Thursday, April 30, 2015

Vuelta de la Juventud Colombia: Carapaz takes Ecuadorian upset

Cue some lyrical waxing about a rider coming through the mountain fog and winning on some mountain top finish to take an improbable win to kick start his career. Blah blah blah and maybe something patronizing about said racer coming from poverty and escaping dangerous drug-riddled streets to inspire his village with his great win. As much as I hate when people try to make Colombian riders as these poor things that come from a backwards land, it wasn't a Colombian that won the Vuelta de la Juventud Colombia, the U23 Tour of Colombia. You had to look to the land southwest to find your winner.

To get it out of the way, yes, Fernando Gaviria was here. He broke his collarbone on the last stage. He was going to clean up on the sprint classification and even won a bonus sprint on the final day but the Etixx signing wouldn't be able to finish with everyone.

Moving on.

I bet the majority of people reading this did not really follow this race. I know there are a dedicated few that seemingly make a living out of following bike races but this is a race where many of the next Colombian talents emerge at. It isn't as toxic as the Vuelta a Colombia and gives young riders some chances to make a name for themselves and perhaps get a national team ride somewhere.

While stage 1 was taking by a solo rider, Jonathan Caicedo, ahead of Gaviria, stage 2 saw the formation of the GC battle as Manzana Postobon's (ex 4-72 Colombia) Wilmar Paredes took out a small sprint while a small group of 12 just finished 2 seconds behind him and formed the GC riders that were to take battle soon.

Stage 3 to Riosucio was one of the big stages of the race as it saw the emergence of Richard Carapaz. For those that are not familiar with Carapaz, please take a look at his results from 2013. After winning the Pan-Am Games RR, he went to the alpine Tour des Pays de Savoie and after going into the top 5 on the first 3 stages, it was only a bad last day with crashes that saw him finish 9th overall in his first European foray.

Carapaz can climb like not many can. Perhaps part of the reason is that he hails from Ecuador, a country that lies even higher than Colombia for the most part. Carapaz comes from Tulcan, which is the highest city in Ecuador at nearly 10,000 feet and lies just 7 kilometers from the Colombian border. Tulcan is tied with Colombia to the point where citizens do not need to show passports when crossing the border between the two nations. Another fun fact about the city is that is has one of the most elaborate topiary gardens in the western world.

The 3rd stage was just 125 kilometers but towards the tail end on one of the unrelenting climbs, Caidedo leadout his teammate and fellow countryman Carapaz and send him into hyperspace. Carapaz got a gap and once Caicedo dropped back then the gap just got bigger.

By the end, Carapaz had a gap of nearly 1'40" and had a nice GC cushion for the coming days that included a time trial. So obviously the logical step was to attack everyone again the next day.

The 4th stage saw a mountain top finish on the knee-weakening Alto de Concordia. While the gradient really isn't too bad at a bit over 6% average, the main difficulty of the Concordia is the length at an alpine 22 kilometers. Carapaz had his right-hand man Caicedo with him in the finale while some others present includes Aldemar Reyes, the best young rider of the Vuelta a Colombia last year, and incredible first year U23 Jorge Ivan Gomez. Carapaz put in a deep dig late on the climb to distance all of his rivals and motored through the mountainous jungle of Antioquia to take the summit win by 11 seconds on Reyes and to further strengthen his leader's jersey.

The 24 kilometer hilly time trial was taken by Jonathan Ospina ahead of TT studs Jhonathan Restrepo and Rodrigo Contreras, the same rider who finished 5th in the Tour de San Luis and is already signed with Etixx-Quick Step for the next two seasons. Carapaz finished 4th to take another chunk of time from Reyes while Restrepo slotted in to 3rd overall but was already over 3 minutes down.

The wrench in the spokes for Carapaz was stage 6 to Jardin or "The Garden". Carapaz was isolated and a group got away up the road with riders including Restrepo (a big TT motor), Reyes, Gomez and John Rodriguez. With his faithful teammate Caicedo behind him, Carapaz was at the mercy of the race with the breakaway putting in good time against him. Restrepo was able to take his 3rd Vuelta de la Juventud stage win while Reyes finished 1 second down after an incredible ride by the young Colombian. The Ecuadorian Carapaz was still a kilometer away from the finish at that point and by the time he finished, he had ceded 1'24" to Reyes and had just 1 minute on him going into the final stage.

I would love to say that there was some crazy final stage that saw the leader on the road switch 4 times and an unheralded rider take the lead over but when the hell does things really end up like that in modern cycling? A breakaway took the day while a select peloton of 15 came across the line 47 seconds down.

Richard Carapaz is a name that most do not know and I'm not sure how many will need to remember it. Coming from Ecuador, he doesn't get many rides outside of Latin America and if he want to ride on cycling's biggest level then he will need to move to a team such as Movistar America and get facetime in larger races as well as in some alpine European races. People will have questions about him though. Many will assume that he is just another doper even though correlation does not apply causation.

Your winner of the 2015 Vuelta de la Juventud Colombia is Richard Carapaz.

1. Carapaz (Strongman-Campagnolo)
2. Aldemar Reyes (GW-Shimano)
3. Jhonathan Restrepo (Coldeportes-Claro)

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