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South America: no Tour riders from an entire continent
For the first time in 27 years, there won't be any Colombian rider starting the Tour de France in Rotterdam on July 3rd. It leaves South America with no representative in the race.
Oceania will have 12 (11 Australians and Julian Dean from New Zealand), North America 10 (8 Americans plus Ryder Hesjedal and Michael Barry for Canada), Africa and Asia one each (Robert Hunter and Yukiya Arashiro respectively).
Juan Mauricio Soler and Leonardo Duque were the two last chances for Colombia to be represented at the Tour. However, the Caisse d'Epargne climber, who was the king of the mountain at his first attempt in 2007, injured his left knee in a crash in stage 2 of the Dauphiné. Cofidis sprinter Duque didn't make the final selection either, as his French team preferred Damien Monier, who won a stage at the Giro d'Italia and did a great job on Sunday for David Moncoutié at the French championship.
"Is there someone prepared to pay 5 million euros to sponsor a Colombian team for this sad part of our cycling history not to be repeated in the future?" asked the Colombian daily newspaper El Tiempo on Monday. "I'm afraid there isn't anyone," answered Androni-Diquigiovanni team manager Gianni Savio. "I have tried all I could to put together a South American team with Colombia-Selle Italia and by registering my team in Venezuela. I've linked it with ministers and sponsors with no success."
Androni-Diquigiovanni is now an Italian team with a South American flavour thanks to Colombia's José Serpa and Venezuelans Carlos Ochoa and Jackson Rodriguez but it's not a Tour de France team. "South Americans nowadays can only hope for a start in a team in Europe," Savio explained to Cyclingnews.
"There are some good riders from Colombia, Venezuela but also Brazil and Argentina. But there's no big champion around right now. It's a real pity to see the Tour de France starting without any of them. When I first took my team to the Tour with Lucien van Impe in 1985, there was Café de Colombia with Lucho Herrera who was doing great.
"The biggest highlight of my career as a team manager came with the stage win of Cacaito Rodriguez in Val-Thorens ahead of Piotr Ugrumov and Marco Pantani in 1994. Unfortunately, there's not much space left for this kind of romantic cycling anymore. South America is a victim of the globalization of the sport."
The first Colombian to participate in the Tour was Martin "Cochise" Rodriguez with Bianchi in 1975 (27th) but the history of Colombians at the Tour de France began in earnest in 1983, one year after race director Félix Lévitan announced at the start in Basel, Switzerland, that the race would become "open," which meant open to amateur teams as well as pro teams. This was an attempt to attract Soviet countries but only Colombia answered the call. It was enough to create history for more than a quarter of a century.
66 different Colombian riders have started the Tour de France since 1983. Fabio Parra holds the record for most participations with 8. He didn't miss a Tour from 1985 to 1992 and is the only Colombian to have made the final podium to date (1988). Lucho Herrera started 7 Tours, finishing them all and winning the polka dot jersey twice (1985 and 1987).
Santiago Botero was also the king of the mountains in 2000. The only Colombian to have worn the yellow jersey was Victor Hugo Peña for three days in 2003 following US Postal's win in the team time trial on stage 4.
32 Colombian journalists covered the 1983 Tour de France, most of them being enthusiastic and loud radio reporters. The radio tribune of the Tour de France has unfortunately become much quieter despite the ever growing number of reporters. South America may shine at the football World Cup these days but not, it seems, in cycling.