The Luis Herrera Story - Part 4

This is part 4 of 4. To read from part 1 click here.

Herrera at the 1988 Dauphiné time trial to St. Pierre de Chartreuse.


By the beginning of the 1988 season everyone who knew cycling, knew who Luis Herrera was, and what he could do. Maybe it’s because of that, that the Vuelta a España organizers changed the race that year. Herrera knew it. “Everything changed [in 1988]. Maybe the organizers realized that last year’s route wasn’t good for [the Spaniards], and decided to change it.” The route change and terrible weather kept Herrera from having a good Vuelta, and the defending champion had to settle for 20th place. To be honest, I do not remember much about that Vuelta. I must have blocked off the feelings of disappointment. But the season was just starting and Herrera had plenty of other races to worry about. 

On the 31st of May the Café de Colombia team took the start line for the 1988 Dauphiné Libéré. The Dauphiné had been off my radar (and most other Colombians), until Martin Ramirez won it in ‘84. If a Colombian could win it then, I was sure Herrera could do it again. Pre-race and crowd favorite, Charly Mottet did not waste anytime. He attacked Herrera on stage 3. “My worst mistake recalls Herrera, was allowing Mottet to drop me on that stage to Annecy.” The Frenchman won the stage and took over the Yellow Jersey. The next day Portuguese climber Acacio Da Silva took the stage with Mottet in third. Herrera lost more time that day. “We’d lost everything by then. We never thought we could win at that point, but things turned around.” Stage 5 had 5 categorized climbs and Herrera knew if he had any chance to take some time back it was that day. He attacked on the penultimate climb along with Swiss rider Niki Rüttimann. The attack took Mottet by surprise and he got dropped. Rüttimann went on to take the stage, but the Colombian made up the time he’d lost in Annecy. Day 6 was divided into two stages, the final one being an ITT finishing at the ski station of St. Pierre de Chartreuse. The stage was tailor-made for Herrera. He didn’t disappoint. He won the TT and took the over-all in the last day. I’m not sure why, but Lucho winning the Dauphiné meant more for me, as a fan, than when he won the Vuelta. Maybe because the Dauphiné was in France and I felt Colombia had more to proof there than in Spain. Whatever the reason might have been, I was incredibly happy and eagerly anticipated the Tour. When it comes to cycling, my standards are very high. I was no different as a teenager. If I cheer for you, you better deliver. And by “deliver,” I mean, you better win the Tour the same year you won the Dauphiné. 

Herrera wearing the leader's jersey during the 1988 Dauphiné

THE '88 TOUR (My Story)

The 1988 Tour de France holds some of the best and worst memories for me as a fan. I have told the story of this Tour so many times, I know the results of the stages by heart. My usual spiel begins months before cycling season even started. I was playing soccer in school with some friends and I guess I wanted to show off. On a corner kick, the ball was perfect for me to head it, but I thought a bicycle-kick would be a good idea. It was the kind of skill that'd get you noticed in the playground. Scoring a goal with it would be by far my biggest achievement to date. Depending on who you ask, the account of the next few seconds of the story will vary greatly. But since I’m sure no one reading this knows anyone who was there that day, you’re gonna have to take my word for what happened. My “chilena” was perfect. A thing of beauty. I hit the ball perfectly and the whole playground witnessed the most beautiful goal ever scored. Ok, I botched my attempt at a bicycle-kick, landed on his left hand and was taken to the nurse’s office with a broken arm. I had a cast up to my armpit by that night.

Our family shared a vacation home with a few other families we knew well. We’d spend a few weekends there throughout the year and a big chunk of summer vacation. The house was just outside of Fusagasugá. I’ll save you trouble of going back to the beginning of the story. Yes, the same town where Luis Herrera was born, about a 2 hour drive from Bogotá. Understandably, Lucho was (and still is) a huge star there. You couldn’t go anywhere in Fusa that summer without hearing a conversation about how Herrera was gonna win the Tour.

The caretaker of the vacation home, a huge cycling fan, of course, had already told me he’d be up for every stage around 5am by his small house behind the pool house with his transistor radio. I looked up to this guy. He must have been in his mid to late 30s and knew, or at least I thought he knew, everything there was to know about cycling. He’d seen Herrera’s early races as an amateur and had plenty of stories about him. In retrospect, he probably made up half of them to entertain the two city kids hanging to his every word, but who cares. At the time he was the best person to listen to cycling with. He understood cycling strategy and what he didn’t know, I’m sure he made up. The plan was for my brother and I to head to his house, listen to the beginning of the stage with him, sitting on empty beer crates, until the TV broadcast started around 10am. Then we’d head back to main house to watch the end of the stage. The plan worked for the first 3 stages. My cast was due to be removed soon, so we had to head back to Bogotá to see my doctor. We’d take care of the cast and be back in time for the mountain stages. Or so I thought. Upon removing the cast, the doctor noticed that my wrist didn't heal right. They did new X-rays and realized they were going to have to re-break the bone and put it back into a cast. I’d never been under general anesthesia, but my fear was completely overshadowed by anger, when I was told when the procedure was to take place.

July 14th, I told my mom, was no good for me. They were going to have to pick another date. The Tour was going up to Alpe d’Huez and I could not miss the stage. Apparently my opinion didn’t matter and the OR was scheduled for July 14th at 10am, right around the time the peloton would start the final climb of the stage. I pleaded. I begged. I screamed. I cried. Nothing seemed to work. I tried to talk to my dad, convince him to talk to the doctor, to move the date back until after the Tour, but he didn’t help me. These people actually thought that some silly medical procedure was more important than watching Herrera win his second stage at the Alpe d’Huez. The morning of the operation I woke up in a foul mood. I triple-checked that the Betamax was programmed to record the stage and got in the car. I tried to talk to my mom one last time on the way there, but the conversation quickly turned into an all-out screaming match. My best fighting years with my mom were yet to come, but I still think that the fight we had that day ranks in the top 5 of all time. By the time we got to the hospital I was boiling with disgust and tears of anger ran down my face. I was NOT going to miss this stage, even if it meant having to kick a few nurses out of my way. It almost came to that. I refused to leave the car, so nurses were called to get me out. With all the commotion the doctor came out to see what was happening. My mom told him and he approached me carefully. He told me that he, too, loved cycling and he wanted to keep up with today’s stage. He said his radio was always on during the Tour in the OR, so I wouldn’t miss a moment of the action. "What a great doctor," I thought. "What a dumb kid," he thought.

The radio was indeed on in the OR when they rolled me in. A nurse told me to count to ten, and put a mask on my face. It smelled funny... I woke up a few hours later. My arm hurt, my head hurt, I was dizzy and nauseous. None of that bothered me as much as the fact that I’d been taken for the proverbial ride. This doctor knew nothing about cycling. He’d probably turned the radio off as soon as they'd put me out. The stage was over by now. Herrera had won the stage and I’d missed it? Tears of anger (and pain) ran down my cheeks again. I felt like an idiot. A few hours later I was back home. No one had told me what had happened in the Tour, so it wouldn’t spoil the Betamax recording. I remember throwing up a lot that day, so I’m not sure when I actually got around to watching the stage. But I did. I hit play, watched about 3 minutes of coverage and the tape stopped. It ran out of tape. I had forgotten to put a new one the night before. I heard Rooks won, I threw up a few more times and cried myself to sleep. 

1988 Tour: Millar, Rooks, Delgado, Herrera.

Herrera finished 7th in the stage to Nancy, 5th at Alpe D’Huez, and 6th overall. That’s a good Tour, but not good enough for Colombian fans. We were all disappointed with Lucho's performance.

Fabio Parra, on the other hand, had a great Tour. Before the season started he had left Herrera’s side and the Café de Colombia team to race for Kelme, in Spain. He won the stage at Morzine, was 4th at Alpe d’Huez, 9th at Luz Ardiden, and finished 3rd overall. The first (and so far only) Colombian podium finish in the Tour. At the beginning of the season I saw Parra as a traitor for leaving the Colombian team, but felt just as proud of him on that podium as if he were still wearing the blue Café de Colombia jersey. I admit, I was a fair weather fan. The poster of Herrera on the Dauphiné podium came down, and up went one of Parra standing along with Rooks and Delgado.

1988 Touer podium: Pedro Delgado, Stephen Rooks, Fabio Parra.

Federico Bahamontes. Image
The main objective for Herrera this year: To win the King of the Mountains jersey at the Giro d’Italia and join the legendary Spanish climber Federico Behemotes as the only two riders in history to win the mountain’s competition in all three Grand Tours.

The Giro started pretty good for the Colombian. On stage 8 to Gran Sasso, he out-sprinted breakaway partners Erik Breukink and Marino Lajarreta to get second place on the mountain-top finish. It was a cold stage, but the weather was just going to get worse. A few days later, Herrera lost a lot of time on a snowy stage. “It was a stage with snow. I never did well in that kind of weather. I lost over 5 minutes.” Who can blame him? Herrera came from a place where temperatures often reach 90°F (32°C) during the day, all year round. But even bad weather could not stop Lucho. It was cold and rainy on stage 13 (the day after one Mario Cipollini won his first Giro stage), from Padova to Tre Cime di Lavaredo. The race was already splintered by the time the riders reached the bottom of the last climb. With 18 kms to go, a small group containing most of race favorites (Breukink, Fignon, Hampsten, Roche, Lajarreta…) was in front. As soon as the road started to slope, Herrera sent his team mates, Alvaro Sierra and the ever loyal Henry Cardenas, to set tempo. The Colombians looked out of place surrounded by snow, even in the lower slopes, but with 5 kms to go, Herrera looked comfortable as he went up to the front of the group and steadily left everyone behind. “With 5 kms to go, I attacked hard and no one could keep up. I reached the line first and won at Tre Cime di Lavaredo.” The shy and introverted Herrera didn’t even raise one hand in celebration. He hardly ever did. His team mate Cardenas, however, did, when he crossed the line over 3 minutes back. That stage win gave Lucho the Green Jersey of leader of the KoM. 

Henry "Cebollita" Cardenas lifts his right arm in "victory" as he comes in
over 3 minutes back of stage winner Luis Herrera
A week later at the mountain TT to Monte Generoso, Herrera struck again. “I took that stage easily, but it wasn’t enough to help me on the GC.” With the KoM points he got from that stage victory, Herrera pretty much locked up the Green Jersey. For the first time since 1958, a climber won the climber’s jersey in all three Grand Tours, a feat no one has been able to repeat since. 

Lucho wears the green jersey on the TT to Monte Generoso, during the 1989 Giro.

Luis Herrera, in the Postobon colors 1991.

1990 was a forgettable season for Lucho. Café de Colombia had been poached by European teams and the international reinforcements weren’t working out as well as they had hoped. Herrera switched to the Postobón team* for the 1991 season, but it didn’t seem to have made a difference. His results in the early part of the domestic season were way below expectations. “I knew retirement was near and I saw it as something that had to happen. I knew that the new generation was going to be better than me. I knew I wasn’t unbeatable or could live forever.” As a fan, I gave up on Herrera. It was time for him to hang the boots. But, he didn’t. He went to back Europe and finished an awful 60th in the Vuelta a Andalucia, before heading to the Vuelta a España.

If you know your Vuelta history, you know the 1991 race was dominated by Melchor Mauri. Go ahead, look him up. When I say dominated, I mean he wore the leader’s jersey 17 out of the 20 days and won four stages. Meanwhile, Herrera, showing that he wasn’t too old to climb with the best, came in second to Fabio Parra on the TT on stage 14 to Valdezcaray. Just two days later Lucho re-conquered Lagos de Covadonga and won the stage with the same climbing power he had done in 1987. Then, he was third to Laudelino Cubino and Lajarreta on the stage 17 to the Alto del Naranco. Herrera finished 13th and, for the second time in his career, he went home as the KoM

* if you want to read an excellent piece about the rivalry between the Café de Colombia and the Postobón teams, click here

Herrera wins in Lagos de Covadonga. Vuelta a España, 1991

A few weeks later it was time for the Dauphiné. Rominger and Cubino came in as favorites, but as soon as the climbing started Herrera reminded everyone he was still a contender by winning stage 6 to Villard de Lans. “We went up in a small group with [Tony] Rominger, [Oliverio] Rincón, [Laudelino] Cubino, [Henry] Cardenas, [Martin] Farfán and [Robert] Millar. We controlled any attacks. With 500m to go I went for it, I won the stage and ended up 20 seconds behind the overall leader, Rominger.” The next day Herrera would put on the yellow jersey. “It was the stage that went up to Aix les Bains. I went up with Cubino a few kilometers from the finish and we managed to get a sizable gap. [Cubino] won the stage and I got the yellow jersey. I defended it well on the final TT.” Herrera had won his second Dauphiné.

Unfortunately, his good form would not last until July and he finished 31st in the Tour.

Herrera wins his second Dauphiné. Photo:


Monument to Lucho Herrera in his native city of Fusagasugá.  

The press and the fans expected Luis Herrera to retire after the ‘91 season. “Things changed. I analyzed my season and concluded that it had been good. Besides, [Team] Postobón wanted me to go on and at the end, they convinced me.” The team set their sights on the Giro as their main objective for the year. They went to Spain to prepare and Herrera won the overall and the KoM in the Vuelta a Aragon. He continued to show good form in the Giro and won stage 9 to Terminillo. “…in the last few meters I outwitted everyone and won. I finished 8th overall, ahead of many of the great ones.” Eighth overall and a stage win in a major Tour would be a great result for most, but Colombians wanted more. After his victory in the 1987 Vuelta a España, he was expected to win the Tour, and since he didn't "deliver," fans moved on. I look back and feel ashamed. Herrera was still giving us great results, but we turned our backs on him.

Herrera in 2009. Photo:

Luis Alberto Herrera Herrera took his last pedal stroke as a professional in the 1992 Colombian National Championships.

Lucho introduced me to the fervor, to the passion, to the beauty that is professional cycling. With Herrera gone, I lost interest in the sport. Even today, no race I watch has ever given me the excitement and exhilaration that I felt when I watched Lucho race in the mid to late 80s. For that, I will be eternally thankful.

I was a Senior in high school, when Herrera retired. I can’t recall watching a single cycling race while I was in college.

NOTE: Some of the content for the post, including Herrera's quotes (unless otherwise noted), come from a 1992 issue of Mundo Ciclistico magazine.

The Luis Herrera Story - Part 3

This is part 3 of 4. To read from part 1 click here.

1987 Vuelta a España. Herrera in yellow*.


In '87 Café De Colombia sent Herrera to the Vuelta as team leader. It was a powerful team stacked with strong climbers, but with the Tour as their main target for the year, the team went to Spain without any real expectations.

The favorites that year were Pedro “Perico” Delgado racing for the Dutch PDM team, Laurent Fignon on the Systeme U team and Sean Kelly with the Spanish KAS outfit.

After the first week (and 2 ITT’s), things were going pretty well for the Colombians. Herrera had lost less than 3 minutes to the provisional leader Sean Kelly, despite his well-known time-trial shortcomings.

*From L to R: Vicente Belda, Perico Delgado, Raymond Dietzen, Lucho Herrera, Fignon, “El Polaco” Bohórquez, Oscar Vargas.

The sixth stage took place on April 29. 220 kilometers took the riders from Barcelona to the ski resort of Grau Roig in Andorra. Jesús Ibañez Loyo, the veteran Spaniard racing for Zahor, attacked only 82 kilometers into the stage. The current leader, Italian Roberto Pagnin, and the rest of his Gewiss/Bianchi team knew that they couldn't defend the Jersey that day. Pagnin wasn’t a climber, and they weren’t interested in chasing. Neither was anyone else, so the lead grew to over 14 minutes to the main field.

With just under 10k to go, the road turned up and pretty soon the attacks started in the main field. Vicente Belda, the tiny Spanish climber in Kelme, Henry Cárdenas, and Patrocinio Jiménez of Café de Colombia all jumped and quickly gained 20 seconds on the peloton.

With 8k to go Ibañez Loyo’s advantage was a healthy 5:20, but he was visibly exhausted and was pedaling squares; very slow squares. The trio of Jiménez, Cárdenas and Belda had 30 seconds over a second chasing group containing Delgado, Laudelino Cubino (Team BH), Angel Arroyo (Reynolds/Seur) and Herrera. Another 20 seconds back was what was left of the peloton, including Kelly, Fignon, Potuguese super domestique Acácio da Silva and the German Raimund Dietzen, racing for the Teka squad.

Herrera, who started the stage on 42nd spot at 3:46 of the leader, took advantage of the gap to the favorites and accelerated. No one could follow. Lucho, proudly wearing number 111, quickly caught his two teammates up the road and passed them without even giving them a look. The only one who could keep up with Herrera was Vicente Belda. Barely. After about a kilometer it was obvious that Herrera was on a different level. Belda was struggling on a 21 gear, while Herrera looked comfortable on a 19, which was his favorite gear to climb on.

Jesús Ibañez Loyo won stage 6 after an amazing 130k break-away.

Ibañez Loyo went under the red kite with Herrera (dragging Belda along) just over 2 minutes behind. The Colombian didn’t care about the stage win. All he wanted was to gain as much time on the favorites as possible.

After over well over 130 kilometers alone Ibañez Loyo deservedly won the stage. Belda snuck up on Herrera and took second place. But as far as Herrera was concerned the stage had been a success. He’d gained 37 seconds on Delgado, over a minute on Kelly and over two on Fignon. As anticipated Pagin, who had taken the yellow jersey from Kelly on the 5th stage, had to give it back to the Irishman, who, without being a pure climber, had been able to stay up there with the best. Herrera’s audacious attack reduced his gap to the yellow jersey to 2:38. Delgado was at 1:46 and Fignon at 3:59.

The next day the race would finish in another ski resort. This time Estacion de Cerler. The 186kms stage had 5 classified climbs, including a 1st category and the finish, which was a HC climb.

By the time the peloton reached the last climb, there was already a Colombian in the front. Pedro Saul Morales of the Ryalcao Postobón team had 30 seconds over a select group with all the favorites. Well, all the favorites, except for Sean Kelly, who had been caught out during the beginning of the climb and was now over a minute behind Morales with only 6k to go. His teammate Acácio da Silva was pacing him up the climb, but Kelly’s yellow jersey was slowly, but surely falling into the shoulders of Dietzen.

Herrera, Cubino and Belda went up front of their group and turned up the tempo. Delgado, and the rest of the favorites tried to keep up, but couldn’t. The three broke free and set off to chase down Morales. Cubino was doing most of the work and Herrera found himself, once again with Vicente Belda riding his wheel.

With 4k to go Herrera, Belda and Cubino caught and passed Morales. The gap back to the Dietzen/Delgado group was about 40 seconds. Fignon started to hurt and started to go backwards towards Kelly’s group, which was now almost 2 minutes behind.

Within the last 2k, Laudelino Cubino surprised Belda and Herrera and went on to win the stage. Herrera came in second and Belda third. 35 seconds later the Dietzen and Delgado group came in. 1:15 later Fignon and 1:50 after that Kelly. Dietzen was officially in yellow by 2 seconds over Kelly. Delgado went up to 3rd, 27 seconds back and Herrera was 4th with a 48 second deficit. Fignon’s terrible day put him a long way down on the overall classification at over 5 minutes back.

Herrera crosses the line in second place, ahead of Kelme's Belda.

By now everyone in Colombia (and everywhere else) could see that Herrera was in great form and with 2 teams of excellent climbers at his disposal. He had a real chance to fight for the overall. I was getting excited. Lucho had gone from 49th to 4th is just a couple of days and there was plenty of climbing yet to go. Once again, Herrera was a national hero.

With another stage finishing on a climb (to Alto Campoo) we all expected fireworks; Colombian fireworks. With 10k to go, in snowy and cold weather, the man up front was a Spaniard: Enrique Aja of the Teka team. Aja's advantage to the field was an ample 7 minutes. But as soon as the climb to Campoo started, Café de Colombia and their compatriots Ryalcao-Postobón sent all their men up front to set tempo. They pulled so hard that more than once they detached themselves from the group, only to be forced to slow down. Going off the front wasn't part of the strategy. The idea was to pull the group and break legs for what was coming the next day: Lagos de Covadonga.

Enrique Aja and his awesome sunglasses talk to the media after his victory at Alto Campoo.

May 4, 1987: Luis Alberto Herrera turned 26 years old and what a birthday it was. The day before, on the stage to Altos Campos, Café de Colombia and Ryalcao Postobón had set such an intense tempo that legs were burning up and down the peloton. It was all in preparation for today’s 179km Queen Stage: four category 2 climbs and the HC mountain-top finish at the famous Lagos de Covadonga.

Argemiro “El Polaco” Bohorques, who was back in Café de Colombia after a year with the French team Fagor, was in charge of pulling the peloton up the first slopes of the last climb up to the Lagos. And did he ever. “El Polaco (The Polack)”, who got his nickname because of his blonde hair, destroyed the field for 5 or 6k, until his leader, Lucho Herrera, attacked with 10k to go. Herrera, wearing the red KoM Jersey left the rest of the leading group behind and built a 30 second gap very quickly.

Herrera climbing up to the legendary Lagos de Covadonga.

Herrera only needed 48 seconds over his biggest rivals in order to be wearing yellow by the end of the day. My brother and I screamed at the TV. We pretended to push the image of Herrera on the screen. We pushed him with our hearts, with our screams, with our souls. All 28 million Colombians did, and it worked.

With 5k to go Herrera’s lead was up to a minute over the main group with Dietzen and Kelly and another 45 seconds to the group containing Delgado.

This was really happening. A Colombian was actually going to wear a leader’s jersey at a Grand Tour. And I was watching it on TV. My legs were trembling and my heart was racing. I couldn’t believe it. In true pseudo-Catholic hyper-superstitious Colombian fashion I got down on my knees and prayed that the gap remained over 48 seconds.

With 3k to go Herrera had 1:30 on Dietzen and over 2 minutes on the group with Kelly.

I’m not religious, and while very superstitious, neither is the rest of my family. Still, my mom and sister had joined us watching attentively and asking God for a miracle. 500 meters to go, 250... 100... Herrera barely lifted his arms in victory. Ho got the stage, but the Yellow Jersey?

Lucho was barely able to celebrate his stage victory, before he drove into a crowd of photographers.

The clock started ticking for the Yellow Jersey. 20 seconds, then 30, then 40... 41, 42, 43... 47, 48. My whole family was screaming. My sister didn't understand or care about cycling at all, but she did understand how big of a deal this was. Sean Kelly’s group came in 1:25 later. Delgado came in 3:10 behind and Fignon lost 3:45.

Lucho Herrera went up to the podium to receive the first of what would eventually be 11 Yellow Jerseys, with Sean Kelly 39 seconds back in second, Dietzen third at 50 seconds. Note that the Café de Colombia logo is on a printed piece of paper attached to the jersey with masking tape. Real classy.

The new leader of the Vuelta a España talks to Spanish TV.

Ryalcao Postobón’s Oscar de Jesús Vargas was fourth and Vicente Belda rounded up the top 5.

“[Herrera] has demonstrated today that he is the best climber in the world, and by a long shot.” Said Faustino Ruperez, Sean Kelly’s DS, after the stage.

“We never thought someone could climb this mountain so fast,” confessed Raimund Dietzen to Spanish TV after the stage. “But I don’t think Lucho can win the Vuelta…because the TT. He’s going to lose a lot of time and doesn’t really have a solid team.”

I wish I would have listened to Dietzen.

Stage 18 brought yet another ITT, this one 24 kilometers in Valladolid. Kelly, obviously the stronger time-trialist, came in second behind Jesús Blanco Villar and beat Herrera by a long shot, recapturing the Yellow Jersey.

My heart was broken. I cried. I was a kid, I didn’t understand cycling strategy. I should have known that Kelly was too close to Lucho on the GC and that he didn’t have the TT skills to hold the Irishman at bay. There was no way Herrera could have held the lead. The Vuelta was almost over. Herrera had been so close. Colombia had been so close.

The next day I didn’t wake up early to hear the race. I didn’t care enough. I waited until later in the morning when the TV broadcast started. The mountain stages were pretty much all done and there was no way Herrera, or anyone else, could take this Vuelta from Kelly.

Cycling is a crazy sport and you really never know what’s going to happen. As soon as I turned the TV on, I heard the commentator say Kelly had retired. I couldn’t believe it. He repeated it, after only 14 kilometers of the 19th stage the KAS team announced Kelly had to retire because of an infected saddle sore. He’d had surgery for it on the Sunday prior, before the TT in Valladolid. He later stated that he’d ridden that stage in agonizing pain. I have grown to admire Kelly as a cyclist and as a man, and the fact that he rode the TT after having surgery the night before is yet another reason to admire him.

Sean Kelly talks on Spanish TV about his retirement during stage 19.

Herrera was back in yellow, but the race wasn’t over. He still had Dietzen breathing down his neck and Fignon just behind him. The bespectacled Frenchman saw Kelly’s retirement as an opportunity and attacked on the descent after the penultimate climb to Serranillos. The small chase group, containing Herrera, Omár Hernández and Delgado chased, but could not cut the distance to Fignon before they started up the Alto de Navalmoral. This was the last climb of the stage. But Herrera had just gotten the Jersey back and he wasn’t about to let it go again. He had to attack and try to catch the Frenchman. He left the group behind and mounted an all-out chase. Fignon was too fast and remained upfront all the way to the top. There was no way Herrera, or anyone else, could catch him now.

Fignon celebrates, while wearing the Café de Colombia-sponsored Combination Jersey. Ironic, really, since Fignon often talked about his dislike of Colombian cyclists.

Fignon crossed the finish line in the Avila velodrome first. 1:10 after, Herrera finished and 2:08 after that came the chasing group of sixteen, including Dietzen, Cubino, Delgado and Madiot. Fignon had won the stage, but hadn’t made up enough time on Herrera, who went up to the podium to receive the Yellow Jersey. On the GC, Dietzen was second at 1:04 and Fignon was third over three minutes back.

Herrera and Fignon after the stage. Herrera's demeanor says it all. These two did not care for each other.

Colombia was wearing Yellow again. I will never forget the graffiti on a wall near my parent’s house in the north of Bogota: “Herrera, que berraquera. Kelly, puro beriberi.” Roughly translated: “Herrera, lots bravery (balls). Kelly only beriberi.”

Delgado tried to attack during the next two days, but the Colombian teams controlled the race and Herrera rode easy. Stage 20 was won, in great fashion, by Omar “El Zorro” Hernandez, for Team Ryalcao-Postobón. Yet another Colombian, Francisco “Pacho” Rodriguez, of the BH Team, took stage 21. The last stage into Madrid was the expected formality. A Colombian had won the 1987 Vuelta a España. “That victory is now a part of history and the best memory of my life.” Herrera said later.

"El Zorro" wins stage 20 of the 1987 Vuelta. Even if you don't speak Spanish listen to the fervor and
passion in the voices of the Colombian commentators.

The 1987 Vuelta was a “Colombian festival,” as described by a Spanish TV announcer. Herrera had also won the KoM, and there were 4 Colombians in the top ten final GC: Oscar Vargas in 5th, Henry Cardenas, who was Herrera’s main "escudero," in 9th and “El Zorro” in 10th. To top it off, Ryalcao-Postobón won the team classification. Colombia had taken over Spain, cycling had taken over Colombia. Herrera-mania was in full effect and the season was just starting.

Of course, Herrera went as the leader for the Café de Colombia Team for the Tour later that year. After a very hard Vuelta no one expected him to do much, but the resilient climber had different plans.

The ’87 Tour was a four way battle between Delgado, Mottet, Bernard and eventual winner Stephen Roche. Herrera took advantage of the in-fighting and went on to have a great race. He didn’t win any stages, but was 4th on the stage to Pau, 2nd at Luz Ardiden, 2nd at the Mount Ventoux TT, and 5th at L’Alpe d’Huez.

Stage 19 to Villard De Lans. L to R: Marino Lejarreta (Caja Rural), Pedro Delgado (PDM), Mottet (Système U), Roche (combination jersey), and Herrera (KoM jersey). Image lifted of

Herrera, and his lieutenant Parra finished 5th and 6th, respectively. Herrera won the KoM for the second time in his career and this time by a massive 138 points over Spanish climber Anselmo Fuerte. Café Colombia also finished second in the team classification behind Système U. “El Jardinerito” had become an absolute idol in Colombia and one of the most feared climbers in the world. Stephen Roche plainly stated: “When Herrera wants to go, there’s nothing any of us can do about it. On the climbs he’s in a class of his own.” (Uphill Battle by Owen Mulholland - Velo press)

Some of the stories that I heard as a kid about cyclists were pretty outrageous. Europeans, and Colombians alike. You’d hear a lot of tales and without the internet, or much information in the mainstream media, we never knew what was true. One such tale was that Herrera had received a bull from the French government as a prize for winning a stage in the tour. Now, why would the government be involved with the Tour? Why would anyone give a bull as a prize? What would a cyclist who lived on the other side of the planet do with a 4000 pound bull? All these questions that I ask today, didn’t occur to my 13 year old self. All I knew (or cared to know) was that the French gave Herrera a huge bull. As outrageous as it seems, the tale was half right. “[The Tour organizers] promised me the bull in ‘85 after winning a stage, but they kept me waiting. I never got it. It wasn’t until I won the Vuelta a Espana, two years later. They called me from Colombia to tell me that a bull had been delivered for me and they didn’t know what to do with it. They held it in El Dorado [International Airport] for like two months. I think after I won [the Vuelta] and was in the newspapers, the French remembered about [the bull], and finally sent it.” So, there was a bull, it was a prize for winning a stage and the bull was huge. And what happened to the bull? “He died of a virus in 1993.” Sad.

NOTE: Some of the content for the post, including Herrera's quotes (unless otherwise noted), come from a 1992 issue of Mundo Ciclistico magazine.

To be continued...

The Luis Herrera Story - Part 2

This is part 2 of 4. To read part 1 click here.


Cycling headlines were crawling up the sports pages in Colombian newspapers. Alfonso Flores won the Tour de l'Avenir in 1980 and Patrocinio Jimenez and Cristobal Pérez were in the podium in ‘81 and ‘82 respectively. Jimenez also won the Coors Classic that year. Cycling was becoming a source of pride in our country and as a sports nut, it was entering my life. It wouldn’t be long before I heard the name “Luis Herrera” for the first time. But before that happened, “El Jardinerito” needed to learn a few lessons.

Alfonso Flores won the Tour de l'Avenir in 1980. To read more about Flores, Cycling Inquisition did a great post.

In 1983 the Colombian team went to the Coors Classic, looking to defend the title Jimenez had given them the year prior. This time Herrera was the team leader. On the toughest stage of the race, with over 6,500 feet of climbing, Herrera and fellow Colombian Israel “Pinocho” Corredor easily left the field behind on the last climb. The descent was another story. They went down during a hail storm so heavy, they had to ride on the tracks left by the cars ahead of them. They held the gap to the chasers, Lucho won the stage, and took the overall lead. The Colombians’ inexperience, however, showed on the last stage to Cheyenne, Wyoming. “We had that race in the pocket,” remembers Herrera, “but we lost it because of our lack of experience. We didn’t control the race in the last stage. Of course, all the other teams ganged up on us and I went from first [in the GC], to third.” The Colombians were not only faced with all the opposing teams' attacks, but with cross winds they had never experienced before. Herrera lost over seven minutes.

Martín Ramírez won the Dauphiné in 1984 riding a Duarte bike.

This would be a much better year for Herrera (and for Colombian cycling). Lucho beat Fignon, Simon, Lemond, Madiot and Millar at The Clasico RCN, and he won his first Vuelta a Colombia. Martín Ramírez, a young Colombian riding for Systeme U, won the Dauphiné Libéré beating Hainault (2nd) and defending champ Greg Lemond (3rd).

Varta, a German battery company, sponsored an all Colombian amateur team to participate in the Tour in 1984, as they had done the previous year. Herrera was the team leader and the goal was to win a stage. A stage in the Tour of France was a lofty goal, but with the year Herrera was having, he had a chance of achieving the seemingly impossible. “I was very nervous. I was about to participate in the most important race in the world, and to top it off no one respected us. We had been labeled amateurs, while everyone else was a pro. We suffered a lot, especially at the end of stages.” These were young amateur kids from a country most French couldn’t even find on a map (and probably still can’t). But Herrera was about to show all the pros what a tiny Colombian with a huge heart could do; in the Alpe d’Huez no less. “It was a very tough stage. Two climbs from the end we were five minutes behind the peloton, but [Rafael] Acevedo and I chased hard. We caught the main field in a feeding zone. The group was beginning to come apart. I ended up with Fignon and Hinault, but I left them behind [on the slopes of the final climb], and went on to win the stage. The last few kilometers I did all-out. It meant a lot to me, to Latin America and to Colombia.” What an understatement.

Herrera celebrates Colombia's first stage win in the Tour de France, atop the legendary Alpe d'Huez.

"[The next day] I was overcome with abdominal pain, but it was good that we had a good climb to start the stage and it was really cold.” Who, in their right mind, says it’s a good thing that the stage starts with a cold climb? Luis Herrera. “I never thought about abandoning the race.” Herrera finished a respectable 27th in his first Grand Tour.

1984 climb to Alpe D'Huez. L to R: Phil Anderson, Peter Winnen, Bernard Hinault, Rafael Acevedo, Luis Herrera (hidden).

In the spring of 1985, the Varta Team, with Herrera as a captain, were going back to France. At the beginning of part 1, I told the story of how my brother and I lived Lucho's victory in Avoriaz that year. I can honestly say that that day changed my life. As the years have passed, I often look back to that July morning in 1985 as the moment I fell in love with the sport. It was a magic moment for me, almost sacred. That is why I have always taken it personally when people suggest that Hinault “gave” that stage to Herrera. In Herrera’s own words: [Hinault] told me that he wanted the stage. I told him no, that we’d have to race for it. He was angry, so I attacked him and he asked me to wait, to climb at a steady pace. We did. After a while I almost lost his wheel, but I kept up. The last 2 kilometers were calm, but a few meters from the line I left him behind and won. The satisfaction was immense, I had just beat the leader of the Tour.”

Herrera and Hinault go head to head in 1985 on the slopes to Avoriaz.

The next day (July 10, 1985), my brother and I screamed louder than ever before. I’m sure we woke up our mom, and the whole neighborhood that morning. Herrera’s number two, Fabio Parra, attacked on the slopes of Vercors. “I knew Parra had attacked and I thought I could be good support, so I caught up with him.” Herrera makes it sounds easy. Two Colombians were leading a Tour de France stage, the day after Herrera won his first one. We screamed and jumped and yelled and probably ran as my mom chased us around the house. “We managed to get a good gap and [Parra] won the stage.” A Colombian one-two. The country was besides itself, and the Café de Colombia/Varta wasn’t done yet.

Parra and Herrera score a one-two for the Café de Colombia Varta team. You can fast-forward to 2:35.

Just 2 days after the impressive display on the climb to Lans-en-Vercors, Lucho gave Colombia more on the stage to Saint-Étienne. “[On that stage] I had to chase the break, and caught them, but on the descent [from Croix de Chaubouret] there was mud everywhere. I tried to avoid it, but couldn’t and I crashed.” That crash gave us the now famous images of a bloodied Herrera winning the stage, wearing the polka dot jersey.

[After the crash] I didn’t notice the blood. I was in a hurry to grab my bike. [It ended up] about 8 or 10 meters from were I fell.” There’s no TV footage or any images of the infamous crash. “I was alone. I got up alone and I continued alone. The team car couldn’t get past the group that was chasing me and the TV motorcycle was in the back. I’ll never forget that crash.” Neither will the rest of us. He wasn’t the only one who crashed on that treacherous descent. “I didn’t see Hinault crash. I just ran into him in the hospital.” Hinault, of course went on to win that Tour. Herrera won two stages, was second in one, finished 7th and won the Polka Dot Jersey. Parra was 8th won the White Jersey.

Podium of the 1985 Tour de France:
L to R: Fabio Parra (White Jersey), Rudy Matthijs (winner of last stage), Jozef Lieckens (Red Jersey), Luis Herrera (KoM), Bernard Hinault (Yellow Jersey), Greg Lemond (Combination Jersey), Sean Kelly (Green Jersey).

It’s impossible to describe how electrifying the mood in Colombia was during that Tour. Everyone was talking about cycling and the Tour. Kids all over the country were winning imaginary stages of the Tour in their BMX bikes, myself included. It was a very special time and it will forever remain as one of the happiest memories I have of my childhood.

Soccer occupied our lives that summer as Argentina (Maradona, actually) won the World Cup in Mexico. The release of Metallica's Master of Puppets was a pretty big deal, too. That’s an awesome record. Anyway, Herrera had an up-and-down season that year.

Hinault and Herrera on the podium of the Clasico RCN in 1986.

He started off winning the Clasico RCN at home. He'd won it before, but this one was special. The Badger himself was racing. “It was very rewarding… to beat Hinault both, in the prologue and in the ITT. I won the overall, the KOM and the Combination Jersey. [Hinault] had a tough time, but finished in style winning the final ITT.” Illness kept Herrera from having a good season in Europe, but, in retrospect, it wouldn’t matter. 1987 was to be the best year of his career.

Short documentary about Herrera's 1986 Tour. He talks about how sick he has been all season in Europe. In Spanish, no subs. Sorry.  

to be continued...

NOTE: Some of the content for the post, including Herrera's quotes (unless otherwise noted), come from a 1992 issue of Mundo Ciclistico magazine.

The Luis Herrera Story - Part 1

In June of 2011 I started writing an article about Luis Herrera's professional career. It turned out to be quite a bit longer than I anticipated, so I divided it into 4 chapters. After well over a year, I finally finished it. I decided to re-post them in order, one chapter per week. I hope you enjoy (or re-enjoy) the read.

This is the first chapter of a four part piece on the history of Luis "Lucho" Herrera. As you'll see I tell the story from my personal point of view. As I started to write this, it was difficult for me to separate Herrera's professional career from my own life as a kid in Colombia. The country was going through a difficult time and there's no doubt that Herrera changed the way Colombians looked at ourselves. I could feel that, even as a kid. I owe Lucho a lot. I owe him endless hours of excitement, and I owe him countless happy memories of my childhood. Doing research for this piece was like looking through an old family photo album. You remember some of the pictures, but seeing them again stir up memories you didn't remember.

NOTE: Some of the content for the post, including Herrera's quotes (unless otherwise noted), come from a 1992 issue of Mundo Ciclistico magazine.

The very Heather Thomas poster that hung on my bedroom ceiling. 
The A-Team went on at 7:30pm, right after the 7 o’clock news, every Monday. I used to love that show, but it usually served only as an appetizer. The real highlight of Monday nights was on at 8 o‘clock: The Fall Guy. It wasn’t exactly the best show on TV, but Heather Thomas was definitely the hottest girl I knew of. My obsession was publicly documented in the shape of a poster of the aforementioned vixen on the ceiling above my bed. If my infatuation with Jody Banks (played by Thomas) was so strong, why would I choose to go to sleep early this particular Monday night and miss her voluptuous body in a tiny pink bikini? Was it a re-run? Nope. Was it a school night? Nope, summer vacation. What about the night of July 8, 1985 made me go to bed early? Well, I had to get up early on Tuesday to listen to the Tour de France.

Earlier that Monday morning, the Tour had finished at the Cote de Larmont, a mild category 2 climb that hadn’t shaken the GC significantly, but had shown me (and the rest of Colombia), that “Lucho” Herrera, “Tomate” Agudelo, Pablo Wilches, Fabio Parra and the rest of the all-Colombian Café de Colombia-Pilas Varta squad, were in good shape. Tuesday’s stage finished in Morzine-Avoriaz. The same climb that had seen legends like Van Impe, Hinault, and Angel Arroyo ride to stage victory. The same climb that would eventually be crowned in first place by Pantani, Virenque and Chozas.

The year prior, 1984, a tiny little Colombian named Luis Herrera, surprised the cycling world by attacking none other than Laurent Fignon, and winning the Tour’s Queen Stage finishing at Alpe d’Huez. The 23-year-old unknown wasn’t only the first Colombian to ever win a stage in the Tour, but he was the first rider ever to do it as an amateur. Not only did that victory turn Herrera into a hero in his native country, but launched a cycling fever in Colombia that eventually swept up my brother and I.

Phil Liggett narrates Luis Herrera's first victory at the Tour in 1984

Back to 1985... I barely opened my eyes to see if the time was right. 4:55am. The static of my alarm clock radio gave way to a voice that helped me wake up. The voice talked about cows and cattle. At least I thought so. I took a deep breath and gathered enough strength to sit up, grab a pillow and throw it across the room at my brother Klaus. I wasn’t doing it to be an ass, although I do recall a small feeling of satisfaction at waking my little brother at the crack of dawn. “Is it on?” He asked through dry, half-asleep lips. “Not yet, the farming show is still on. Five more minutes.” I moaned back. We stared at the ceiling (and Heather Thomas) in silence. The radio was now talking about potatoes. The idea of a call-in radio show at 4am seemed weird to me, but I guess if it was a call-in show for farmers, what better time to air it than before the sun came up? Either way, I had no time for potatoes or cows. That was for the farmers and I lived in the city. I had never seen a cow up close and I didn’t want to. I got up to pee. Damn, it was cold! Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t hot everywhere in Colombia. Bogotá sits well over 8500ft from sea level and it gets really cold up there. Really cold… especially in the mornings.

I jumped back into the comfort of my warm bed and my heart beat with excitement. The Tour was on. My brother and I wouldn’t say much to each other while the race was on. We’d just mutter a few things back and forth during commercial breaks, mostly to make sure the other one was still awake. It was hard to keep those eyes open. The first few hours of a Tour stage aren’t exactly exhilarating. In retrospect, I don ‘t know why they started the radio transmission so early, or why on earth we got up to listen to it, but I’m glad we did, because it gave me memories like the ones I’m sharing with you now. Sure, we could wait a few hours until the sun came up and the live TV pictures started, but that was for the rest of the lightweight fans. We were hardcore. We had an addiction to the sport and we needed our fix, even at 5 in the morning. As slowly as the sun crept up over the western mountain range that surrounds Bogotá  the race became more and more interesting. The morning breakaway was caught and few attacks started here and there. Nothing serious. The peloton was nearing the first major climb of the day and the riders were nervous. The radio commentators told us so. From their motorcycles, they could see it. They could feel it. The anticipation and excitement in their voices was contagious. We were intoxicated. (For a good example of Colombian radio commentators, check out a post on my brother's blog here)

As soon as the group hit the base of the Pas de Morgins, La Vie Claire and Café de Colombia sent their strong men up front. Finally, the sun was up and with daylight in our bedroom, came the real race. The peloton started to break and The Badger, already wearing the maillot jaune, decided to attack. 70 kilometers to go seemed a little early, but that was Hinault. Only one man followed him, the man wearing the polka dot jersey: Lucho Herrera. Greg Lemond, and the rest of the peloton, were perplexed. My brother and I were standing on our beds hanging on every word the radio commentators threw at us. The delicate balance of keeping the volume high enough to hear over our beating hearts, but low enough as to not wake our parents in the adjacent room, had begun. Believe me, you have not experienced fear until you have seen my angry mom’s eyes after being woken up at 6 am by her sons listening to the damn radio like it was 1936. Lucky for us, she remained in her lair this morning. Hinault and Herrera kept up the pace and the radio told us that Herrera looked strong. By the time they crested the Pas de Morgins, the couple had more than a minute lead. Greg Lemond had to decide weather to be a good soldier or attack to catch his team leader. My brother and I could care less about their in-team soap opera. There was a Colombian in the leading group in a mountain stage in the Tour and that’s all we could think about. Herrera and Hinault continued their fierce pace and the lead grew to 2:35 by the time the duo crossed the Col du Colbier.

We ran down the hallway to the family room when the radio told us that the TV broadcast was now on. We turned on the TV, hit the mute button and turned on the radio. TV commentators were boring and weren’t even in France. The radio guys had passion, knowledge and were in motorcycles following the race. They were right there, and now, with live TV pictures, so were we, right on time for the final climb of the day.

Live TV pictures welcomed us with a surprise; Lemond had attacked and the only rider who could keep his wheel was another Colombian, Herrera’s main lieutenant, Fabio Parra. We were ecstatic. We were now in the family room, far away from my parents bedroom, so we could jump up and down. My sister’s room was right next to us, but I don’t recall ever worrying about waking her up.

Herrera went on to win the stage: the first of two he would win that Tour. That day, that morning, that stage, that last climb, was what made sport of cycling so important to me. and the man who made it happen was Luis Alberto Herrera. The Heather Thomas poster on my ceiling was replaced that summer.
Herrera celebrates his win at Morzine-Avoriaz in 1985 (photo Mundo Ciclistico)

The man responsible for my obsession for bicycle races was born in 1961 in the small town of Fusagasugá (Fusa, for short), a few kilometers south-west of Bogota. His childhood was pretty normal for the son of a farmer couple in Colombia. His chores consisted of feeding the chickens, helping his mom pick coffee and, of course, going to school. He played soccer and even ran track, but never saw sports as a serious pastime. His first bike was a gift from his mother. She felt bad that Luis had to walk to and from school with his flat feet. Still, cycling wasn’t his favorite activity. He loved gardening. That’s were his nickname of “El Jardinerito” (The Little Gardener) comes from. After graduating high school he opened his own nursery. Being his own boss left him with plenty of time to ride his bike and the sport started becoming more and more important in his life.

A young Herrera celebrates his First Communion (photo Mundo Ciclistico)

Herrera's brother, Rafael, saw Lucho ride and convinced him to race in a small event in Fusa. He didn’t do very well, but he fell in love with racing and started to take the sport more seriously. In 1977 he raced the Colombian Amateur Championship and finished 21st. In ‘79 he ran the Vuelta de la Juventud (the amateur version of the Vuelta a Colombia) and it was there that he started to learn what the life of a cyclist was really like. “Every day was tough for me,” remembers Herrera. “I couldn’t get used to the routine. The food, the hotels, the heat, the crashes…. Those were really tough times for me.”

Herrera takes place in the Vuelta de la Juventud in 1979 (photo Mundo Ciclistico)

After a few more tough years in small amateur teams, Herrera caught a break and signed with the Valyain team in 1981. With a pro-team, he was able to enter the Clásico RCN that year. The Clásico is Colombia’s most important race after the Vuelta a Colombia and in the 70’s and 80’s it used to attract plenty of international talent and the top teams in Europe were always in the start list. Herrera showed his talent and won a stage. It was his first major victory.

Later on in the year, the team brought him to his first Vuelta a Colombia. “I was too young. I was a rookie. I didn’t know anything. The first 8 days of that race were hell for me. I took that Vuelta as a learning experience.” And the experience seemed to have worked. Herrera signed with the bigger Freskola team and went back to the Clasico RCN in 1982. This time he won the whole thing, defeating some righteous names. “Beating Pascal Simon, [Robert] Millar and [Fabio] Parra (who had just won the Vuelta a Colombia) was amazing for me. No one knew who I was before the race.” Herrera won the GC, the KOM and two stages. Not bad for an unknown. His performance in the Clasico RCN caught the attention of Colombia’s National Team coach and Herrera found himself on his way to France to compete in the Tour de L’Avenir. Everything was new to him. He’d never left Colombia and had never been in an airplane for that long of a flight. The humble and shy Colombian farmer felt uncomfortable and out-of-place, but once he got on his bike, no one could stop him. He won his first race in Europe: a stage in Morzine. The same Morzine that would see him win in Tour de France years later as my brother and I jumped up and down, waking my sister up.

I could not find an image of Herrera wearing the Freskola jersey, but I found this.
The soda company also sponsored the Pereira soccer team in the 80s.

continue to part 2>>

Colombia doesn't always mean Colombia

Colombia, Colombia, Colombia...

When Rigoberto Urán (left) crossed the line behind AlexandreVinokurov in London this summer to win the silver medal for his country, he had the word "Colombia" written across his chest. "Of course," you may think, "he was riding for the Colombian Olympic team." And you are right, he was. That team was funded by the Colombian Cycling Federation, a branch of Coldeportes (the Colombian Institute of Sport), which in turn is a part of the Ministry of Culture, with money from the Colombian government. Simple enough, right?
Well, weeks later, in October, Fabio Duarte (center) crossed the line in first place at the Coppa Sabatini. He, too, was wearing a kit that displayed the word "Colombia" across the chest. Was Duarte in the Olympic team, as well? Well, he was, in London in the summer, but not in October when he won that race in Italy. He was racing for his trade team, Pro Continental team Colombia-Coldeportes. Same word on his kit, but the folks who paid for it are different than the people who paid for Urán's a few weeks before. "How could it be?" you ask, "you just said Coldeportes paid for that as well!" Well, not really. They did, but they didn't.

You see, Coldeportes, is the umbrella government  institution for anything sport related, and therefore the Colombian Cycling Federation and the Olympic team fall under their supervision. The funding for those programs, however, come directly from the Ministry of Culture. Coldeportes itself, only sponsors one team. Actually two. Ok, maybe three. I know, I know. This is a mess and it didn't start with the Olympics in London.

Do you remember the Café de Colombia team in the 1980s? That team were the direct descendants of the old Colombia-Varta amateur team (above image: Alfonso López, right). As you can see, "Colombia" right on the kit. Many years later, in 2007, it was revived as Colombia es Pasión-Cafe de Colombia. I already mentioned Fabio Duarte's Colombia-Coldeportes, but let me add the Colombia-Comcel team, and Colombia-Claro (who is leading the Vuelta a Bolivia). Ah, let us not forget the young team 4-72-Colombia. And what about the Team Colombia hitting the streets in 2013?

Nine teams with "Colombia" on their kits and names, but always a different same "sponsor". Actually, not really. Mostly the money comes from the same place, but different people write the checks.

Confused yet? You are not alone. I am going to attempt to explain this whole mess and hopefully you'll walk away an expert in all matters Colombia, Colombian sponsorship, and the Colombian government's subsidising of sport. Let's take it from the top.

Luis "Lucho" Herrera becomes the first amateur and the first Colombian to win a stage in the Tour.
(1984 at Alpe d'Huez)
Colombia-Pilas Varta (1983-84)
It all starts pretty simple. In 1983 the Colombian Government, through the Ministry of Culture, sponsored an amateur team to race in Europe. German battery company Varta was the co-sponsor, but since amateur teams were not allowed to overtly display sponsor logos, Varta cleverly used their signature yellow V in the jersey. In this case the "Colombia" across the jersey actually meant the country, since this was considered a National Team.

Café de Colombia (1985-90)
In 1985 Colombian cycling went pro with a team no longer sponsored by the government. Well, sorta. The team was sponsored by the Colombian Federation of Coffee Growers. The Federation was founded in 1927 to fight for the rights of small coffee growing farmers. It has since grown quite a bit, and today represents 563 thousand coffee-growing families. Since coffee is one of Colombia's biggest exports, the National government subsidizes the Federation. So, in short, in this case "Colombia" didn't really mean the country, although the government helped pay for the team.

Colombia es Pasión (2007-11) 
This team started out as a modest Continental squad in '07 sponsored by the National Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism. "Colombia es Pasión" was simply the slogan they were using to promote tourism at the time. So, once again, "Colombia" didn't mean the government, although they were the ones paying the bills. In 2010 the Colombian Federation of Coffee Growers came back to the sport as a sponsor, and for two years the team was re-named "Colombia es Pasión-Cafe de Colombia." Twice as many "Colombia," two different organizations, but the whole thing pretty much being paid for by the tax-payers. Not for long, though. The sponsorship was pulled in 2011 and the team ended.

Esteban Cháves. He looks 14, but he's 22.
Colombia-Coldeportes (2012)
Even though it was only their first year as a team, Colombia-Coldeportes had a very successful season. The team won 6 races (4 of them in Europe). Of note Esteban Chaves' wins in Burgos and in the Gran Premio Città di Camaiore. At 22, Chaves is without a doubt one of the biggest promises of Colombian cycling. But enough cycling...

The "Colombia" part of the team name is actually paid for by the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism. The same guys with "Colombia es Pasión," but this time without a cute slogan. It may sound (and look) like a National Team, but it isn't. Coldeportes (Colombian Institute of Sport) is a branch of the Ministry of Culture, which, of course, is funded by the government. So, Colombia-Coldeportes is like saying Colombian National Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism plus Colombian National Ministry of Culture.

For 2013 there were talks of welcoming an outside private sponsor and even some european riders, but instead of making the team seem less "Colombian," they went and did exactly the opposite. (see Colombia (2013) below)

Juan Alejandro García of Colombia-Claro
Colombia-Comcel / Colombia-Claro
This is the Continental team of Coldeportes (remember we learned that Coldeportes is the Colombian Institute of Sport, a branch of the Ministry of Culture?). That's where the "Colombia" in the team name comes from. Which is ridiculous, since the "Colombia" in Colombia-Coldeportes, comes from the OTHER Ministry! Anyway, Comcel used to be a private telecommunications company in Colombia, recently purchased by Mexican giants America Movil and therefore their name has changed to Claro. Thankfully that part actually makes sense.

Oh, this one is fun. 4-72-Colombia is a developmental team. In 2013 they will have 15 under-23 riders and three under-19. Who is paying for this one, you ask? Well, 4-72 or 472 is the Colombian National Postal Service. The name comes from the latitude of Colombia being 4º00´ South of the Equator, and the longitude: 72º00´ West of Greenwich. Funding for the postal service: The National Government, but that is not where the "Colombia" in the name comes from. That part of the title comes courtesy of our old friends in the Colombian National Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism. Remember them? The "Colombia es Pasión" people. Except, that's not their slogan anymore, so they just use "Colombia." For now. And we thank them for making it more confusing.

By the way, 4-72 was also a sponsor of the Colombia es Pasión team. One more for ya; when they went to France for the Tour de L´Avenir, they raced as the National Team with white kits, not their usual black.

In 2013, everything's gonna change. Kind of. Both sponsors ("4-72" (read: the Colombian Government) and "Colombia" (read: the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism)) will continue to support the team. The thing is that the tourism people have a whole new campaign going (it's actually pretty cool, check out this video about the development of the visual identity), so they will rebrand the team accordingly. As best I can tell the team will be called 4-72-Co-Colombia or 4-72-marca Colombia.

The elegant black kit will be back for 2013
Colombia and Colombia (2013)
The Colombian National Cycling Team had a great season. Rigoberto Urán scored a nice silver medal for the country, but he will not be be in this NEW Colombia Team. Why? Because this Team Colombia I'm referring to has nothing to do with the National or Olympic teams. It has very little to do with the Colombian Cycling Federation. Team Colombia is going to be the new Colombia-Coldeportes, who decided to change their name, because (I am not kidding) they thought it was too confusing. You can't make this stuff up.

I have no idea who is actually paying for the "Colombia" on the jersey for 2013 (as I write this the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism may be), but I do know that the team will remain under the guidance of Claudio Corti and will present their new bike supplier (Bianchi will no longer with the team) and their new kit on December 5. Coldeportes, who will still fund the team (although their name will no longer reflect it), promised the black kits will be back, but they are adding a "colorful new touch" ("brillante novedad"). May the Lord of "Colorful Touches" take pity on our souls and not let the kits look like shit.

So, there you have it, the same word on the jersey, five different piles of cash, but all coming from the same source. The Colombian national government. 

As a Colombian, and as a Colombian cycling fan I don't feel too good about this. Does no one in the private sector have any faith in the sport? If you look at smaller teams in the country, you find most of them are funded by local governments, too. Don't get me wrong. I think that the public sector investing in sport is a great thing, but private sponsors need to step up and use cycling as the great publicity vehicle that it is. Otherwise the system will come to a halt again, and we'll be back to the early 90s when the development of cycling in Colombia was slow and poor, at best.

Movistar Signs Young Colombian Argiro Ospina

21-year-old Argiro Ospina has signed for Movistar,for the 2013 season.

Argiro Ospina is the latest Colombian to sign for a ProTour team for the 2013 season. Argiro (pronounced Ar-hero) had a great 2012 with the Aguardiente Antioqueño-Lotería de Medellín team, winning the Queen Stage of the Vuelta al Tolima and racing an impressive Clasico RCN, where he won the 7th stage in style. In 2011 he won the overall in the Vuelta de Higuito (in Costa Rica), where he also won a stage. After only 2 seasons as a pro, his palmares may be short, but his riding style obviously caught the eye of Eusebio Unzué. With the help of Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran, Ospina and Unzué met and the deal to bring another Colombian to Movistar was signed.

Helloooo Ladies! Ospina poses after his win in this year's Clasico RCN.

After the deal was announced, Ospina released this statement:
"I am very happy, I have fulfilled one of my dreams. I want to thank Hector Manuel Castaño and Carlos Mario Jaramillo (Sporting directors for the Aguardiente Antioqueño team), who helped me from the beginning, and the Aguardiente Antioqueño-Lotería de Medellín. I signed a two-year contract so I know the team believes in me. I hope to adapt quickly to European racing and make Colombia proud."

Wearing the Leader's Jersey at the Vuelta Higuito in 2011

Ospina is 21 years old, born in the small town of Nechí, in Antioquia, and currently lives in Medellin. He comes from a cycling family. His brother Carlos Ospina is the Colombian National TT Champion and a member of the national track team. Before the start of the 2013 season, he will move to Pamplona, where he will live with Nairo Quintana, Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao.

Those Were the Days - A Look at Colombian Cycling Today

Rigoberto Uran gave Colombia it's 12th medal in Olympic competition history.

There’s little doubt that Colombian cycling has had their best year in recent history. Miguel Ángel Rubiano (Androni Giocattoli), Carlos Betancur (Acqua & Sapone), Cayetano Sarmiento (Liquigas), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Fabio Duarte and Darwin Atapuma (Colombia-Coldeportes), and Sergio Henao (Team Sky) all had great seasons.

But the real star of Colombian cycling this year was, of course, Team Sky’s Rigoberto Uran. The young Colombian had an outstanding Volta a Catalunya, where he won a stage, he took the young riders' classification in the Giro d’Italia, he gave Colombia a silver medal in the London Olympics and toped off the season with a victory in  the Giro del Piemonte and a podium in Lombardia.

Spread in the September 2012 issue of Italian magazine Bici Sport.

All these achievements have not gone unnoticed in the world’s press. Italy’s biggest cycling magazine, Bici Sport, dedicated 12 pages in their September issue to Colombian cycling, and in particular to Uran and Betancur. It’s fitting that the story opened with a 2-page spread with an image of Luis Herrera sporting the Tour polka dot jersey, since many in the cycling world often use Herrera, and the other escarabajos in the 1980s, as reference for how low Colombian cycling has fallen in the last 30 years. Sure, Victor Hugo Peña, who is the only Colombian to ever wear the Yellow Jersey in the Tour (2003), and 2002 TT World Champion Santiago Botero, had outstanding careers, but in the hearts of Colombians, the late 1990s and early 2000s seem almost insignificant in comparison to the “Golden Years” of the Cafe de Colombia and Postobon teams.

1988: Fabio Parra (right), the only Colombian to podium at the Tour de France.

Growing up, as I did, in the midst of a cycling-crazy Colombia in the 1980s it’s hard to disagree. “Those were the days,” I often tell people, when we talk cycling. If I am correct and those were the days, then what about today? Are today also “the days”? Are “the days” back? It sure seems so. 

In 2012 Miguel Ángel Rubiano won a stage in the Giro d’Italia, Carlos Betancur won the Trofeo Melinda, Cayetano Sarmiento took the mountain’s classification in the Dauphiné, Fabio Duarte won the Coppa Sabatini (with Rubiano in second), and Sergio Henao had a break-out year with Team Sky, and let us not forget the previously mentioned achievments of Uran.

Quintana, during the 2012 Tour of Murcia.

What does 2013 bring for Colombia in the world of cycling?  Well, Fabio Duarte and the rest of team Colombia-Coldeportes will be back, although it may change names, depending on sponsorship. Their main objective will be to gain a wild card into the Giro. Carlos Betancur has moved to a ProTour team (AG2R), as has Jose Serpa (Lampre). Henao and Uran have proven their worth in Team Sky and with Juan Antonio Flecha leaving to Vacansoleil, the spring may be a rewarding season for the pair. Winner Anacona (Lampre) may live up to his name, now that his countryman, Serpa, will be in his team, but the one I’m most looking forward to seeing next year, is Nairo Quintana for Movistar. At 22 and only one year as a pro, he has already won the Vuelta a Murcia (plus a stage), a stage in the Critérium du Dauphiné, and a stage in the Giro de Emilia. He also won the overall (and a stage) in the Route du Sud. A feat no other Colombian had achieved since Alvaro Mejia in 1994.

Maybe “the days” really are back. Even better, maybe “the days” are yet to come.

Please remember: The pre-order for the Speed Metal Cycling jerseys ends THIS Friday. 

Vuelta a Colombia 2012: Stage 8

Today's breakaway allowed the race leader, Alejandro Ramirez and his Lotería de Medellín team to relax in the peloton.

Ignacio Sarabia (Movistar Continental), Andrés Pantano (Supergiros-Redetrans), Jairo Pérez (Lotería de Boyacá), Juan Alejandro García (Colombia-Comcel) and Camilo Suárez (Epm-Une) were the heroes of the eighth stage of the Vuelta a Colombia. The five Colombians formed a gutsy breakaway that stayed out for over 150 kilometers. The Yellow Jersey and his Lotería de MedellÍn team welcomed the break, since there was no real GC threat. The peloton allowed the five leaders a maximum gap of just over 10 minutes.

As the stage reached the day's only climb, the escapees started to slow and the peloton, with GW-Shimano in the front, started to pull them back. Seeing an opportunity to gain a few more seconds with a top 3 finish in the stage, Felix Cardenas ordered his team to chase. GW-Shimano got it right, once again, and with only two kilometers to go the dreams of the breakaway faded as they peloton swallowed them, while gearing up for yet another bunch sprint.

Double stage winner Zanotti underestimated Ecuadorian sprinter Byron Guamá (Movistar Continental), who came from behind to become only the second non-Colombian to win a stage in this year's race.

There was no major changes in the general classification, except for KOM Leader Fernando Camargo, who lost 20 seconds at the finish and dropped out of the top 10.

Stage 9 will be the first of the three mountainous stages that will close and decide the 2012 Vuelta. Many of the riders will be very familiar with the 119 kilometers from Dosquebradas to Manizales, since this exact route has been used multiple times in Colombia's Tour and many other smaller stage races. Four categorized climbs, including the first category summit in Manizales, only 5 kilometers from the finish line.

Ecuadorean Byron Guamá wins the 8th stage.

1. Byron Guamá (Movistar Continental)  4h10.41
2. Marco Zanotti (Utensilnord-Named)  ST
3. Jaime Castañeda (Colombia-Comcel)
4. Juan Pablo Suárez (Colombia-Coldeportes)
5. Jaime Vergara (EPM-Une) 

1. Alejandro RamÍrez (Lotería de MedellÍn) 23h09:44
2. Fabio Montenegro (Formesan) 06'
3. Flober Peña (Néctar Cundinamarca)  22'
4. Félix Cárdenas (GW Shimano)  33'
5. Fabio Duarte (Colombia-Coldeportes)  58'

Vuelta a Colombia 2012: Stage 7

Zanotti celebrated his second victory in this year's Vuelta a Colombia

Marco Zanotti  of Utensilnord-Named sprinted to his second stage win in the 2012 Vuelta a Colombia. It took the 23-year-old Italian just over 3 hours  to complete the 149km stage, from Popayán to Palmira in the south-west area of the country.

Lotería de Medellín kept the pace up during the relatively calm stage, controlling the peloton and maintaining race leader,  Alejandro Ramírez out of trouble and unthreatened.  During the first part of the stage, the excitement came from the fight for the KOM points between Fernando Camargo of Lotería de Boyacá and Fabio Montenegro of Formesan-Bogotá Humana. Camargo continues as the leader in that competition with 48 points, 9 more than Montenegro.

After the last climb of the day a breakaway finally formed. The small group contained Mauricio Ardila (Colombia-Comcel, ex-Rabobank), Camilo Castiblanco (EPM-Une), Byron Guamá (Movistar Continental), Wilson Cepeda (Formesan-Bogotá Humana), José Jiménez (Lotería de Boyacá), and Juan Sebastián Tamayo (UPB Bancaja). The six riders got a maximum advantage of just over 2 minutes, before the main field roped them back in, in time for another bunch sprint.

There was no major changes in the General Classification, although fourth place Felix Cardenas did get a 3 second bonus in one of the intermediate sprints.

Thursday's mostly flat stage will take the Vuelta, due north, from Palmira to Dos Quebradas. The 198 km day will most likely be, once again, be controlled by the Leader's team at the beginning and the sprinter's teams in the second half. Expect a bunch sprint.

1. Marco Zanotti (Utensilnord-Named) 3h03:26
2. Carlos Urán (472-Colombia)  ST
3. Marvin Angarita (Movistar Continental)
4. Juan Pablo Forero (Colombia-Coldeportes)
5. Félix Cárdenas (GW Shimano)


1. Alejandro RamÍrez (Lotería de MedellÍn) 23h09:44
2. Fabio Montenegro (Formesan) 06'
3. Flober Peña (Néctar Cundinamarca)  22'
4. Félix Cárdenas (GW Shimano)  33'
5. Fabio Duarte (Colombia-Coldeportes)  58'

Vuelta a Colombia 2012: Stage 6

Edson Calderón of 4-72 Colombia celebrates his victory on stage 6

As expected, because of the undulating terrain of stage 6, a breakaway succeeded today. Edson Calderón (4-72 Colombia) won in a spectacular sprint from the remaining riders from the original 15-man leading group.

The hero of the day was Fernando Camargo (Lotería de Boyacá), once again. Camargo, showed how strong he was on stage 4 by going over La Linea in first place. This time, he went alone off the front for almost 90kms today in order to score more KOM points and distance himself from his rivals in this competition. With a few kilometers to go, Camargo was caught by the 14 chasers and Calderon took the sprint.

The peloton containing race leader Felix Cárdenas lost 1:34 to the front group and that was enough for Alejandro Ramírez (Lotería de MedellÍn), who came in on the same time as the stage winner, to become the new overall leader. Breakaway companions Fabio Montenegro (Formesan), and Flober Peña (Néctar Cundinamarca), leaped to second and third respectively. Cardenas fell to fourth and Fabio Duarte to fifth.

After a rest day, the Vuelta will head to Palmira over 149 kilometers. Once again the stage looks like it will favor a breakaway. If the group that goes off the front ends up being as diverse and lively as todays, we may have yet another change in the Leader's Yellow Jersey.

Alejandro Ramires (Loteria de Medellin) becomes the third rider to wear the Yellow Jersey in this year's race.

1. Edson Calderón (Colombia 4-72) 2h55:02
2. Flober Peña (Néctar Cundinamarca)  ST
3. Felipe Laverde (Colombia-Coldeportes)
4. Diego Quintero (GW Shimano)
5. Edgar Fonseca (LoterÍa de Boyacá)

1. Alejandro RamÍrez (Lotería de MedellÍn) 23h09:44
2. Fabio Montenegro (Formesan) 06'
3. Flober Peña (Néctar Cundinamarca)  22'
4. Félix Cárdenas (GW Shimano)  36'
5. Fabio Duarte (Colombia-Coldeportes)  58'

Vuelta a Colombia 2012: Stage 5

Juan Pablo Forero wins the stage in Cali.
The Colombia-Coldeportes team put their foot down today in the 5th stage of the Vuelta a Colombia. From the early kilometers of the 190km stage, Claudio Corti's team made it clear they wanted the stage. They set an infernal pace from the beginning and they few attacks that were able to go off the front didn't go very far, before the peloton, lead by the black jerseys, swallowed them up. In the end, all their hard work paid off when Juan Pablo Forero took the stage ahead of Jairo Salas (GW Shimano), and teammate Jeffry Romero. Félix Cárdenas  (GW-Shimano) remains in the leader's Yellow Jersey.

Stage 6, with three cat. 3 climbs, seems perfect for a break-away to succeed. Aside from Utensilnord-Named (ITA)'s stage victory via Marco Zanotti, no other foreign team has had any success in this year's race, so we can expect those teams to be very active when the breakaways start to form.

Colombia-Coldeportes controlled the front of the bunch for much of today's stage

1. Juan Pablo Forero (Colombia-Coldeportes)
2. Jairo A.Salas (GW Shimano) ST
3. Jeffry Romero (Colombia-Coldeportes)
4. Marco Zanotti (ITA-Utensilnord Named)
5. Marvin Angarita (Movistar Continental)

1. Félix Cárdenas (GW Shimano)
2. Fabio Duarte (Colombia-Coldeportes)  22s
3. Juan Diego Ramírez (Supergiros-Redetrans)  33s
4. Didier Sastoque (Formesan-Bogotá Humana-Pinturas Bler)  46s
5. Freddy Montaña (Movistar Continental)  49s

Vuelta a Colombia 2012: Stage 4

"El Gato" stays in Yellow.

Wearing the Yellow Jersey, Félix "El Gato" Cárdenas (GW Shimano) won the first mountain stage of this year's Vuleta a Colombia, between Ibague and Armenia, via the Alto La Linea. Cardenas won his second stage and now established himself as the favorite to win the race overall.

The HC climb to La Linea provided the selection many expected and has reduced the list of favorites to just a handful. The ascent was marked by multiple attacks off the ever-shrinking peloton, but it was clear that El Gato's GW-Shimano team were in control. In the last kilometers of the climb Fernando Camargo (Lotería de Boyacá) was able to get ahead of the group and went over the legendary summit in first place. On the descent he was joined by teammate Rodolfo Torres and Juan Diego Ramírez of the Supergiros-Redetrans team. Cárdenas' biggest rival, Fabio Duarte (Colombia-Coldeportes), tested the leader a few times, but El Gato and his team controlled every attack. With 10 kilometers to go, the GW-Shimano team turned up the gas and caught the three leaders with just meters to the line. Cárdenas out-sprinted Ramírez, the last remaining member of the original leading trio, and Fabio Duarte came in third.

Sunday's flat stage from Armenia to Cali (179kms) should not shake the GC.

The lonely Fernando Camargo conquers La Linea.

1. Félix Cárdenas (GW Shimano)
2. Juan Diego Ramírez (Supergiros-Redetrans)  ST
3. Fabio Duarte (Colombia-Coldeportes)
4. Fernando Camargo (Lotería-Empresa de Energía de Boyacá)
5. Didier Sastoque (Formesan-Bogotá Humana-Pinturas Bler)

1. Félix Cárdenas (GW Shimano)
2. Fabio Duarte (Colombia-Coldeportes)  22s
3. Juan Diego Ramírez (Supergiros-Redetrans)  33s
4. Didier Sastoque (Formesan-Bogotá Humana-Pinturas Bler)  46s
5. Freddy Montaña (Movistar Continental)  49s

Vuelta a Colombia 2012: Stage 3

El Gato in yellow once again.

Defending Champion Félix "El Gato" Cárdenas (GW-Shimano) showed his ambition as he easily won the sprint of the third stage of the 2012 Vuelta a Colombia. The 198km stage between Soacha and Ibague was the longest of the race. Ecuadorian Byron Guama (Movistar Continental) was second and 2011 Tour del Avenir winner, Esteban Chaves (Colombia-Coldeportes), was third.

By gaining valuable seconds on the time bonuses available in the intermediate sprints and the 10 seconds at the finish line, El Gato also recaptured the Yellow Jersey he had lost only 2 ago to youngster Edwin Avila. Avila moved down to second in the GC, 10 seconds back of the stage winner.

Stage 4 will finally bring the mountains that the Vuelta a Colombia is known for. Four categorized climbs will take the riders from Ibague to Armenia. The last of the climbs is the legendary Alto La Linea that has been very selective in past years. This monstrous climb is about 30kms long and averages just over 7.5% with a maximum incline of 13%. Whoever survives La Lina will still have 58kms to go before reaching the valley below and, eventually the city of Armenia.

Last year Cardenas assumed the lead of the race in the city of Ibague and went on to win the Vuelta. Tomorrow we will find out if he can do it again. One thing is for sure, the GW-Shimano team will have their hands full with Colombia-Coldeportes and EPM-Une, who will test El Gato all the way up the HC climb.

La Linea awaits the Vuelta a Colombia (Photo: Altimetrias Colombianas)


1. Félix Cárdenas (GW-Shimano) 4:23:15
2. Byron Guama (Movistar) ST
3. Esteban Chaves (Colombia-Coldeportes)
4. Janier Acevedo (Orgullo Antioqueño)
5. Marlon Pérez (Colombia-Comcel)

1. Félix Cárdenas (GW-Shimano)
2. Edwin Ávila (Selección Colombia de Pista) 10s
3. Marlon Pérez (Colombia-Comcel)  15s
4. Fabio Duarte (Colombia-Coldeportes)  16s
5. Juan Pablo Villegas (4/72-Colombia)  18s

Vuelta a Colombia 2012: Stage 2

Marco Zanotti wins stage 2 (Photo Mundo Ciclistico)

Italian sprinter Marco Zanotti (Utensilnord-Named) won the sprint in the second stage of the 62nd Vuleta a Colombia. The 164 kilometer stage started and finished in the city of Villavicencio. Jairo Salas (GW Shimano) was second and Colombian Edwin Avila was third. Avila, who is the reigning World Champion in the Men's Points Race, took over the Yellow Jersey.

Stage 3 will start in Soacha and go through Fusagasuga, home of the great Lucho Herrera, before finishing in Ibague, after 198 kilometers. The two categorized climbs (3rd and 2nd) will be an appetizer to Saturday's HC climb to La Linea.

1. Marco Zanotti (Utensilnord Named Italia)
2. Jairo Salas (GW Shimano) ST
3. Edwin Ávila (Selección Colombia) ST
4. Luis Fernando Macías (Movistar Team) ST
5. Jeffry Romero (Colombia Coldeportes) ST

1. Edwin Ávila (Selección Colombia)
2. Félix Cárdena (GW-Shimano)   5s
3. Carlos Urán (4-72/Colombia)   7s
4. Juan Pablo Villegas (4-72/Colombia)   8s
5. Luis Pasamontes (Movistar Team)   10s

Vuelta a Colombia 2012: Stage 1

Sprinter Carlos Uran (4-72-Colombia) won the stage into Villavicencio. (photo: Mundo Ciclistico)

Carlos Uran of the 4-27/Colombia team won the sprint of the first stage of the 62nd Vuelta a Colombia, after 192.8kms into he city of Villavicencio. The 32-year-old sprinter edged out his teammate  Juan Pablo Villegas, with William Muñoz (Supergiros-Redetrans) coming in third.

The stage reflects the new face of the Vuelta a Colombia. In order to attract more foreign teams (and the hoping the UCI will also pay attention), the organizers planned a shorter race with more flat stages, 2 time trials, and significantly less climbing.

Felix "El Gato" Cardenas receives the Leader's Jersey
In the General Classification, 2011 defending Champion Félix ‘El Gato’ Cárdenas (GW Shimano) takes over the overall lead from Fabio Duarte (Colombia-Coldeportes), thanks to a 3 second bonus at the second intermediate sprint of the day. Cardenas now leads Marlon Pérez (Colombia-Comcel) by 2 seconds and third place Duarte by 3.

Tomorrow's stage is a 164km mostly flat loop starting and finishing in the city of Villavicencio. Another bunch sprint is expected.

Vuelta Colombia 2012 - A Brief Guide

The 62nd Vuelta a Colombia runs from June 12 to June 24 and starts with a 4.6km prologue. 11 stages (and 1705kms) later, the winner will be crowned in Alto Las Palmas (in Medellin), after the final mountain TT.

La Linea climb

Even though the parcours has 5 mountain-top finishes, it's not as tough as it has been in the last few years. The usual 14 stages have been replaced by 11, plus the prologue. The race will visit most of the major Colombian cities (Ibague, Armenia, Cali, Popayan, Manizales and Medellin) but it will not visit the capital, Bogota.

Stage 4 (Ibague to Aremnia - 130.2kms) looks to be the toughest on paper with the brutal HC climb to Alto La Linea. It's almost 50kms long and tops of at 3242meters. With the climb 60kms from the finish, La Linea may not be as decisive as in previous years, but it will not be an easy one.

Stage 9 (Dosquebradas to Manizales - 119.5kms) will probably be the most decisive one. The guys who survive the climb up to Manizales will be the ones fighting for the overall victory in the final mountain TT.

2012 Vuelta a Colombia Leader's jersey presented ahead of the prologue in Puerto Gaitan.

200 riders in 23 teams will take the start in Puerto Gaitan. The five foreign teams invited are Somos Carchi (Ecuador), UPV-Bancaja (Spain), Utensilnord-Named (Italy), San Luis Somos Todos (Argentina) and Pio Rico (Bolivia).

Felix Cardenas (GW-Shimano): The defending champion has won stages in the Vuelta a España and the Tour de France (riding for Kelme), but at 38 years-old we will have to see if he can out-wit and out-ride the younger guys.

Fredy Montaña (Movistar Continental): Montaña is probably the best time trialist of the favorites and will probably plan his race around the final TT. He finished 3rd overall last year and won the final TT.

Giovanni Baez (EPM-Une): Even though he won the Vuelta Colombia in 2008, he still has something to prove. He finished second in the final TT in 2011, but wasn't enough to beat Cardenas for the overall. Baez lost the Vuelta by a mere 2 seconds.

Fabio Duarte (Colombia-Coldeportes): Colombia-Coldeportes may be considered a "foreign" team now that they are managed by an Italian and are headquartered in Europe. The 2008 U23 World Champion didn't participate last year, but he did win 2 stages in 2010 and has since had very good showings in Italy, Spain and California.

There hasn't been an announcement of an international on-line TV feed, but if there will be one, I'm sure the official Colombian Federation Twitter will be the first to announce it: @fedeciclismocol

The organizers have announced the official Twitter hashtag will be #VCol, but #VColombia seems more prevelent with the media.

Stage profiles by Alimetrias de Colombia
Official start list
Photos of Team Presentation


IT'S OFFICIAL! One more year of Jens!!

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2010 Vuelta a España final podium:
1. Vincenzo Nibali
2. Ezequiel Mosquera
3. Peter Velits

2010 Tour de l'Avenir final podium:
1. Nairo Quntana
2. Andrew Talansky
3. Jarlinson Pantano

John Degenkolb of Germany. Remember that name.

Video on Cycling Inquisition blog of the welcome party Quintana got upon his return to Colombia after winning the Tour de l'Avenir.

Cipollini, a friend of the show, disapproves of Bettini's choices for the Italian Team for the WC. We disapprove of his choice of clothing. Always.

Ben King, the new U.S. National champ. Too bad he's heading to RadioShit.