Carlos Betancur's blazing attack on the early part of the Mur de Huy at Fleche Wallone was just the latest chapter in a resurgence in Colombian cycling that looks set to define the next decade, writes Al Hinds.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM


panache (n)

1. A flamboyant confidence of style or manner. (Oxford)

2. (Alt.) The Colombian style of riding. Gutsy. Beautiful to watch. Epitomised by the feats of Lucho Herrera in the 1980s.

I was lucky enough to go to Colombia for the launch of the Coldeportes (now Colombia) team at the end of 2011. Admittedly at the time my knowledge of the South American country was more shaped by the legacy of cocaina, beautiful women, and great coffee. I wasn't ignorant of the country's cycling legacy, but I was no expert.

My time there was enlightening. Not least in seeing what the Coldeportes project was trying to achieve, ushering in a new breed of rider with a motto "inspired by climbing", but in meeting those that had come before.

Just as Cadel Evans, Robbie McEwen and Stuart O'Grady were influenced by Phil 'Skippy' Anderson, Colombia's hero was Luis 'Lucho' Herrera.

Herrera came from the humblest of backgrounds in rural Colombia, and is quietly spoken for a man who's achieved as much as he has. A naturally gifted climber, Herrera was the first non-European to win the Vuelta a Espana in 1987.

But it was his style that earned him the respect of his peers and the adulation of fans. Herrera re-defined aggressive racing, entering a professional peloton ruled by the etiquette of the Europeans which dictated respect to the statesman of the circuit, the Hinaults, the Fignons, the Delgados. Attacking a rider like Hinault would earn you the ire of the bunch, but Herrera was not one to conform.



On Alpe d'Huez in 1984 Herrera made his name, winning solo atop the legendary climb the same day that Fignon assumed the race lead. Such was Herrera's showing, the Colombian overshadowed the decorated Frenchman's achievement on the day.

He went on to the Vuelta win in '87, and was king of the mountain in all three Grand Tours in his career. When he returned to Colombia for good in the 90s, he returned a hero, inspiring the likes of Victor Hugo Pena, Santiago Botero and Felix Cardenas.

Colombians earned a reputation thanks to Herrera of lithe climbers capable of obliterating uphill finishes. Of high cadence accelerations and animating races.

The last 20 years has been dominated by rouleur type riders, where climbing has taken a backseat to one's ability to chrono. That has ultimately delayed what seemed an inevitable invasion of Colombians in the professional peloton rising to the top.

Six years ago we got a taste of what the new generation of Colombia had to offer with Mauricio Soler.



But now the trickle has become a heavy flow.

Nairo Quintana, Esteban Chaves, Fabio Duarte, Sergio Luis Henao, Carlos Betancur, Dawin Atapuma, Rigoberto Uran. There's been an influx of exciting talent from the South American nation, and most of them, under 27, are only likely to get better as their careers progress and they mature physically.

Betancur, Chaves and Quintana are all just 23, and they're all incredibly good. Whether this is the start of some sort of dynastic climbing domination of cycling from Colombia, or just a particularly good few months remains to be seen, but it's certainly a welcome injection of energy into a sport so keen for fresh faces, and generational change.

Non-Continent riders have won the Tour the last two years, breaking a 21 year drought since Greg Lemond last stood on the podium in 1990. Evans won the Tour de France in 2011, Wiggins in 2012. A Colombian in the next five years? Hard to bet against it.