Driving to the start of the stages in Antioquia at the Tour Colombia 2.1 last week, we pass numerous kids, completely decked out in cycling gear flying up the mountains hoping to secure a prime viewing spot to see their cycling heroes.
Colombia boasts many of the top talent in the world right now in professional cycling.
Visiting the country and seeing these kids and the cycling culture, it’s easy to see why the flow of such talent is continuous.
The history of the sport in the region is legendary and one that spans decades.
Based nearby is a cycling academy that is sponsored by the Department of Antioquia and boasts a home team, Orgullo Paisa, which translates to “Proud Country.” They were one of a number of Colombian-based elite teams racing in the Tour.
“In Colombia, the municipalities each have their own teams, at this moment even (Fernando) Gaviria’s own father directs a cycling school that has 40 kids,” says Mauricio Ardila, current director sportif for the team.
Ardila was a graduate of the program himself, racing in the WorldTour for such teams as Rabobank, and Geox-TMC to name a few.
“After retiring from racing, I returned to become a director in order to help the new kids.”
The program launched officially in 1993, and was known under several names throughout the years, though always sponsored by the department in Antioquia.
In the mid-2000s, the team earned continental status. Many of the best Colombian riders graduated from the program, including Rigoberto Urán, Gaviria, Carlos Betancur, and Sergio Henao.
“Racing for Orgullo Paisa is the dream of every young cyclist in Antioquia,” Fader Ardila adds, Mauricio’s brother and soigneur to Urán.
“For that reason, my brother and I started there, he raced nearly 12 years in Europe. Since we were juniors – myself, Rigo, and Mauricio – we all had our start with the program.”
Due to the focus on development of the sport in the region, the team spends each season mostly racing the national calendar.
On occasion they have raced in the United States, at the US Pro Cycling Challenge in 2011 for example, where Janier Acevedo was first noticed, and at the Tour of the Gila in 2015 with Rafael Montiel and Oscar Sánchez both stage winners at the race.
This year was their first participation at the Tour of Colombia.
“It’s a team that has a long history of producing a lot of high quality riders on the world level,” Brayan Sanchez adds, one of the current riders on the team.
Sanchez recently returned to race with the program, after a short stint with George Hincapie’s Holowesko-Citadel in the United States.
“For that, it has attracted many riders over the years. The region of Antioquia has always supported the program, and the development of the sport here. It’s something the people are very proud of.”
All week at the Tour of Colombia, the riders were racing above 2,000m in altitude, and on circuit courses with long, steady climbs. As expected the WorldTour riders dominated the top ten on GC at the end of the 6 stages.
Orgullo Paisa were in the break several times with Dider Chaparro, and Dany Osorio.
Another rider, Jose Tito Hernandez, earned the KOM jersey for a stage after his day in the break.
Both Chaparro and Osorio finished just outside of the top 20 on GC, with such high calibre of riders at the race, just being noticed was a success for the young team.
“It’s an important race,” Chaparro said. “To see myself with the best, of those we see on television.”
The eyes of the cycling world will continue to be centered on Colombia long after the barriers are stored away, with the WorldTour teams coming to race and wanting to train in the country as seen in this edition of the race and the weeks leading up to it.
And no doubt, owners and directors will continue to look at development programs like Orgullo Paisa for the next crop of talent.
Main image courtesy of Eder Garces; all other images courtesy of Rebecca Reza.