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Friday, 23 April 2010


I’ve been reading Laurent Fignon’s autobiography, of which an English translation is due out this summer and will write a review soon.

One brief anecdote from the book. In the 1987 Vuelta, Fignon finished third to Colombia’s Luis Herrera. The first Colombian winner of a Grand Tour, it was a massive victory for South American cycling. But the Café de Colombia team seems to have been about more than the mere promotion of coffee.

Describing Herrera’s win, Fignon says “the Colombians were hysterical, they were handing out cocaine to anyone who wanted it by the packet! The team mechanics got them into Europe hidden inside bike frames“.

  • It’s not the first time organised crime has been linked to a cycling team. I’d like to name a team from the 1990s but better not do so for health reasons. The team was genuine but one of the sponsors was a front for organised crime and used for money laundering.

EDIT: I was only half-joking about my health. If you want to find the name of the team in question, click here.

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{ 4 comments }

Alex Murray April 23, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Wasn't there a whole organised crime front with the Colombian teams that were sponsored by the Escobar family?

But I'm guessing your one is a bunch of Italians?

TheInnerRing April 23, 2010 at 4:00 pm

You might think that but I could not possibly comment.

Matt Rendell June 2, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Fignon’s image of the Colombians foisting cocaine on people sounds like a standard European/American blaming of other, poorer people for their/our own massive collective drug habit. Colombia had dreamed since the 1950s of sending a team to compete at the Tour de France. The riders who came as part of the Gran Aventura of the early 1980s were from often very humble backgrounds indeed, and arrived with a far more deferent culture than that of their European counterparts. I too understand that some cocaine crossed the Atlantic with them but I think it would be more accurate to think that they were hoping to please their hosts by responding to the very clearly-stated enthusiasm of their new European friends for drugs.

I wouldn’t take Fignon’s memory at face value. I don’t think Fignon travelled well. He hated the Colombians, for some reason, and never missed an opportunity to disparage them. José Beyaert once overheard him speaking badly of them and threatened to break his jaw.

There is a far greater stigma against cocaine use in Colombia than anywhere I have been in Europe or North America. I have spent in total three or four of the past eleven years in Colombia, and I have never seen cocaine or heard of its use by anyone in my large circle of acquaintances.

Matt Rendell June 2, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Regarding Alex Murray’s ‘whole organised crime front with the Colombian teams that were sponsored by the Escobar family,’ Roberto Escobar, Pablo’s brother, was an international cyclist, so there was naturally a family interest in the sport, and I don’t think anyone doubts that Roberto’s Bicicletas Ositto team was funded by Pablo’s money. But I’m not aware of cycling ever having been used for money-laundering or as a significant front for crime, except, as at the Tour of Cuba, for exploring possible routes to get drugs into the US.

Colombia is a lot more than drugs. This is all hackneyed stuff, and deeply frustrating: it reminds me of those favela tourists whose idea of Brazil is misery. We’re all a lot smarter than this.

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