rincon said.

Blog by Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

martes, 3 de junio de 2014

The Secrets of the Sudden Success of Colombian Cyclists

All smiles:Nairo Quintana celebrates victory in the Giro d'Italia.
the Giro d'Italia, which ended yesterday. was all Colombia. Boyacense Nairo Quintana finished first, Antioqueño Rigoberto Urán second and fellow Antioqueño Julián Arredondo took the King of the Mountain jersey. Perhaps we should have seen it all coming since last year, when Quintana finished second and won the best climber's jersey in the Tour de France and Urán took second in the Giro d'Italia.

Rigoberrto Urán pops open a frizzy one after winning
stage 12 of the Giro d'Italia.
These guys are only the best known of a crop of young riders. How has Colombia produced such a great crop of young riders? What's changed? Here are some ideas:

Colombia's economy has grown, enabling local businesses to sponsor young riders and help them onto the first rung of the ladder toward professional racing.

Colombia is safer - This has made Colombia's own tour, the Vuelta a Colombia, more attractive to foreign riders, giving Colombian cyclists both more high-lever racing experience and opportunity to be discovered by Eruopean racing teams.

World cycling authorities have cracked down on doping. According to this theory, Colombia's many
Julian Arredondo, the Giro d'Italia's best climber.
mountains and opportunities for high-altitude training give its riders a natural advantage - but that advantage was for many years nullified by the common use of drugs like EPO,and blood transfusions, which artificially boost red blood cell levels. In the post-Lance Armstrong era, doping seems to have dropped - or at least changed - perhaps restoring high-altitude trainers' natural advantages.

Whatever happens, Colombia's cycling boom has potential to last, and even grow. That's pretty good for a relatively small, relatively poor developing nation.

Even so, as others have observed, cycling still receives only a fraction of the attention of futbol. Hundreds of Colombian journalists are following the national football squad during its World Cup training, but only a few covered the Giro d'Italia - even tho Colombia's not likely to win the football World Cup. El Tiempo, the country's main newspaper, covered its front page Monday with a picture of Quintana kissing the Giro's trophy, and even dyed the paper pink (representing the winning rider's pink jersey). But by this afternoon, the paper's website had returned to World Cup coverage.

Results of the 2010 Giro d'Italia. The sole Colombian flag marks Rigoberto Urán, the seventh-ranked young rider.

What a difference five years make! The 2014 Giro d'Italia's winners lists have eight Colombian flags - altho three of them belong to Nairo Quintana.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

domingo, 1 de junio de 2014

Bike Polo in the Parque Nacional

These guys were playing a bike polo match this afternoon in the Parque Nacional. Nothing too novel in that - Bogotá's bike polo league has been going for a few years now. Most, but not all, of the players use fixies.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Cycling on 2, 3 and 4 Wheels in the National Park

Bogotá's District Institute of Recreation and Sports, the IDRD, is lending these pedal vehicles in the Parque Nacional on many Ciclovia days.

I'm not sure what to call them - bikes? trikes? quadricycles? pedal vehicles? But they do look fun, if not so maneuverable.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours