The education of Diego Camargo

Colombian learning on & off the bike at his first Grand Tour

“I’ve got energy. I’m happy. I’m learning day by day, which is the most important thing.”

Diego Camargo is unequivocal about his goal for La Vuelta a España. “I’m here to learn.”  

 

The 23-year-old is currently traversing Spain as he races his first Grand Tour. It has, of course, been a season of firsts. First year in the WorldTour. First year with EF Education-NIPPO. First year living so far away from his family in Colombia. First full season of racing since the pandemic began. And as with so many firsts has come a lot of learning.

 

“I’m learning a lot about the style of racing in a Grand Tour,” Camargo says. “It’s different to do shorter stage races because you have to learn how to save energy for the following day. You have to be strong for 21 days, so in some moments you go a little easier than in others. You always try to find moments to recover, instead of having days between to recover.”

He now knows that those moments of recovery may come on the bike — eating an extra gel before the peloton accelerates, riding within the pack, finding shelter from the wind. Or off the bike. In the evenings, you can find him at the hotel playing cards with his teammates or calling his parents in Colombia. “They’re always watching for updates of the race on TV. They’re big fans,” he says proudly.  

 

Sports director Juanma Garate recognizes the value of down time for Camargo. “To be a professional rider, it’s not only about pedaling. You need to be psychologically ready for a Grand Tour. It’s kind of a survival race because at the end of the three weeks you’ll have had good moments and bad moments, too. You learn to pass through the bad moments and probably a good moment is coming soon.”  

 

To be sure, Camargo has had bad moments during the Vuelta. At one point in stage 9, Garate recalls. “He was suffering. At that moment, he came to me in the car and I gave him a couple of bidons and I said, ‘Don’t think too much, just stay there, everybody is suffering.’ Psychologically he has to be ready to have really bad moments and good moments in the same race. It’s this adaptation for his mind. It’s a part of the process.”

Fortunately, there have been plenty of good moments, too. Teammate Magnus Cort winning stages 6 and 12 are obvious highlights, but just as important to him was riding in the breakaway on stage 7. “That stage was really hard,” Camargo explains. “The start was very fast. We formed the breakaway with four riders and we were suffering, but I was really happy to be there, to be in a Grand Tour, to be in the break. It was a really nice feeling.”  

 

To hear him explain it, it’s almost hard to believe that this young rider could enjoy suffering so much, but you’ll hear him mention again and again how happy he is to be at the Vuelta. “I’ve got a good attitude and that’s it, I’m just enjoying it.”  

 

Garate sees a bright future for Camargo. “This guy definitely has something. The races he won in Colombia were not easy at all. When we saw him in the first races this season, we thought he really had a lot to learn still, but we are discovering he has the talent.”

In his native Colombia, Camargo won the Vuelta Juventud and the Vuelta Colombia in the same year – an especially impressive feat as an Under 23 rider – and the Vuelta a Boyacá. Earlier this year, he was the runner up in the time trial national championships.   

 

The transition to the WorldTour has been challenging though. “It was hard at first because I wanted to win but it’s ok. Now I’m building up, step by step, building up to reach my goals. After so much work, it’s just that much better when you do reach your goals.”  

 

Camargo’s positive outlook shines through at all times. He attributes it to living his passion. “I like to ride. I really love it. It’s my daily passion, getting to ride my bike. It’s something special to do what you like.”

As a climber, he craves the leg-breaking mountain stages, but even the sprint stages provide him with important opportunities. “Those days are hard for me. I don’t just switch off. You have to concentrate on the race to understand it.”  

 

Garate has been working with Camargo to strengthen his understanding of race tactics. “We need to help him to learn to understand what is happening every day in the race. One day I said to him that even when there is nothing happening in the stage and everything is under control to keep his eyes open and learn all the time. Why is this team moving and another team is helping? He’s using the time here in the race to be a better rider at the end of the three weeks.”  

 

So how does Camargo feel as the race draws closer to the final stage in Santiago de Compostela? “I’ve got energy. I’m happy. I’m learning day by day, which is the most important thing.”