Phonak rider Santiago Botero heads into tomorrow's first Pyrenean stage sixth overall, 3 minutes and 48 seconds off the race lead. He showed his persistence on Stage 11, going clear early on with Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile), fighting back on each time after losing contact and then taking second at the finish in Briançon.
Botero knows that he'll need to be more consistent in the Pyrenees if he is to improve on the fourth place overall he achieved in 2002. The final time trial will however swing things his way, somewhat; the Colombian is a former World Time Trial Champion and he can certainly take time out of the specialised climbers. Even so, the three remaining mountain stages will be crucial.
Although he doesn't look like the typical Colombian, Botero is very proud of his roots. He grew up there, going to school with singer Juanes, and to the same college as Columbia's current president Álvaro Uribe Vélez. Botero studied economics and would probably be working in a bank today if his parents hadn't been so positive about his ambition of becoming a cyclist. "They have always supported me and continue to do so", he said.
He turned professional in 1997 with Kelme, finishing fourth in the Tour de Romandie one year later. Stage wins in the Ruta del Sol and Paris Nice followed in 1999, plus second and third places overall respectively, but the breakthrough year as regards the Tour came in 2000. Botero won the King of the Mountains classification, took stage 14 and finished 7th overall. One year later he placed eighth, going on to take four stages in the Vuelta and third in the world time trial championship.
His final year with Kelme in 2002 brought his best Tour performance; the Colombian took two stage victories plus fourth overall. Later that season he again won a stage of the Tour of Spain and then became world time trial champion in Zolder. Two lean years followed at Team Telecom, before he bounced back this season with Phonak, winning a stage and the overall in the Tour de Romandie, plus two stages in the Dauphine Libéré.
Botero currently lives in Madrid but will almost certainly return to his Colombian home in Medellin after his career ends. Before then, though, he's got another couple of years left in his career. He may not be the world's most natural climber, but the courage and stubbornness he showed on the road to Briançon will undoubtedly earn him many more good results.