“We’re proud of our country, I’m proud to come from a nation that has so much enthusiasm for this sport.”
A race that takes passion to peak level, wraps it in lush landscapes and pours an abundance of love from its people all over it, Colombia is special for the entire team. But for our Colombian riders, it’s a rare chance to race at home.
This year as EF Education First Pro Cycling takes to the start line, Colombia’s newly crowned national champions in time trial, Dani Martínez, and road race, Sergio Higuita, will have the chance to race on home soil, a place they spend most the year away from since racing in Europe makes up most of the top-level events in the sport.
When it comes to the Tour Colombia 2.1, there’s no doubt it’s known for the head-spinning, lung-busting altitudes the riders are sent over, but it’s the people and their love for el ciclismo, that is hard to find anywhere else in the world.
“The people here are in love with cycling, it’s a passion that is so unique, I don’t think there is any other culture like it in the world. Whether it’s at home or abroad, you’ll always see Colombian fans out at the side of the road, it’s an infectious type of passion. You can’t help but smile when you see Colombians roadside supporting us at the races,” Dani Martínez gushes.
To get from a race finish line to the team bus can be a mere 100m walk, but here in Colombia that can easily take half an hour to complete, as crowds circle ‘round their superstars all wanting to show their appreciation and offer up their congratulations. It doesn’t matter which team a rider is from, either; the Colombian fans are just happy to see everyone here enjoying their country.
“All races are special and unique,” Rigoberto Urán says. “What makes this one stand out is the passion that the people have for cycling here. To have so many of the large teams here training and racing on our roads is really beautiful. The routes and landscapes are spectacular.”
This year’s race rises higher than last year’s edition. A six-stage road race where the crescendo is atop El Once – Alto del Verjón at 3,290m (10,800 feet) above sea level, overlooking lush valleys with Bogotá, the Colombian capital city, nestled beneath. A steady early season opener this race is anything but.
“Colombia is very beautiful but that beauty is only presented to you if you’re prepared to climb up high for it. There is a huge variation in geography across the country,” Sergio Higuita explains.
When it comes to Colombian cyclists and their exceptional talent, it’s not just the dizzying meters above sea level to thank, but also an incredible work ethic.
Quite often sport, and cycling in particular, can be a way to rise out of financial hardship, but to make that first rung of the ladder can be tough.
It’s not just about having the talent; funding that talent can be a real challenge, as Martínez explains: “When I was a child it was difficult to get into cycling, there are a lot of kids who want to do it, it’s pretty competitive,’ he says. “It’s also an expensive sport to do and for me that made it difficult because my parents really didn’t have a lot of money to help support me. I had to sell things at school just so I could afford to buy some kit or if I won a race then the money I would get from the race win I would save and put towards a new bike, it wasn’t easy.”
This is not an uncommon narrative for many of Colombia’s elite cyclists, so with just a few days to go until Tour Colombia 2.1 brings the world’s best climbers together, most of them Colombian, this rare opportunity for them to race on home soil shouldn’t be underestimated how much it means to them, and the cycling mad fans the country is made of.
“It’s really beautiful to start the season in Colombia with the energy that you receive from the people here and racing through all the beautiful scenery. To start the year off this way gives me so much motivation for the year ahead,” Martínez beams.
Urán, who is making his return to racing following his injuries sustained at last season’s Vuelta a España, is thrilled to make his return at home.
“Despite all the problems and hurt the Colombian people have endured, we still have the ability to be happy. We’re proud of our country, I’m proud to come from a nation that has so much enthusiasm for this sport,” Urán says, a smile on his face.
Tejay van Garderen
Stage 1 Team Time Trial – Tunja › Tunja (16.7km)
Stage 2 – Paipa › Duitama (152.4km)
Stage 3 – Paipa › Sogamoso (177.7km)
Stage 4 – Paipa › Santa Rosa de Viterbo (168.6km)
Stage 5 – Paipa › Zipaquirá (174.9km)
Stage 6 – Zipaquirá › Alto del Verjón (182.6km)