Yeah, he's doing a decent job with this block of races and yesterday they also had a Granfondo.
I hope that this race will start to grow, it has a nice route and lots of potential. The Giro del Veneto is a bit too easy for my liking with the final 20kms being flat, but I'm a sucker for the Colli Euganei and I really like those climbs (I have ridden most of them myself).
The Clásico RCN, Colombia's second biggest traditional stage race, is underway today with a 27,4km team time trial. It's one of these national tours that isn't a national tour, in that it is essentially no different in concept from the Vuelta a Colombia but is a sponsor concern, much like the Clásico Banfoandes in Venezuela, the Vuelta por un Chile Lider or the HTV Cup (although the latter is noticeably bigger than when the Tour of Vietnam actually ran). It therefore can run over any length and over any part of Colombia, though unsurprisingly the cycling-supportive regions of Antioquia and Boyacá feature most heavily and there's less pressure to visit as much of the country as possible.
This year's race will be brutal, taking in several of Colombia's biggest and baddest climbs over its 9-day duration.
Stage 2 will include the easy side of the Alto de Minas (cat.2) before a not-quite-summit finish at Jericó (2km after the Alto del Salvador):
Stage 3 features the cat.1 Alto del Descanso early on, but then a flat second half. Stage 4 is a mini-stage, Unipuerto up the Alto de Letras from Pereira. This is the easy side of the climb, but with the ultra-mythical Letras, this is a relative measure. They skip Manizales, the traditional finish of the Letras stage from Honda or Mariquita over the tougher east side, but that still means a lot of gradual climbing (including a cat.1 climb) before finishing with the final 23km of this:
For those disappointed at not using the monster eastern side of Letras, though, don't fear, the organisers have you covered. Stage 5 begins in Honda with 40km of flat roads to take us to the ruins of the town of Armero, destroyed in what is known as the Tragedia del Armero in 1985 when lahars from the Nevado del Ruíz volcano ravaged the town after poor communication and distribution rendered hazard maps and evacuation plans ineffective. Over 20.000 of the town's 29.000 inhabitants died, and the tragedy was spread around the world by the haunting photos of Omayra Sánchez, a 13-year-old girl pinned in the wreckage and unrescuable, trapped up to her neck in the mud and with her eyes turned completely black from the pollution and chemicals in the volcanic debris, who nevertheless gave stoic interviews while the rescue teams tried unsuccessfully to find a way to extricate her from her fate. The rest of the stage, however, is less macabre, but will see the riders scale the eastern side of the mountain valleys through which the lahars plunged 36 years ago, up to the town of Murillo. This is a 56km climb at just under 5% with the final 21,5km at 6,5% so should be a brute.
Stage 6 is a straightforward flat stage with a false flat final few kilometres into traditional stage host Ibagué, common in both the Vuelta a Colombia and the Clásico RCN almost every year. This enables stage 7 to be a replica of a Vuelta a Colombia stage a few years ago, climbing the easier (again, relatively speaking, as 23km at 6,1% is more than an adequate challenge) side of the Alto de la Línea at around the halfway point of the stage before descending and then a short, punchy climb into Salento:
Overall, it's an almost exact replica of a stage designed by Gustavo Duncan and Asier Bilbao at Altimetrias Colombia, but with a longer run between La Línea and the summit finish as the Clásico RCN avoids the Arrayanal climb in between:
Stage 8, like stage 3, features an early cat.1 climb but then a long and gradual descent before a flat run-in. Stage 9 is a 20km ITT.
22 teams are entered, 21 being Colombian and one Costa Rican squad. As ever the main men to beat will be Team Medellín. They won the opening TTT with a 5" advantage over EPM, 26" over Colombia Terra de Atletas, and 32" over Orgullo Paísa, their fellow Antioquians. Their sextet making it to the line together was evergreen babyface Óscar Sevilla (who takes the leader's jersey), defending champion José Tito Hernández, Robinson Chalapud, Fabio Duarte, Brayan Stíven Sánchez and Robigzon Oyola, while riders dropped include Cristhian Montoya and Bernardo Suaza, so they are brutally strong. Other contenders will be Juan Pablo Suárez, Freddy Montaña and Aldemar Reyes for EPM, Didier Merchán and Darwin Atapuma for CTA, Daniel Jaramillo for Orgullo Paísa, George Tibaquirá for EBSA, Rubén Dario Acosta and Rafael Steven Pineda for Strongman, Didier Chaparro for Supergiros, Javi Jamaica for CM, Rodolfo Torres for Fundecom.
There are a few moonlighters too - Yesid Pira who excited people so much in the Vuelta and has been racing in Europe with the Caja Rural amateur setup (turns pro with them for 2022) is here with Team Camacho, while César Paredes, who usually plies his trade for Loulé in Portugal, is here with JB-Flowerpack, a team I know nothing about. However they could be intriguing as they also have Mr 63%, Jimmi Briceño, in from Venezuela. Herrera Sport are also somewhat makeshift, featuring moonlighting Peruvian star Royner Navarro and 2020 Vuelta a Guatemala winner Mardoqueo Vásquez. GW-Sistecredito also have Jeison Rujano, son of José, in their lineup. However, 2/3 of the Vuelta a Colombia podium will not be here - Alex Gil suffered a bad injury after a crash in the Vuelta a Antioquia in September, while Aristobulo Cala is provisionally suspended. Still, it's otherwise a really strong lineup and TV coverage is out there with Antena2 broadcasting it live for streaming, so this should be a fun one.
So the main GC contenders reached the base of the Alto del Salvador together in the Clásico RCN, with Team Medellín riding tempo to try to prevent too many changes of pace rocking race leader Óscar Sevilla or defending champion José Tito Hernández. With 5km of the ascent remaining, Aldemar Reyes attacked, the EPM and former Manzano-Postobon man quickly opening up a 10" gap, with Sevilla and Wilson Peña leading the charge for Medellín and CTA in response. One by one the trains fell apart until the only chasers left were Duarte, Atapuma, and the two veterans Juan Pablo Suárez and Freddy Montaña, and since all four had men up the road, their collaboration was limited. In the end Duarte gained some considerable time on them in the flatter final kilometre or two through the town of Jericó which sits at the summit.
With the time bonuses and his lead at the line, Reyes takes the race lead from Sevilla, and Hernández is now over a minute down, with the number of chiefs at Medellín he probably has to sacrifice this race after winning the Vuelta a Colombia earlier in the year.
1 Aldemar Reyes (EPM-Scott) 4'03'52
2 Óscar Sevilla (Team Medellín) +11"
3 Wilson Peña (Colombia Tierra de Atletas) +15"
4 Fabio Duarte (Team Medellín) +31"
5 Darwin Atapuma (Colombia Tierra de Atletas) +46"
1 Aldemar Reyes (EPM-Scott)
2 Óscar Sevilla (Team Medellín) +9"
3 Fabio Duarte (Team Medellín) +35"
4 Wilson Peña (Colombia Tierra de Atletas) +st
5 Freddy Montaña (EPM-Scott) +58"
A reduced bunch sprint was the outcome in stage 3 of the Clásico RCN, as expected, with Óscar Quiroz triumphant for CTA, ahead of a trio of EPM riders including race leader Aldemar Reyes, who extended his advantage slightly thanks to the bonus seconds accrued, as none of the other major GC contenders were able to take any.
The short mountain stage with the summit finish at the Alto de Letras was of course expected to be far more decisive, and for good reason. When they arrived on the final ascent, Darwin Atapuma quickly set the race into motion with an attack, and was away alone for much of the climb, before Óscar Sevilla attacked with 10km to go, drawing Reyes out with him, and joined the former BMC man. One by one the favourites reconvened, and their phony war allowed unfancied outsider Dubán Bobadilla, riding for Herrera Sport, to escape almost unchallenged due to his not having been a significant GC threat. The 23-year-old is, however, a pretty reasonable climber, finishing 16th overall in the Vuelta a Colombia earlier this year, and he held on for the stage win, while a significant assault from Wilson Peña and Fabio Duarte distanced Reyes and sees the former climb into the race lead albeit just falling short of catching Bobadilla at the last. José Tito Hernández has dropped well out of contention but he did grab some headlines after the stage by announcing his desire to do more racing in Europe - at 27 he still has some time ahead of him but will the reputation of Team Medellín stand against him, having not really attracted too much attention from European teams as an espoir?
1 Dubán Bobadilla (Herrera Sport) 2'48'44
2 Wilson Peña (Colombia Tierra de Atletas) +6"
3 Fabio Duarte (Team Medellín) +15"
4 George Tibaquirá (EBSA-Empresa Energía de Boyacá) +27"
5 Darwin Atapuma (Colombia Tierra de Atletas) +59"
1 Wilson Peña (Colombia Tierra de Atletas) 10'17'33
2 Fabio Duarte (Team Medellín) +11"
3 Óscar Sevilla (Team Medellín) +33"
4 Aldemar Reyes (EPM-Scott) +55"
5 Darwin Atapuma (Colombia Tierra de Atletas) +1'34"
6 Fredy Montaña (EPM-Scott) +1'59"
7 Juan Pablo Suárez (EPM-Scott) +2'14"
8 Robinson Chalapud (Team Medellín) +2'46"
9 Cristián Cubides (Herrera Sport) +2'52"
10 Dubán Bobadilla (Herrera Sport) +3'11"
Stage 5 was once more short and Unipuerto, with a significant, long drawn out climb to finish the game. Dubán Bobadilla, the previous stage's winner, was the first to go on the first ramps of the climb (categorised as a separate climb, but only in the same way as if the different sections of Torre or Croix de Fer gave out their own mountain points, they're very much still part of the main climb), and trimmed the main group quickly down to 18. The fugitive did not have the energy in reserve to back up from his win the previous day, however, and a counter move by Cristián Cubides was monitored by Yeison Reyes of the EPM-Scott team, who were the best represented in the group. With Reyes only minimally cooperating it was down to Cubides to make the running, since he was the GC threat, and the group behind eventually exploded with an attack from race leader Wilson Peña, which only Aldemar Reyes, Atapuma, Sevilla, Duarte and Juan Pablo Suárez could respond to. Reyes and Cubides then started cat-and-mousing it and eventually it was the EPM rider that got away to take the win in stage 5, with the gaps behind restricted to only a few seconds in the main group. Peña increased his advantage over Duarte and Sevilla by a second (also Atapuma likewise) but put seven into Aldemar Reyes.
Given the two back to back monster MTFs, it was perhaps unsurprising that the main GC favourites showed little interest in reeling in the nine-man breakaway in stage 6, a mostly flat stage into Ibagué with a gradual, not categorisation-worthy false flat up to the line. This despite a rather less than committed amount of teamwork by the group which also allowed Jonathán González of minnows Inder Huila to jump across to them with only 10km remaining, as the gap fell under a minute. A number of attacks for the stage ensued, but were brought back. Weirdly, however, there was an intermediate sprint less than 4km from home; Walter Vargas of Team Medellín and Brayan Ramírez of EBSA-Empresa Energía de Boyacá attacked to take the points through this, but in a Froome-on-Peyresourde type of move they kept on pushing once they duked out the points, which took the rest of the escapees by surprise, and with a lack of cohesion behind and a complex run-in, they were able to establish enough of a gap that they could settle the final kilometre between them, with Ramírez taking the victory in the two-up sprint. Daniel Jaramillo won the battle for the minor placings on the slight uphill run-in, and the GC favourites came in together unfazed.
Stage 7 saw an uphill finish at Salento, a not especially threatening climb, but with the mid-stage ascent of the Alto de La Línea we knew it would be a tough stage. This is the easier side of La Línea, from Ibagué, but it's still very much an HC climb from this side, and was of course the site of Yesid Pira's emergence back in the Vuelta a Colombia. This time it was the turn of another combative youngster, as Duván Bobadilla was again on the move in a three-man group on the main climb of the stage. While his breakmates began to suffer and fell back into the clutches of the rapidly-dwindling péloton, Bobadilla was able to gather his forces and crest the HC summit first, despite a strong tempo behind that had reduced the yellow jersey group to just six at the summit; however as is often the case on stages of this nature, subsequently the descent brought several further riders back into the fold, both from behind and also from in front as the 23-year-old escapee was brought back. It was perhaps overshadowed, however, by a scary-looking crash for George Tibaquirá, who went over heavily in the rain and slid seemingly endlessly across the tarmac towards a yellow barrier obscuring a significant drop. Luckily the road was widened at the lacet and he came to a halt before he came to any harm, but it did look a bit hairy for a second. Over the rolling stretches bypassing the Arrayanal climb, Robinson Chalapud attacked but was marked by Darwin Atapuma, working to protect Peña's lead, and they were brought back shortly before the final 4km climb, which saw consecutive attacks from Duarte, Sevilla and the always enthusiastic Bobadilla, however Peña was able to mark these to prevent significant gains. Repeated responses to attacks had weakened him, however, and in the final metres Aldemar Reyes launched himself away to take the stage win, but worse news for Colombia Tierra de Atletas was that he pulled Duarte and Sevilla away with him, gaining a few seconds and meaning that with bonus seconds, the Team Medellín duo had brought themselves painfully close to the win. Wilson Peña's lead had been cut to just 2 seconds over Fabio Duarte, and 25" over the evergreen Cara de Niño, while Reyes was now inside of a minute and demanding closer attention too.
It was somewhat of a relief for the race leader, therefore, that stage 8 was one of those oddities of Colombian cycling, a stage which starts on the altiplano and ends on the low plateau, but has to take a major mountain to exchange one for the other. As a result, it had a cat.1 climb early on in the stage, but after that over 100km of flat and gradual descent that meant that although sprinters as ever need to be durable (hey, this is Colombia) they do at least get their day to shine. This was much more like a typical formulaic European cycling stage therefore; a five-man break established itself early, fought out the secondary classification prizes, and then was reeled in in the last 10km to make a late attack difficult to make stick, a high pace was established in the leadout, and then a GC contender managed to crash in the sprint finish. This time it was the maillot jaune himself, Wilson Peña, going down close to the line, trying to avoid Fabio Duarte picking up bonus seconds in the sprint. In the end he needn't have feared, as Duarte could only manage 5th in the gallop, with Johan Colón of IDEA-Antioqueño Aguardiente taking the sprint win ahead of Mateo García of Sistecrédito, and Peña's teammate Brandon Rojas did his job to prevent any bonuses being available for GC threats.
However, while Peña was not seriously injured in the fall and advised the press it was only road rash that he suffered, the big question will be how much that will impede him with only the ITT to come, and such a narrow margin over Duarte and Sevilla, the latter in particular being renowned for his prowess against the clock in this part of the world, even now he's 45 years old.
Father Time is undefeated and even Óscar Sevilla, who surely has a portrait in his attic that looks 1000 years old, is struggling against him in his mid-40s. What once would have been a dead certainty for Babyface became a coronation for his younger teammate Fabio Duarte (how strange that the 35-year-old Duarte is now a grizzled veteran and yet still a younger option within his team, at least when José Tito Hernández is quiet as he has been this week). Wilson Peña was at least able to protect the podium, but holding 25" over Sevilla was always likely to be a challenge, let alone the mere 2" held over Duarte. In the end Duarte was strong enough not just to overhaul Peña as was expected, but also to add more time to his advantage over Sevilla. The big story is the young guns of Herrera Sport getting 2 riders in the top 10, with 23yo Bobadilla and 24yo Cubides, considering they are comparative minnows relative to the powerhouse teams of CTA, Medellín and EPM that make up the remaining 8 places in the top 10. Final GC:
1 Fabio Duarte (Team Medellín) 22'53'19
2 Óscar Sevilla (Team Medellín) +40"
3 Wilson Peña (Colombia Tierra de Atletas) +48"
4 Aldemar Reyes (EPM-Scott) +1'34"
5 Juan Pablo Suárez (EPM-Scott) +3'53"
6 Darwin Atapuma (Colombia Tierra de Atletas) +4'24"
7 Duván Bobadilla (Herrera Sport) +5'50"
8 Cristián Cubides (Herrera Sport) +6'40"
9 Robinson Chalapud (Team Medellín) +7'26"
10 Yeison Reyes (EPM-Scott) +8'41"
At the same time, the Vuelta a Venezuela, postponed from July, has got underway. I can't find any stage profiles for this one, but frankly the parcours does not look promising from the stage towns provided - not even the moderate MTF at San Vicente de Nirgua that has been used in recent years. Obviously the Vuelta a Venezuela has quite the reputation for being surprisingly flat given the nature of the country's terrain, and the Vuelta al Tachirá and the Vuelta a Miranda carry the main importance for climbers in the country, but nevertheless there has at least traditionally been a couple of mountain stages lending it a bit of a Tour de Langkawi kind of vibe. This year, unless the second stage around Charallave uses the decent sized climbs surrounding it (La Magdalena from Cúa is about 8km at 7%, El Vapor from the east is about 4km at 10% on sterrato) or the final stage which, like the first, is around La Guaira, is more interesting than the first, then it seems the rouleurs will settle this. Orluís Aular, two time defending champion, is not here since he's in the pro ranks now with Caja Rural; he entered last year because it took place as a non-UCI race after lockdowns ended but before he was able to come back to Europe to continue his season in Spain. There are 20 teams, 16 Venezuelan teams and a few others from Central and South America.
The first stage was a sprint on a circuit between Cátia La Mar and La Guaira, on the Caribbean coast north of Caracas, and was won by national champion Luís António Gómez ahead of the comparatively well known fastman Xavier Quevedo.