It was in the late 1980s when I first began to catch the Tour de France. At the time the Colombians had an almost mythical ability in the Tour de France. I didn’t understand much about the sport but I knew in the mountains that Lucho Herrera, Pablo Wilches and Fabio Parra were able to win and to liven up any summit finish. There were two teams from Colombia, Café de Colombia and Postobon. In time the South Americans collected a very respectable list of results, from stage wins to placings in races like the Vuelta, Dauphiné and Tour de France.
The Colombians also brought very animated commentators who would give typical latin flair to their flow. I can’t find a clip but here’s the soccer equivalent. It wasn’t just heated commentary, in time they also brought cocaine.
But now the Colombians are back. They’ve got a Pro Continental team with Colombia es Pasión-Café de Colombia. It has 14 registered riders although the team lists more on their website. The team is modest in budget and scope but compensates with talent. They’ve secured some invites to European races and are currently riding the Volta a Catalunya. Today Alex Cano was sixth on today’s big mountain stage, ahead of riders like Ivan Basso and Cadel Evans. Nairo Quintana, winner of the 2010 Tour de l’Avenir, will wear the mountains jersey tomorrow too. He is tied with Alberto Contador but the Spaniard is also in first place on the overall. Performances like this should bring more invites, these guys know how to liven up a race.
There are several other Colombians in the bunch too. First, there’s José Serpa. His name means “sherpa” and he certainly excels in the mountains but he’s proving a punchy rider with a fast finish. A big talent seems to be Rigoberto Uran, a crafty signing by Team Sky, I wondered if he’d be out of place on the team but they’ve gone out of their way to sign Spanish speakers, like Xavier Xandio plus they’ve got Nico Portal, the French underwear model has converted from rider to DS and he speaks fluent Spanish. There’s Fabio Duarte too, the 2008 U-23 World Champion who is with Geox and already has some results to his name this year. There are more, including the most French of them, Leonard Duque who rides for Cofidis. A fast finisher on a hilly stage, Duque has never landed a big results but is often in the top-10.
The country as a whole has bee through a lot. The narcotics trade almost overwhelmed the nation but things today are far more stable, I’ve heard great things from people visiting. The return of Colombians to major races reflects the renewed stability and rising prosperity. As the sport globalises they might be one nation amongst many but for me there’s something about the Colombians, perhaps a feeling from my earliest memories of the Tour on TV, that’s exciting to watch.