If you thought Colombian fans only go crazy for their 'home' stars then think again. Alberto Contador and Ivan Basso flew in on Thursday as guests at the Colombia Oro y Paz race and have been mobbed by the public and the media ever since.
The Colombian Cycling Federation had hoped to have Polartec-Kometa, the new Continental squad managed by Basso under the umbrella of the Contador Foundation, at the inaugural edition of the Oro y Paz, but they already had commitments at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana. Keen to get in early next time, the federation's president has proclaimed Polartec-Kometa as the first team on the start line in 2019.
Contador hasn't slowed down since retirement, travelling the world to fulfil a long list of sponsorship and ambassadorial commitments, along with investing much more of his time into his Foundation.
"Now it's pure enjoyment," he said. "The truth is I feel super fortunate for all this I'm able to enjoy."
Contador looked visibly shocked in Buga after stage 3 when he tried to make his way away from the podium area, only for a crowd of fans to charge in his direction. The selfies and interviews have barely stopped, and indeed the race put on a half-hour press conference with him and Basso on Friday evening.
"It's amazing the affection everyone's shown me since I arrived. Wherever I've gone in the world I've always been treated well by Colombians, as if I were one of their own, so I'm thrilled to be able to come here and get to know them," said Contador.
"It's really surprised me, the way they're into cycling here. The finish of today's stage was special – I didn't know if it was the Oro y Paz or the Tour de France. I hope that the party atmosphere continues to the end."
Shortly before waving Friday's stage underway, there was a particularly warm reunion with Colombian Jarlinson Pantano, the pair having ridden alongside each other at Trek-Segafredo in Contador's final year.
"I only have good things to say about him. He's one of the best liked guys in the peloton, and he's a great, great rider," Contador said. "Last year it was a shame he wasn't at his top level and I hope this year he can be."
Both Contador and Basso were asked about the anti-doping case currently hanging over Chris Froome, but both were reluctant to expand beyond insisting things should be cleared up as soon as possible. They spent longer on the questions about Colombia and its riders, Contador noting that Colombian cycling is in a rude state of health while Spain struggles for successors to the generation he spearheaded.
"We have a real interest in Colombian youth," said Basso. "We want to see new talents coming through and we hope to be at the next Oro y Paz with our team. I'm really happy with my role of manager and the idea is to keep growing and developing the project."
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