What made this country’s top cyclists who they are today? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
The son of campesinos from Boyacá is Colombia’s hero and the absolute favorite in this Giro d’italia. He surprised the whole country last year with an astonishing second place in his first ever Tour de France. The Giro, which has a lot more steep climbing, seems even more suited to his cycling. But the question marks are not over his legs but his head.
Still only 24 years old, Nairo built those fearsome legs in the hills of Boyacá. At 15 years of age, adolescent Nairo got a bike for his birthday to go to school. Not so strange, you might think. But Boyacá is packed with hills and his commute was daunting, 15% gradients abounded. Coming back uphill from school on a normal bike, he attached the bicycle of his less skilled sister with ropes to his to save a bit of time. By 2009 he was rapidly making his name in Europe with Café de Colombia, Colombia es pasión.
In 2012 the Spanish team Movistar signed him and a year later he was enlisted to help Alejandro Valverde challenge for the greatest prize in cycling – the Tour de France. After Valverde lost time in the early stages, Quintana was let off the leash. Quintana didn’t give an inch of space to his competitors and finished second to time trial and climbing specialist Chris Froome but ahead of fellow favorites Rodriguez and Contador. Nairo’s name was made and Movistar built a team that has to bring Nairo his first Grand Tour win.
His strength is without a doubt his peerless climbing ability, short steep climbs as well as the long endurance climbs are almost literally right up his street.
Hisbiggest weakness is his shyness. He stated that he does not have the bravery to speak up to his team and get what he wants – a skill that will be vital in a race where he needs his team to fight off his competitors who will be trying to get him off balance.
Rigoberto Uran is one of the other favorites to win the Giro, coming from second place in last year’s edition (characterized by hellish stages through snow, ice and rain.) The story of Uran is the polar opposite of Quintana’s.
Where Quintana had a calm and monotonous childhood, Uran’s was wild and rough. At 13 years of age his biggest idol, his father, was brutally murdered by the paramilitaries, according to the leaders of the troubled village Urrao.
Young Rigoberto was suddenly left with his father’s work, his role in the house and also… his unconditional love for the bicycle.
Within two years he was able to leave that work and support his family while following his dreams. Uran was marked not only with countless scars from heavy falls but also promising results when he obtained world fame by picking up the silver medal out of the blue at the London 2012 Olympics road race.
Uran’s strength, pedaling as freely as a butterfly over the steep climbs was well represented in London’s road race. In this Giro d’Italia, like last year, 10 mountainous stages give Uran every opportunity to finish amongst the best in the overall ranking.
Uran’s new team Omega Pharma Quick Stephave assembled a strong team of helpers around him. His weakness is still the time trial, but the biggest challenge in this Giro will be keeping up with the other favorites in the mountains.
The 25 year old Antiqueño is a dark horse when it comes to the heavy stages. He had his formative years in local team Orgullo Paisa, where Uran, Carlos Betancur and Sergio Henao also started in the international field.
Arredondo’s quality was not directly discovered as he first went to the Japanese Team Nippo. His presence there was a success with the outstanding result being the win of the Asian Tour in 2013.
Team Trek signed him and he became known in the team headed by Fabian Cancellara as the ‘invisible man’ due to a visa problem that didn’t permit him to meet his teammates before the Tour of San Luis. He also heroically finished 11th in the Belgian Classic La Fléche Wallone, just hours after arriving from Bogotá –having been hit by further visa troubles that forced him to fly to Colombia and back in the week before the race.
With little experience at the top level he can’t be expected to challenge for the top positions in the overall ranking, but in the mountainous stages he will be a guarantee for spectacular attacks and could even nick a stage.
Sebastian Henao: Team Sky
The 20 year old rider will go to the Giro with team Sky as the youngest competitor in this edition. The younger cousin of Sergio Henao, who is still undergoing tests to get cleared of doping suspicions, comes to the Giro with neither clear expectations nor restrictions. Shorn of Froome and Wiggins Sky have a relatively weak team in which he can attack and develop freely in the hills.
Winner Anacona – Lampre ISD
The improbably named Winner Anacona quietly sets his footsteps in the cycling peloton. The 25 year old has been competing in Europe since 2008. Now in team Lampre ISD he will be looking to help captains Cunego and Niemiec to a high ranking. He showed his skills in the Vuelta of Spain in 2012 ending up 19th in the overall ranking and steady performances so far this year leave him ready for his debut in the Giro.
His strength is indisputable in the longer climbs, but in his role as super-domestique don’t expect fireworks from the Tunja-born cyclist.
By Freek Huigen