Giro d'Italia victory gives Carapaz 'sporting immortality' in Ecuador

Ecuador hardly has a rich cycling heritage, but a glance at the newspapers on Monday left little doubt as to the extent to which Richard Carapaz's Giro d'Italia victory has captured the imagination of a nation.

The 'Locomotive of Carchi', to borrow the nickname that has caught on over the past three weeks, dominated pretty much every front page.

'Historic', cried El Universo, beneath the letters CARAPAZ, printed in pink upon a full-page photo of the champion with the trofeo senza fine in the Verona Arena.

Indeed, the consensus was that Carapaz, in becoming the first Ecuadorean to win a Grand Tour and the second South American - after Colombian Nairo Quintana - to win the Giro, had instantly become one of the country's all-time sporting greats.

"Richard Carapaz is already an immortal figure in Ecuadorian sport," wrote Ricardo Vasconcellos Figueroa in El Universo.

"At the 2019 Giro d'Italia, the rider from Carchi attained the sort of legend status that is only reached through unprecedented success, through world class achievement, through memorable acts that give you goosebumps and fill you with pride, through exploits that shake a nation and absolutely grip its people to a competition that consecrates a champion forever. That's how Carapaz reached sporting immortality.

"June 2 is an indelible date in the history of Ecuadorian sport, and from now is the national day of cycling. It’s the date that Richard Carapaz became, through a superhuman performance, one of the country's greatest sporting figures."

Most newspapers in Ecuador drew comparisons with the country's sporting icons, such as the runner Jefferson Perez, tennis players Pancho Segura Cano and Andres Gomez, and footballer Alberto Spencer.

Most also ran quotes from President Lenin Moreno, who said: "There are 17 million hearts that have been cheered by Richard Carapaz, who has shown us we can do great things."

Daily newspaper El Comercio painted a picture of the scenes on the final Sunday, as big screens were erected across the country and monuments were lit up pink. The Giro had only been available on ESPN South America, but the Ecuadorian government negotiated an agreement with the commercial network and the final two stages were broadcast live on free-to-air television. The time zone difference meant an early start, but squares and parks were already heaving by 6 a.m., nowhere more so than in Carapaz’s home province of Carchi.

Government officials and sporting stars turned out at the Anthropological Museum of Contemporary Art in Guayaquil, while at the Olympic Stadium in Atahualpa, some 5,000 fans gathered to cheer their man on. "When the moment came for Carapaz to start his time trial, the music stopped and the commentary was turned up," read El Comercio's article. "When he reached the line, applause broke out and flags were unfurled."

It's clear that Carapaz's exploits captured the imagination of a nation where cycling is ordinarily far from the forefront of the collective conscience. The rider's own journey, which passed through Colombia over the border, has been used to highlight the lack of infrastructure for prospective professional cyclists and indeed sportspeople in general.

Writing in El Telegrafo, former cycling-cross rider Sebastian Palacios issued something of a call to arms.

"Some say sport changes lives. I believe that sport can change an entire country," he wrote.

"For that, Richard's triumph, as well as filling us with happiness and pride, must make us reflect on those athletes who have the ability but not the means - those that need dedicated structures to help them train, to provide them with the resources to enable them to fulfil their potential. Fewer words and more actions. Let’s hope that, with Richard's victory, the government treats sport as a priority and that the President understands the benefits of investing in sport, which keeps us healthy, keeps us away from drugs and other vices, and cultivates values like discipline and perseverance."

It seems the government is already on the same page. President Moreno has just announced that taxes on bicycle imports will be removed, and that the state will go further in supporting its athletes.

For now, though, Ecuadorians are simply still basking in the euphoria of national glory on the world stage. Carapaz's homecoming should be some party, but in the meantime, El Universo delivered a message to him from the people.

"The country, which rose early for three weeks to see him in action and buzzed with the pride of being Ecuadorian, says with great emotion, at full voice and with a tear in the eye: "Brilliant, Carapaz! Wonderful, Richard! Eternal thanks, the Locomotive of Carchi!"

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