Former Vuelta a España winner Luis 'Lucho' Herrera says that South American cycling is on the brink of launching a new generation of pure climbers into the sport, and added that the inflxux of professional riders from Latin America is symbolic of a sort of coming of age for the continent.
Herrera was received as a hero in Colombia when he returned from his feats overseas in the mid to late 1980s, that saw him take out the king of the mountains classification in all three Grand Tours as well as multiple stage wins in the Tour de France.
At the time his small, featherweight build turned the European establishment on its head, with riders like Hinault and Fignon heavier set than Herrera and much more the norm. Though he never won a Tour, he did inspire a wave of cyclists after him to emulate his style, and some 20 years later the first products are finally coming to the fore.
"I think there was a shift away from pure climbers after the 70s," said Herrera. "There was a culture when I was racing of these bigger guys fighting it out.
"Even today there are very few what I would call pure climbers. I think cyclists have been told to develop to be more all-rounders for a long time, but with races like the Giro d'Italia in 2011 there are still opportunities for these guys to succeed. I think organisers want more of these riders to excite their races, and I think South America can produce them."
Herrera is particularly excited by the likes of Sergio Luis Henao, Esteban Chavez, Nairo Quintana and Fabio Duarte who he sees as very much in his own mould, all with the attacking flair and ability to accelerate on a climb that made Herrera himself such a star in his time.
"Quintana Rojas and Chavez [who won the Tour de l'Avenir in 2010 and 2011], I think they can be really good. The way Chavez climbs reminds me a lot of myself when I was younger. He is very driven and agressive on the bike, I think he's showing really good signs."
Herrera added that projects like Movistar, and more recently Colombia-Coldeportes were also helping to capitalise on the growth in South American cycling.
"[Colombia-Coldeportes] is going to be a really great thing for Colombia cycling, and for cycling in South America," said Herrera. "I think with a guy like [Claudio] Corti in charge there are big possibilities for them in Europe.
"Corti will be able to get the best out of these guys, they will perform they will get results, I am confident in that."
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