Colombia had a season of cycling that saw more ups than downs – but from unexpected sources this time. Gaviria is showing himself as a world-class sprinter and Rigoberto Urán is making a comeback.
In the quiet autumn months, when the dust of the past cycling season has finally settled, I take to pondering what to make of it in terms of the results of our Colombian Golden Generation. Steady improvement for some, unfruitful experiments for others, a surprise comeback and a case of ‘kissing the tarmac’ way too often.
Such is the abundance of local talents that we have a world class sprinter on home soil, Fernando Gaviria. You might have heard of him during the last Giro d’Italia, where this explosive antioqueño won four stages. His strength, apart from brute force, is a canny and well-experienced team: Etixx-Quick Step. Now, with arguably the best sprinter in the world and his ex-teammate Marcel Kittel leaving for Katusha, we should be spoilt for their duels in next year’s Tour de France.
Related: Colombian cycling reaches end of 2017 season
Nairo, poor Nairo. Things aren’t getting easier for our favourite climber. Having reached so much, so quickly in the sport, he’s now finding himself in no man’s land. Unable to overcome the supremacy of Christopher Froome and his almighty team, Nairo has been taking risks in the form of an unconventional approach this year, namely doing the Giro-Tour double. The plan was based on the assumption that Quintana performs better in his second Grand Tour of a season. However, the opposite happened. Having worn himself out to get the second spot in Milan, the knackered Nairo was a sorry sight on the French roads in July, finishing outside the top ten.
What next for him? Clearly, with his pride dented, he’ll find the drive to challenge the podium next year. As for the ‘Sueño Amarillo’ one hope is that Froome decides to attempt the double and arriving tired at the Tour.
On the other hand, some experts suggest Nairo should increase his muscular mass in order to improve time trialling and power outage on the steady slogs of 7%, so typical of the French Alps and especially the Pyrenees. His current body size is better suited for other tours with their double-digit summit finishes.
And there’s a new kid on the block, Nairo’s teammate Mikel Landa. He has the credentials to challenge the Quintana leadership of Team Movistar. However, if that card is played well, the team with Valverde will get really close to being on par with the accumulated strength of the Team Sky.
Esteban Chaves had a whale of bad luck this season. An unfortunate, ill-timed injury at the beginning of the season resulted in Chaves being on the back foot all this year. To cap it off, he finished the season prematurely by falling in one of the races and consequently breaking his shoulder. As I believe that bad and good luck tend to be in a delicate balance, we should see Chaves bouncing back next year. And who knows, maybe having a go at the top spot in either Giro or La Vuelta?
Related: Rigoberto Urán goes all the way to the podium
Rigo Gogo had a great comeback. After being written off in hasty conclusions by some commentators, Urán proved he’s still a force to be reckoned with. If he’s not plagued by injuries and bad luck, he’s still an elite grand tour rider. But I do feel Rigoberto’s runner-up position in the Tour could be the bar that cannot be raised. The Giro with which our likeable paisa has unfinished business looks like a realistic goal for the next year.
And let’s not forget Miguel Ángel López. Superman from Boyacá managed to win two mountain stages in Vuelta a España, coming a close second in the best climber classification. That, combined with stage victories in Burgos and Austria, confirmed his climbing prowess and bodes well for the next season. Miguel Ángel may be given a whole lot more freedom given the surprise departure of his Astana team leader, Fabio Aru.
We also have a bunch of great domestiques led by Jarlinson Pantano, Sergio Henao, Winner Anacona and Darwin Atapuma. Cycling fans also witnessed the comeback of Carlos Betancur, who like mythical Icarus flew too high fighting for GC in La Vuelta only to fall and crash into the tarmac with his hope of a high GC position left in tatters. But more importantly, until that moment, El Bananito was up there with the best, so there’s hope for his resurrection.
Last but not least, yet another new Colombian sensation: Tour de l’Avenir winner, Egan Bernal. He’s such an exciting prospect that in his first ever Monument (one of the five most prestigious one-day races) he finished 13th in the Giro di Lombardia. No surprise that he’s already been signed by Team Sky.
By Arek Peryt. Originally published in Edition 49 of The Bogota Post.