Colombia boasts stunning mountains, and some stunning cyclists (arguably the best climbers on two wheels in the world). But it has not – yet – hosted an international mountain biking event. Two Cali-based Brits are looking to change that, with their 600 km multi-stage race, The Legend of El Dorado, due to start on July 31. John Bartlett caught up with programme manager Dave Procter as he took time out of his hectic schedule to lead Cali’s cricket team in a triangular series against Medellín and Bogotá in the capital. By the way: if you’re feeling fit and up for a challenge, there’s still time to sign up…
A one year British Council language assistant placement undertaken in 2009 was enough to inspire Dave Procter to settle in Cali. A 4,000 mile cycle, over 10 weeks, from Los Angeles to New York in 2010 inspired Dave to take on five further cycling tours in Europe. By 2014, fellow Cali resident Brian Murphy had noted the potential for an international mountain biking event in cycling-crazy Colombia. The pair were inspired to take on an even bigger challenge: developing the concept into a seven-day, multi-stage race of international calibre that, at the same time, aims to showcase the best of Colombia.
John Bartlett, The Bogotá Post: Firstly, what does the race involve?
Dave Procter, Legend of El Dorado: Competitors must mountain bike in pairs across a vast swathe of central Colombia; from Guaduas, Cundinamarca, to El Retiro in Antioquia. There are seven stages, taking in over 17,000m of vertical ascent and going directly over the Nevado del Ruíz volcano in the Cordillera Central. The route took over a year to finalise.
TBP: Can anyone take part?
Procter: Yes! Provided that riders are fit and regular cyclists, they should be able to cope with the extreme conditions and long distances they will face. Various professionals have already signed up, including Swiss ex-world champion and Olympic bronze medallist Christoph Sauser and current Colombian Champion, Leonardo Paez, who will be hoping to take home the top prize (COP$10m for the winning pair). But there are also plenty of keen amateurs who want to test themselves against the best and enjoy the experience of cycling through the Colombia’s dramatic scenery.
TBP: What kind of sway does mountain biking hold in Colombia? Is interest high?
Procter: It’s very much a growing section of the sport. As mountain bikes become more accessible, more and more people are exploring trails all over Colombia. There are already a number of day and weekend-long mountain bike events, but nothing like The Legend, which covers a huge area of the country in a point-to-point race with both professionals and amateurs taking part. Colombians such as Leonardo Páez, Diego Arias, Ángela Parra and Yosiana Quintero are all riding. They ride all over the world for international teams and have a big domestic following, so interest in the sport is certainly increasing. We are also working closely with our sponsors to increase interest in the host towns we pass through – with initiatives such as raffling off bikes and cycling gear to local children who would otherwise find it difficult to access the sport.
TBP: For a country with the proud cycling tradition of Colombia, why do you think this has never been done here before?
Procter: The logistical challenge is immense. The point-to-point format means that it takes several days just to drive the route. Add to that the terrain of the Cordillera Central, an active volcano and small towns with limited accessibility, and it’s been a mammoth operation just to get to this stage. Along with that we have had to attract sponsors and get towns and departments on board and organise publicity; it’s not been easy.
TBP: If the event is a success this year, is there potential to organise other similar races in Colombia?
Procter: Our focus is very much on placing The Legend of El Dorado as one of the main annual, multi-stage mountain bike events in South America for the time being. Further down the line, who knows. There are enough mountains in Colombia to have a lot more races!
TBP: Is a road race a possibility?
Procter: There’s definitely potential for one. Colombia’s rugged geography lends itself to road racing just as much as it does for mountain biking, and the country has a strong road cycling heritage – races like the Vuelta de Colombia have been going over 50 years.
TBP: With Esteban Chaves’ recent second place in the Giro d’Italia and Nairo Quintana already a Giro d’Italia winner, Colombia’s interest in road cycling is showing no sign of letting up. Could a road race equivalent organised by yourselves attract the big names?
Procter: Hopefully! Colombia’s cycling pedigree is world-renowned and a good reputation as race hosts would certainly allow us to attract some of the top names in the sport. With events such as the World Track and BMX Championships, there are already very well-established cycling events in the country. As Colombia opens up and receives more positive publicity there would probably be more international demand, too.
TBP: With this soon to be your full-time job, how do you see the future of The Legend playing out?
Procter: We want the The Legend to be an annual, multi-stage mountain bike race that grows year on year, showing the best of Colombia to both domestic and international racers. We’re working closely with ProColombia to promote The Legend and raise awareness overseas and we hope to be one of the main mountain biking events in South America within three years.
Registration is open until Monday June 20 on register.legendofeldorado.com
Riders can buy one of three different packages: ‘Standard’ (COP$4.4m), ‘Medium’ (COP$5.9m) and ‘VIP’ (COP$11.8m). Packages are all-inclusive with accommodation in comfortable, sheltered guesthouses for the ‘Standard’ package – and the finest hotels and fincas for the ‘VIP’ experience. Group discounts are available for groups of two teams or more.
For more information, visit www.legendofeldorado.com/en.
By John Bartlett