The headlines ultimately belonged to Nairo Quintana and Rigoberto Uran, but in the early stages of Colombian cycling's year of years, it briefly appeared as though Carlos Betancur's star would shine brightest of all.
Apparently unencumbered by his generous winter padding, Betancur rattled off a nonchalant victory at Paris-Nice in March. He was immediately installed among the top favourites for the Ardennes Classics and speculation mounted as to what he might achieve in his debut Tour de France if he hit his ideal racing weight.
That early triumph, however, proved the falsest of dawns and was quickly followed by abandons at the Volta a Catalunya and Tour of the Basque Country. After forgoing Liège-Bastogne-Liège altogether due to illness, Betancur travelled home to his native Colombia and despite entreaties from his Ag2r-La Mondiale team, he did not return to Europe in time for the Tour.
During that protracted lost weekend, his agent Giuseppe Acquadro claimed that Betancur would dissolve his contract with Ag2r by mutual consent at season's end. Speaking to Cyclingnews, however, manager Vincent Lavenu confirmed that following talks with Betancur during the Vuelta a España in September, the Colombian will remain part of his team for the next two years.
"I learned via the press during the Tour de France that he was going to leave the team so I called his agent and he asked if there was a possibility of that happening," Lavenu said. "I said I was ready to discuss things but I've never had those discussions with him. Betancur is under contract with us until 2016.
"I had a good talk with Carlos during the Vuelta and it seems as though he has taken on board what we said. It seems that he has good intentions and I hope that he'll follow through on those good intentions over the winter because we want to have the best Carlos Betancur again. We know the boy has such incredible talent, it's crazy."
Illness was the reason cited for Betancur's failure to report for duty in June as planned, but he eventually did make the trek back across the Atlantic in late August, lining up at the Vuelta a Burgos and Vuelta a España, even if Lavenu pointed out that his physical conditioning left much to be desired.
"It was very hard to get him to come back to France, and when he did come back he was a long, long way off his best shape. There was a period from April to June or July where effectively he didn't have the behaviour of a top-level athlete," Lavenu said. "He was ill but we never really found out what kind of illness he had. That spell of four months wasn't a positive one.
"We've spoken about all of that and we're starting over – him and us – with new intentions. He has enormous potential and we want to make the most of it – for him most of all, and for us as a team too. He needs to organise his life and behave like a champion athlete."
In hindsight, Betancur's early victories at Paris-Nice and the Tour du Haut Var served only to mask the lack of rigour that had marked his pre-season. He had struggled alarmingly on the climbs at his first race of the year, the Tour de San Luis in Argentina in January, and was reportedly still some six kilograms over his racing weight when he conjured up his improbable Paris-Nice win.
"He does have bit of a recurring weight problem that he needs to take care of, and we're there to help him and advise him with that," Lavenu said. "But then again, it's ultimately up to him to decide on the direction he wants to give his career."
Betancur is set to become a father before the end of the year, and sources close to the Colombian have indicated that his problematic 2014 and his extended spells away from racing stemmed primarily from a desire to be close to his family.
"We've noticed that when Colombian riders come to Europe it can be difficult for them, especially when they come to Europe for long periods of time," Lavenu said. "It's not like with the Australians. When the Australians come, they come for eight months at a time in Europe and they're ready to go to war. We've suggested to Carlos that he brings his family to Europe and organises his life here, because world cycling at the highest level is primarily in Europe."
Since his amateur days, Betancur's European base has been in Tuscany, where in recent seasons he has been coached by Michele Bartoli. Lavenu, however, gave the impression that he would prefer to have his rider closer at hand.
"He came to Europe very young, at 19 years of age, and he went to Italy, where he found a welcoming entourage, which we can understand," Lavenu said. "Does he have to keep living in Italy? Why not live in France instead? In any case, we're here to help him organise himself in Europe."
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