The impact of South American cyclists on a still largely European peloton cannot be ignored.
Nairo Quintana, the Colombian leader of Movistar Team, Endura’s presence in professional cycling’s elite UCI WorldTour, embodies a ‘second wave’ of talent from Latin America, after the pioneering efforts of the Café de Colombia team in the 1980s, with riders like Fabio Parra, Luis Herrera and Patrocinio Jimenez.
Twice a Grand Tour winner, Quintana has flourished at Movistar Team, alongside his brother Dayer and compatriots Carlos Betancur, the 2014 Paris-Nice champion, and Winner Anacona, who in 2014 won stage nine of La Vuelta España.
“Like all Movistar Team riders, the squad’s South American contingent receives bespoke clothing from Endura, handmade in Scotland. The sophisticated garments and the riders who wear them represent an international alliance...”
Richard Carapaz, like his South American forebears, might be described as a pioneer, only for Ecuador, rather than for Colombia. In January, the 24 year-old from Carchí became the first Ecuadorian to earn a full contract with a WorldTour team, having impressed the Movistar Team hierarchy with his performances last season as a stagiaire.
Each of the aforementioned riders receives bespoke clothing from Endura, handmade in Scotland by skilled workers at the brand’s vast headquarters in Livingston, near Edinburgh. The sophisticated garments and the riders who wear them represent a cross-cultural interface, but this is an international alliance, rather than a collision of worlds.
“We’re keenly aware of Colombia’s rich cycling heritage, and proud to play our part in clothing the very best of the new generation,” says Pamela Barclay, Endura’s Brand Director. “There are few stories more inspiring than those of Movistar Team’s South American riders; athletes who have risen from humble beginnings and travelled thousands of miles from their families to follow a dream.”
The path is not always easy; even a shared language cannot entirely smooth the transition from South America to Spain, where Movistar Team is based. The change in lifestyle is dramatic. For a professional athlete, focused intently on training, diet and staying healthy, the challenge presented by relocating from the Equator to the Northern Hemisphere cannot be overstated.
Winner Anacona looks remarkably fresh for a man recently arrived in Spain from Abu Dhabi. His schedule would shame a world leader, but he shrugs off the effects of jet lag as easily as he sheds his rivals in the high mountains to join his team-mates and Endura’s delegation of garment technicians for his annual fitting in Pamplona.
Indeed, Winner’s smile might be the most winning aspect of a long day in a large, but largely featureless conference room. There are piles of Movistar Team clothing - more than one could shake the proverbial stick at - and he must work his way through the stack of garments brought from Scotland for his consideration. Still, he does not complain.
“I’m very glad that the new generation is doing as much as the Colombian riders of the 1980s. To make my own small contribution is an honour.” - Winner Anacona
He has arrived from the Middle East on the ‘red eye’ - a night flight of 7,500km. Perhaps most of us, in his position, would have excused ourselves from the interview, and headed directly to the sanctuary of the hotel room. Anacona is different.
“I finished racing at 8pm local time, and caught a flight to Spain at 2am to arrive in Madrid at 8am. Then I came all the way to Pamplona by car. There was a big change in temperature, from 40 degrees in Abu Dhabi to 15 degrees in Madrid. I’m glad it’s finished, and that I can be here with the team.”
The unity among Anacona and his team-mates is obvious. There is something of an end-of-term atmosphere in the hotel; racing friends reunited at the end of a long season in which they might have met only two or three times. Individual riders meet only when their racing schedules synchronise, or when they are called to the same training camp, even when they belong to the same team.
There is an additional bond with some of his team-mates. Anacona is Colombian, and Movistar Team has become synonymous with cycling’s South American homeland since the arrival of a certain Nairo Quintana, five years ago.
Anacona has been an invaluable support to Quintana, and some months after our conversation, shows himself among the strongest of an elite squad of support riders sent by Movistar Team to the Giro d’Italia; a cadre that will propel the 2014 winner to second overall, just 31 seconds behind eventual winner Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb).
“I would like to set an example for the next generation of Colombian riders, as Lucho Herrera and Fabio Parra did for this generation.” - Winner Anacona
A friendship has blossomed between the compatriots, where previously, Anacona admits, their relationship was strictly professional. Since he joined Movistar Team two years ago, he has raced alongside the double Grand Tour winner on eleven occasions. Both are from rural Boyacà; indeed, Anacona moved with his family to Tunja, the region’s capital, when he was five-years-old. He could hope for no better training ground.
“In Colombia, I live at 2,750m above sea level, but because we’re on the Equatorial line, the temperatures are not too low. Of course, coming to Europe means a dramatic change in temperature. A change to warmer temperatures is not as dangerous. You have to take into account the danger of catching a cold. You get used to it as you gain more experience.”
Anacona’s experience grows daily. He is now an established WorldTour rider, having competed in cycling’s top tier since 2012. His break into the big time came with the now-defunct Lampre squad, with whom he won stage nine of the 2014 Vuelta a España. Victories do not come more prestigious than those in Grand Tours. Movistar Team moved quickly to secure his signature.
“Before I turned professional, I rode with an amateur team in Italy [and later joined Lampre], which was a really good environment, but Movistar Team is even better. It’s quite a family environment, and with other Latin Americans, I feel very much at home. It’s a comfortable environment. There’s a familiar aspect to Movistar Team.”
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of a ‘comfortable’ working environment, for any business. When that environment consists of hotels, airports, buses, and exhaustive physical efforts, and where the ‘worker’ is an athlete who has come from a rural province in South America to ply his trade in Europe, the importance increases exponentially. It is a credit to Movistar Team that Anacona feels at home.
The welcome extended by his employers might only be an extension of a wider shift in professional cycling. Next year will mark 30 years since his fellow Boyacense Fabio Parra finished on the podium of the Tour de France. Parra and his Café de Colombia team-mates blazed a trail for Anacona’s generation, suffering ignorance and insults to prove themselves against riders from professional cycling’s European heartlands.
“In Colombia, I live at 2,750m above sea level, but because we’re on the Equatorial line, the temperatures are not too low.” - Winner Anacona
More recently, Colombia has enjoyed a resurgence of world class cycling talent, led by Nairo Quintana and Uran, but also including his team-mate Carlos Betancur, Fernando Gaviria (QuickStep Floors) and Giro di Lombardia winner Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott). Indeed, by finishing third behind Quintana at last year’s Vuelta a España, Chaves ensured two of the three places on the final podium in Madrid were occupied by Colombian riders.
“I’m very glad that the new generation is doing as much as the riders of the 1980s,” Anacona says. “I’m glad that there is a wide range of talent like Quintana, Uran and Chaves. To make my small contribution is an honour. I would like to set an example for the next generation, as Lucho [Herrera] and Parra set an example for this generation.”
Modest and likeable, Anacona would be an asset to Movistar Team, even if he were not such an accomplished climber. His talent in the mountains is unquestioned, and of immeasurable value to his compatriot Quintana
Our conversation with Anacona ends with him telling us that he would like to ride the centennial edition of the Giro. Six months later, he features on almost every climb in the race, either setting a tempo so ferocious that Movistar Team’s rivals cannot attack, or chasing down those who dare to do so. One could hardly imagine such ferocity in the character who talks lucidly and with good humour through the mental fog of jet lag, but Anacona’s winning aspect is not confined only to his name.
Richard Carapaz is among the first of Movistar Team’s riders into the hotel conference room that Endura has requisitioned for the purpose of clothing the world’s number one cycling team.
Carapaz sits on one side of the room, quiet and inconspicuous. These are new surroundings, and those who pass through, Grand Tour winners among them, are his new colleagues.
“I was part of the Colombian cycling culture, because I raced there for many teams, so I feel like I’m part of that shift to a more Latin American culture within the peloton.” - Richard Carapaz
He has arrived at this juncture - to meet his tailors in a comfortable hotel on the outskirts of Pamplona, empty but for an itinerant population of 30 or so of the world’s best cyclists and a small coterie of support staff - on a career-long journey from Ecuador. That he is still only 24 speaks volumes for the speed of his progress.
“It’s an honour to be the first rider from Ecuador to wear a WorldTour jersey,” he says, speaking through an interpreter, “and even more so to be doing it with one of the biggest teams in the world; arguably the best. It’s humbling.”
Carapaz is certainly humble, even if his talent would justify any manner of outrageous behaviour. His fitting session with Michelle O’Connor, Endura’s Head of Garment Technology, is among the smoothest of the day, despite being one of the longest. As a new recruit, Carapaz must try every one of the 40 or so garments placed at his disposal.
O’Connor makes careful notes of his preferences. He has tried countless samples in every garment, from base layer to rain jacket, but his final consignment will be hand tailored. If he is selected for a Grand Tour, then he will receive a new allocation of every garment, in addition to the regular replacements he will receive throughout the season, for any garment damaged.
The fitting session is a business he takes seriously. Sean Hardy’s images reinforce the impression left by our conversation with Carapaz of a serious young man unwilling to squander the huge opportunity he has been handed by Movistar Team manager Eusébio Unzué.
Summoned by Unzué from the Continental ranks of the Strongman-Campagnolo-Wilier team, where, with Jonathan Klever Caicedo, he was one of two Ecuadorian riders on a 15-man Colombian squad, Carapaz has not looked back. Neither, one suspects, has his boss.
Carapaz completed his tenure as a trainee with Movistar Team in some style, finishing six races in nine days, in the mini-season of Italian one-day races that the most established riders in the sport use to build up to Il Lombardia. The Ecuadorian was not outclassed, and even lit up Tre Valli Varesine with a series of attacks. At the two-day Giro Della Toscana, he finished third overall in the best young rider competition.
“I hope I’m a reference for young people in my community; a living role model for them to try and build on, now I'm in the WorldTour.” - Richard Carapaz
A move of some 10,000km seems not to have phased him, even if he describes his relocation as “a big challenge.”
“Things have changed, but for the better. I’m enjoying the lifestyle in Spain. I’m getting used to the food, and the way of life here in Pamplona. I like it very much. The style of racing in Spain is the complete opposite of racing in Ecuador, and I had to adapt to that.”
Carapaz is the first to admit that Ecuadorian cycling culture is in its infancy and, understandably, overshadowed by that of its neighbour, Colombia. Indeed, he describes his home province of Carchí, close to the border with Colombia as “the most cycling-oriented province in Ecuador.”
“I was lucky enough to have a coach who nurtured me from the under-16 cadetta category. He passed on all his knowledge to me and took me to all the races. Without him, I wouldn’t have had a chance of making it to the highest level, because there’s not much of a cycling tradition in Ecuador.”
His next break came with a place on the Navarran development squad Team Lizarte, an amateur squad of under-23 riders known in Movistar Team circles as ‘the talent factory.’ Other ‘products’ include Carapaz’s new team-mates Jorge Arcas, Antonio Pedrero and Marc Soler.
Again, Carapaz did not waste his opportunity, swiftly accumulating victories in three of the most prestigious amateur races in Navarra. In a press release to confirm Carapaz’s signature, Movistar Team noted his “astonishing climbing power” and praised his tactical ability.
“I’m enjoying the lifestyle in Spain, and getting used to the food and the way of life here in Pamplona. I like it very much.” - Richard Carapaz
Perhaps his immediate success was not so surprising: before arriving in Spain, he had won the U23 road title at the Pan American Games, and Colombia’s most prestigious junior race, the Vuelta de la Juventud de Colombia (an event won seven years earlier by his new team-mate Betancur).
Much of his early racing came in the colours of Colombian teams, and Carapaz is quick to acknowledge the role in his development played by the region’s dominant cycling culture. Now that he finds himself in the WorldTour, he is at ease in a sporting culture in which Latin American athletes increasingly play a more prevalent role.
“I was part of the Colombian cycling culture, because I raced there for many teams. I grew up as a rider there, so I feel like I’m part of that shift to a more Latin American culture within the peloton. I took advantage of all the opportunities I had, both in Colombia and now within Spain.”
Carapaz speaks softly, but firmly. There is little hesitation in his answers. It’s easy to imagine him seizing opportunities when presented. In the months after our conversation, he proves as good as his word, finishing second overall at the Route du Sud, fourth overall at the Vuelta y Castilla Leon, and second at the one-day GP Industria Artigianato, where he outsprints Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac), one of Colombia’s finest cycling exports.
Ecuador is never far from Carapaz’s thoughts, even when contesting Europe’s elite races. More specifically, he hopes to inspire the next generation of Ecuadorian cyclists; a noble ambition, especially for one who is himself only 24.
“The people in my community have followed my steps, wherever I was going, always asking for more. Obviously, Ecuador is not such a cycling-oriented country; they are always rooting for football, which is sort of the national sport. I hope I’m a reference for young people in my community; a living role model for them to try and build on, now I’m in the WorldTour.”
Sharing a surname with one of the most accomplished riders in professional cycling cannot be easy, but Dayer Quintana is very much his own man.
Aside from having to field the inevitable question - ‘What’s it like, being Nairo’s brother?’ - he is free to develop at his own rate. Within the environs of Movistar Team, his talent is a greater consideration than his surname.
“I’m proud to be part of the new wave. In each race I take part in, I feel there is more support for Colombian riders.” - Dayer Quintana
“I’ve been asked that question by a lot of people,” he says with a weary smile. “The team will consider me as another athlete: my strengths, my weakness, my way of racing.”
The younger Quintana’s easy manner indicates that he is happy to be judged on his own efforts. When we speak, at the end of the 2016 season, he has raced hard an often, clocking up 63 race days and nearly 9,300km of competitive action.
Along the way, he has finished in the top 10 on six occasions and matched his brother’s achievement by wining the Tour de San Luis.
“It was a great achievement,” he says, unable to suppress a smile. “I tried to stay on that winning path. It was difficult. Sometimes you have to put the team’s interests ahead of your own, and also I had some health issues.”
Like Anacona, he has joined the gathering in Pamplona by travelling directly from the Abu Dhabi Tour, the final fixture of a long campaign that began in January with the aforementioned Tour de San Luis and has only just finishes, some 10 months later. Such a relentless schedule must be demanding, especially for a father, living thousands of miles from his young family for much of the year.
For all the challenges of being a Colombian cyclist in Europe, there are many upsides. Increasingly, riders from his homeland are gaining the respect they deserve, and in cycling-mad Colombia, they are heroes. Not since the riders of the Café de Colombia squad made their presence felt in the 1980s has Colombian cycling brought such strength in depth to the European peloton.
“I’m proud to be part of the new wave,” Dayer says. “In each race I take part in, I feel there is more support for Colombian riders, maybe from people who live locally [ex pats]. This gives me extra motivation, which is great for my personal development, and for the team, but also for Colombia.”
“I’d love to achieve victories in the biggest races, like the Tour and the Giro, but at Movistar Team, we have riders like Alejandro and Nairo. I’d like to progress step-by-step.” - Dayer Quintana
The ‘d’ word is apt. It’s easy to overlook the fact that Dayer’s results are still categorised in the youth classification. Were he not Nairo’s brother, he would be spoken of as an exceptional young talent, rather than as the younger sibling of a Grand Tour winner. He reflects on a season that saw him finish in the top 10 riders aged under-25 at races as prestigious as the Critérium du Dauphiné.
This is his preferred method. Dayer is one prepared to learn his trade. He has risen from the comparative hardships and political complexities of rural Colombia to reach his current position as a rider now entering his fourth season in cycling’s elite UCI WorldTour. He is content to continue such considered progress, even if the victory at San Luis hints at his full potential.
“I like to take things step-by-step. Of course, I’ll be pursuing victories, and I’d love to achieve them in the biggest races, like the Tour and the Giro, but at Movistar Team, we have riders like Alejandro Valverde and Nairo. I’d like to continue with my step-by-step progression and one day be in the top ten. I prefer to be consistent.”
Consistency proves to be the watchword of his campaign in 2017. His education continues on roads as alien to a Colombian climber as might be imagined. In Spring, he experienced the cobbled roads of Flanders, competing at E3 Harelbeke and Dwars Door Vlaanderen - flat, fast and brutal one-day races, far removed from the soaring climbs of his homeland.
All of this one suspects will stand him in good stead. Friendly and approachable, but with all the determination of one who has travelled thousands of miles to pursue a dream, the younger Quintana shares the same resolve as his more celebrated sibling.