While in most countries last week was all about the national road cycling championships, the Vuelta a Colombia, one of the most relevant events in the country, took place in Colombia. This race is one of the only opportunities that local cyclists have to make themselves known internationally, so a high competitive level is always guaranteed.
The Colombian nationals have for long been held in early February, when the country’s stars are still training on home roads before heading off to Europe to kick off the season. For several years, this first part of the year was also when the so-called Colomba Oro y Paz took place, a UCI 2.1 category stage race, in which several of the world’s best-known teams made an appearance.
The pandemic and the loss of support from the authorities put this race on stand-by, but Colombian cyclists and fans can continue to rely on the Vuelta a Colombia to get that much-needed dose of competition.
This race, which currently lasts 10 days, is the great goal of a wide range of cyclists. Young riders who want to stand out in their country before making the leap to Europe. Amateur cyclists who, despite recognizing that the train ticket to professionalism is expired, continue to train every day, with the full focus on the Vuelta a Colombia. Then there is Miguel Ángel López, who, being one of the most prominent cyclists in the world, has had to take one step back in local cycling while waiting for the resolution of his alleged involvement in a doping scandal. He and his team Team Medellín left no stone unturned in the race, with the rider from Boyacá taking the general classification and nine of the ten stages.
Our friends from La Vuelta es así were once again covering the event, and through their photographs and stories, we have been able to experience the race as if we were there firsthand.
The Vuelta 2023 was an edition in which the budget differences between the teams were more present than ever. With an opening prologue and a final time trial, the riders needed a lot of expensive equipment to be competitive. Knowing that there are riders who do not get paid and also have to pay to participate in this race, it is obvious that not everyone was able to afford to start with multiple bikes, helmets and kits.
We were especially amazed by the case of the La Gran Vía Lácteos team, which exemplifies the hardship of the riders at the bottom of the classification. Olga Orozco set up a team so that her son Maycol could ride this year. He had taken part in previous editions as a member of other small teams, but always being one of the last to cross the finish line. Olga managed to get on board as a sponsor a company that had already been strongly linked to cycling in the past, and she brought together several young riders to participate.
There was no clear leader, and despite the fact that they set the goal of getting the intermediate sprint classification, they were far from achieving it. They lost five of the six riders, but it wasn’t due to crashes, but because they arrived outside the time limit. Only one of them managed to finish the race, so Olga and her team decided to support the other cyclists who had also run out of partners.
Even so, there is no doubt that Olga and the whole team should have a deserved feeling of satisfaction after this first Vuelta together, considering the resources they had.
On the opposite side is Team Medellín, which with illustrious names such as Oscar Sevilla and multiple winners of the event still on the squad, has been the lord and master of the Vuelta a Colombia for the last handful of years. The fact of being able to count on “Superman” López in their ranks already shows their purchasing power, and by having all the necessary material to optimize their performance, the riders were clearly a step above the rest.
It is worth highlighting that even Superman had a custom Specialized frame with the colors of the leader’s jersey, something only seen in the Tour or the Giro. After this edition, the team has won five of the last six editions of the race, which together with recent successes abroad such as the Vuelta San Juan or the Tour of the Gila, put Team Medellin as the team to beat in America.
When it rains, it pours
After the Vuelta a Colombia, López has achieved 23 wins this season, 17 of them in UCI events. This puts him as the most successful cyclist of the year, with Tadej Pogačar trailing behind with 14 victories. It was the first time that he had taken part in this event, because being such a prolific climber from a very young age, he started racing in Europe wearing the Astana colors without experiencing the races in his country.
The participation of Miguel Ángel López was a great incentive for the fans, who once again turned out en masse to cheer, even on the stages that were raced under downpours or extreme heat.