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Colombian Cycling Dreams, a Family Affair

August 20, 2011
In yet another bike racing discussion with my husband, he once said, “Americans don’t really know procycling. Now Belgians, they know cycling.” And just before I wrote Colombian Cannonballs Calling he said the same thing about Colombians. They know cycling on a level most Americans don’t comprehend.

Colombian flag

“Lucho,” a Colombian who moved to the Midwest when he was twelve, explains this well during an interview by The Bicycle Story. He writes in his Cycling Inquisition blog about all things Colombian cycling with the insight of someone who grew up in Colombia loving bikes and who experienced a country torn by violence.

“You can walk up to almost anyone in Bogotá and strike up a detailed conversation about cycling. Taxi drivers and security guards are amazing sources of information and you can get into heated debates with them about any edition of the Giro or the Vuelta. In general, there’s a love for bikes there that I don’t often see here in the States. I realize this gets into some iffy territory, because it can be very judgmental and dogmatic, but I just see a lot of reverence and attention being paid to the pageantry of cycling here. There’s an attraction to the objects that surround it. The stuff, not the act.

“And that’s the difference between Colombia and the United States to me. Don’t get me wrong, I like the stuff that surrounds cycling, and surely some in Colombia have a different take on things, but by and large the attraction in Colombia (both by those who ride and those who are fans) runs a bit deeper due to the history of cycling there. The poverty in parts of the country may have something to do with that also. I don’t know. But I do think that people in Colombia are more invested in the emotion that surrounds riding a bike or watching people ride bikes. This is not to say that some American cyclists are wrong or bad. It’s just different.”

Later in the interview Lucho shares an example of the challenges one Colombian mountain bike champion faced, “who works as a coal miner under the most horrible conditions and is forced to share a bike with his 10 year old son who also competes. The differences under which Colombian cyclists exist compared to those in Europe and the United States are simply staggering. I try to inject humor, but the level of poverty that pretty much all cyclists in Colombia come from is unheard of here. ”

Luis Herrera (from The Bicycle Story "Lucho" interview)

In another of his posts, Lucho writes based on an article in Winning Magazine, ” In order for Luis Herrera to have a bike, his entire family (parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles) had to save up to buy one.” (“Lucho” is not Luis Herrera.) Herrera is a national hero for winning a mountain stage of the 1985 Tour de France, riding with his face covered in blood after a crash.

Just three days ago NPR described what it takes for 16-year old Johan Cardenas — and his family — to follow his dream of a procycling career. Johan and his family live in a sparsely populated Colombian state called Boyaca, which NPR describes as “a cycling mecca.”

Johan Cardenas, 16 Years-Old, Dreams Big (NPR)

“In the rural mountains of central Colombia, life is a struggle, and career choices for young men include potato farming and herding goats. And so teenage boys dream of a different future: cycling to glory in the French Alps and the Pyrenees. That’s because the rawboned cyclists from a string of hardscrabble Colombian towns have excelled as climbers in the world’s great bicycle races.”

Johan has “something else they say all great cyclists must have: the ability  to suffer — a lot.

“‘If you can’t suffer,’ Johan says, ‘what good are you?'”

“In Boyaca, though, it’s not just the racers who sacrifice. Johan’s mother, Marifely Leguisamon, makes ends meet with a restaurant run out of the family kitchen. His father, Yefferson Cardenas, works construction jobs, when he can get them. To buy a new $6,000 racing bike for Johan, the family even sold its home. ‘This is expensive, and sometimes there’s no money,’ Leguisamon says. ‘And he needs food. He needs rest. He needs a lot of things.'”

And for these two Colombians who tasted their dreams in the 2011 Tour of Utah, what are their stories?

Acevedo Wins stage 4 of 2011 Tour of Utah (Doug Kujanson)

Henao 2011 Tour of Utah Stage 3 (Doug Kujanson)

(For more on Colombian procycling, Kings of the Mountains: How Colombia’s Cycling Heroes Changed Their Nation’s History, by Matt Rendell, sounds like a good read.)

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  1. Forming Colombian Cannonballs « ProVéloPassion

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