Steve Thomas: How did you get started in cycling?
Jarlinson Pantano: My father was an amateur racer, and I used to really like to go along to the races with him, and one day he gave me a bike and said here you go, and that was it.
ST: Many Colombian riders come from poor and troubled backgrounds - and you?
JP: No, not really - my family is a normal family. Colombia is a country with many (economic) problems, and everybody tries to change (and improve) their life some. We were just like most other Colombian families, trying hard for a better life.
ST: Colombia has a deep-rooted passion for cycling, and a long history of producing exceptional climbers, but less so sprinters and time trialists?
JP: First off, the topography of Colombia is very mountainous, and many of the major cities are also located at altitude, so they're also surrounded by mountains and thin air, which means that naturally you have to be able to climb. If you look at most of the best Colombian riders, they're all from Bogota or Medellin, which are both located at altitude and surrounded by high mountains.
ST: With cycling being so popular in Colombia why is it not economically stronger as a sport?
JP: Why? Colombia is a country that has had (and still has) many economic problems. It's difficult for families to be able to support themselves, let alone earn enough to fund young riders wanting to take up cycling, which is perhaps why they are always hungry as racers. There simply is not the economic resource there (to fund sport at a higher level).
ST: Your first experience of racing in Europe came with the Colombia es Passion team - how different did you find the racing and the culture in general?
JP: Yes, it was really different - the weather, the culture, the style of racing, the roads; cycling is very different in Europe. We were a team of all Colombians and stuck together, it took time to for us to adapt to the racing and lifestyle, maybe even a couple of years to really get to grips with the differences.
ST: In Colombia, you have many very high mountains, and ultra long climbs - how different did you find the climbs in Europe?
JP: They're hard, much harder. The altitude is lower in Europe, so that's not really an issue, but they're much shorter and steeper, and that also makes the racing tougher, plus you also get more climbs in a stage.
ST: During the race season where are you based?
JP: Palma de Majorca in Spain. There aren't any Colombians or many other riders there so I stay alone and mostly train alone too. When I get a 3-week or so gap between races I return home to Colombia, I miss it a lot.
ST: Where is home in Colombia?
JP: Cali (a coastal resort city famous for its regular hosting of UCI track world cups). It’s my home and a good place for training and living, although when I need mountain and altitude training I head inland to Medellin to train.
ST: When you won a stage of the 2016 Tour de France with IAM Cycling it effectively opened a door for you, and suddenly the world knew who you were. How definitive was that for you and your career?
JP: I was so happy at that moment. I believe that winning a stage in the Tour de France is something every cyclist wants to achieve, all kids who take up cycling in Colombia dream to one day be able to do that. I think it’s a big thing in the cycling world too; it really helped my prospects.
ST: After moving to the Trek-Segafredo team you became the right-hand man to Alberto Contador, one of the greatest grand tour riders of all time. How did it feel to take on such an important role in his final year of racing?
JP: This year, to ride with Alberto was a great experience. He’s a great cyclist and a great team leader, and it was a real privilege. But, for me it’s not just important that he’s a great cyclist, he’s also a great person. He’s someone that you can trust – the whole team has full confidence in him. You know that he will work as hard as possible to achieve his objectives and give his all.
ST: Now that Contador has retired Trek has been left without a clear grand tour leader – this could be a great opportunity for you. Do you think you can step up and contend in a grand tour?
JP: No, I really don’t like to see it that way (as an opportunity). I learned a lot from Alberto, and at least for the next year or so I want to take things slowly, my aim is for stage wins.
ST: You’re known as a climber – but you’ve also proven that you’re no mean sprinter?
JP: I can sprint, not as a pure sprinter; but in a small group, even up to 30-40 riders, I can sprint well.
ST: You’re also Colombian ITT Champion?
JP: Time trails (and the attitude to time trials) is very different in Colombia. Yes, I’m Colombian Champion, and if I really like a course I can ride ok, and maybe even improve but it’s not my forte.
ST: Your strong points would seem to also make you a good single day classic rider – for races such as Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Is this something you’re considering?
JP: No, I don’t really like the classics or single day races, and it also doesn’t really fit my role within the team.
For these races, you have to be great and feel great on that one-day, and have a lot of luck too. For me, I much prefer racing over several days, weeklong stage races where things are evened out, they feel much more naturally suited to my style.
ST: There are many Colombian riders in the pro peloton – but mostly on different teams, do you tend to stick together or are you simply riders and nationality doesn’t come into play?
JP: Yes, there are many of us, and on different teams – but when we’re together we always tend to stick together. We have different backgrounds and different teams but have a lot more in common, so we’re always together.