One of the great Tour de France teams of the 1980s has announced that it is setting its sights on a return to the event two decades on from its last appearance. What was then Café de Colombia and is now Café de Colombia-Colombia es Pasión is aiming to rise from Continental to Professional Continental level in 2011. Assuming that status can be achieved, the team hopes to be able to gain entry to some of the biggest races on the calendar, including the Tour.
Confirmation of the heavily rumoured expansion plans for the Colombian Continental team came at a press conference in Bogotá that was hosted by the country's minister for foreign trade, Luis Guillermo Plata. Team manager Luisa Fernanda Ríos admitted during the press conference that "it's clear that we need to strengthen the team in order to deal with the challenges we'll face in this new category. With that in mind we've started negotiations with some Colombian riders who we will try to tempt back home, but nothing is set in concrete yet."
The team already features a number of riders who have experience of racing in Europe, including Fabio Duarte, Luis Laverde and Victor Hugo Peña, who is the only Colombian rider to have worn the Tour's yellow jersey. Among those riders Café de Colombia are sure to be targeting is 2007 King of the Mountains champion Juan Mauricio Soler, whose current Caisse d'Epargne team looks set to fold at the end of the season.
More details on the team's objectives for 2011 will be given at an official launch in Bogotá on July 30, the day before the start of the Vuelta a Colombia. Ríos revealed that a new sponsor for the team will also be unveiled on the eve of Colombia's national tour.
The team's management have affirmed their commitment to developing younger Colombian riders as has already been the case in their current Continental guise. However, according to team manager Ríos: "We've fulfilled the team's initial goals and now it's the right time to change category in order to continue our search for what is our main objective - riding the Tour de France." The first step towards that goal will be taken on August 1, when initial applications for Professional Continental status have to be made.
The announcement could not have come at a better time for Colombian cycling. This year's Tour is the first for 27 years that does not feature a Colombian rider. The Latin American country's initial breakthrough came thanks to the appearance of the Café de Colombia team in the 1983 race, and continued when Lucho Herrera claimed the King of the Mountains title in 1985 and 1987. Herrera also won the 1987 Vuelta a España.