"EL FUTURO: COLOMBIA" - Matt Rendell
The Tour de l'Avenir looms large in the Colombian cycling consciousness. In 1953 Efraím Forero led the first Colombian team ever to compete in Europe at what was still called the Route de France. Alfonso Flores' victory in the 1980 Tour de l'Avenir opened the gates of the Tour de France finally opened to a flood of Colombians. Nairo Quintana's win in 2010 started the current period of Colombian cycling success. Subsequent winners have included Esteban Chaves, Miguel Ángel López and, of course, Egan Bernal.
The Colombian team for the 2019 Tour de l'Avenir met at Bogotá's El Dorado International Airport on Saturday 10 August, to fly out to the race, which starts on 15 August, enthused by Egan's Tour, and the clean sweep of the Under-23 Giro podium in June by Camilo Ardila, Einer Rubio and Juan Diego Alba,
Ardila was absent: on the final stage of the Under-23 Giro, he suffered knee pain, and is still undergoing treatment. His fellow podium finishers Juan Diego Alba and Einer Rubio were on the flight. Alba, 21, who trains with Nairo Quintana and last year won the Queen stages of the Tours of Antioquia and Boyacá, and Rubio, winner in Italy of the 2018 GP Capodarco, are both said to be in talks with Nairo's soon-to-be former team, Movistar. The team is obliged to have at least two Colombians by its Latin American wing, so the departure of Nairo Quintana, Winner Anacona and (we believe) Carlos Betancur has opened a window of opportunity for the promising youngsters:
David Peña, seventh in the Under-23 Giro, was also on the flight, as was Iván Sosa's cousin Jhojan García, the winner of the 2014 Vuelta del Futuro for 17 and 18 olds, and second this year in the national Under-23 road race and time trial. The winner of that Under-23 road race, Harold Tejada, also joined them.
The sixth and final member of the team is Adrián Bustamante, only 57th in the Under-23 Giro, an hour and eight minutes behind Ardila, but, make no mistake, another prodigy of Colombian cycling. Second in the 2014 Vuelta del Futuro to Jhojan García, third in the 2015 Vuelta del Porvenir, won by the former Education First time-trial specialist Julian Cardona, he was 6th in the Under-23 Gent-Wevelgem last year, and this year he has finished fourth in the national Under-23 time trial championships on 1 February, and won two stages in the Vuelta de la Juventud, the Tour of Colombia for Under-23s.
21 just before last June's Under-23 Giro d'Italia started, he suffered a heavy fall on the white roads of Tuscany in stage three, between Sesto Fiorentino and Gaiole in Chianti. Badly knocked about, and with a broken bike, he conceded nearly nine minutes to his team-mate Camilo Ardila. Bustamante spent the rest of the race helping his team-mates. Ardila won the following day's stage to Monte Amiata, with his team-mates Rubio, Alba and Peña third, fifth and seventh.
I met Adrián Bustamante at his Bogotá hotel before he set off for the airport, and he told me of his life.
Adrián is a farm boy from Boyacá, the high altitude department that has produced Tour de France podium finishers Fabio Parra and Nairo Quintana. But his hometown, Boavita, is 184 kilometres (or 114 miles) north of the department capital Tunja, and Boyacá's cycling heartlands.
Adrián told me, ‘It is not a traditional area producing cyclists, but there are a lot of youngsters coming through, as part of the current surge in Colombian cycling.'
The oldest of four siblings in a peasant-farming family, Adrián grew up on Vereda Melonal, a sector of farmland where his father raised cattle and grew maize, papaya and tobacco. He speaks enthusiastically about the virtues of a rural background.
'I worked in the fields with my father from a young age. It gives you strong defenses, and you get used to physical pain. Tobacco doesn't generate much incomce. It needs a lot of attention, lots of expensive fertilizer, and a lot of workers, so, when you sell it, you are left with very little. My younger brother, Cristian Felipe, is 14, and he dreams about smartphones and connectivity. He isn't interested in working in the fields. The youngest, Juan Pablo, likes cycling, although he is still only 9.’
Not surprisingly, when Adrián showed a talent for cycling, his father encouraged him.
‘When I was very small, my bike was my favourite toy. I started racing when I was 15 and my father took me to races in nearby villages like El Cocuy and Soatá. My father rode when he was a teenager but he didn't have much luck or support, and he always took care of my bike and helped me train. At Soatá I met Juan Carlos Coronado, the coach who started the cycling club with the support of the local mayor and the parents of the first group of riders. I was one of them.'
Coronado had been who competed in regional events like the Vuelta a Boyacá and the now defunct Clásica del Norte, but, like Adrián's father, he had had little choice but to terminate his career young.
‘Then they took me to Tunja so that Miguel Fernando López, the coach at the Proactiva Aguas team, could take a look at me. He watched me race and measured me and said he was interested in having me in the team, and that's where it all started. I rode the 2014 Vuelta del Futuro and won three stages. Only Jhojan García could beat me.'
In 2018, through Miguel Fernando López and the Spanish coach Joxean Fernández, better known as Matxín (now a sports director at UAE-Team Emirates), Adrián was invited to the World Cycling Centre at Aigle, Switzerland, where he worked with Marcelo Albasini.
'I spend January to the start of May in Switzerland. Paulo Patiño, now with Movistar's women's team, was there, and there was riders from Argentina and Uruguay.'
Adrián returned to Colombia to ride the Vuelta a Boyacá for the EBSA Boyacá team under a Colombian cycling legend, Rafael Antonio Niño, a former professional with the Italian team Jolly Ceramica in the 1970s, and the winner of a record six Vueltas a Colombia. Adrián won the stage five time trial from Tipacoque to Boavita, Then he went to the Clásico RCN to compete for the Under-23 title, but fell ill and did not finish.
‘From the start of the year I have been working on getting a WorldTour contract. I've known since the Under-23 Giro that I'd be at the Tour de l'Avenir. My coach, Carlos Mario Jaramillo, saw the sacrifices I made for Camilo Ardila there. I want to see what I can do at the Tour de l'Avenir, and look for a result."
I asked him if he would like to do what Egan couldn't, and get to win a stage at Tignes. There is a big nodding of the head, and a smile.
‘The prep is done. It's a strong team, and we'll have to see what happens. Now it's just down to the racing.’