After 208km of racing, a shower and some food, Rigoberto Urán stepped off his EF Education First team bus to an awaiting crowd of fans – all from his home country of Colombia. Waving the horizontal tricolour of the yellow, blue and red flag, chanting, 'Rigo, Rigo, Rigo,' and still singing, laughing and dancing even after all the other teams had packed up and gone, they were undoubtedly the most lively bunch at the finish of stage 3 of the Tour of California in Morgan Hill on Tuesday.
"My fans are amazing. They make me happy," Urán told Cyclingnews when asked about the wildly happy following of compatriots that he encounters at every bike race in every corner of the world.
Urán finished the stage in 29th place, in the main field that finished nearly eight minutes behind stage winner Remi Cavagna (Deceuninck-QuickStep), who was followed home by the two chasers that completed the day's podium: Ben King (Dimension Data) and Simon Geschke (CCC Team). Urán currently sits in 15th overall, while his American teammate Tejay van Garderen leads the overall classification.
EF Education First sports director Charly Wegelius spoke with Cyclingnews outside the team bus while the rowdy crowds waited for Urán to make his appearance. Wegelius said that his rider is going well, but is maybe not at his best yet, having only recently recovered from a broken collarbone sustained at Paris-Nice in March.
"The timing of that [injury] was poor, so this is his first race on his way back," Wegelius said. "He's doing well. He's come here from altitude in Colombia, and this is a pretty good race for him to start with because it's not technical. There are long stages, but he's doing OK.
"He's not just training here in California. We have to time his racing around the Tour de France, and the Tour of California is part of that build-up."
Asked if Urán will be the leader of the team, once again, at the Tour de France in July, Wegelius simply replied, "Yes."
At the Tour of California, the team have three riders suited for the overall classification, with van Garderen and Urán, but also young Colombian talent Sergio Higuita – a new signing just ahead of the race – who's placed just ahead of Urán in 13th overall after three stages.
"It's great to have multiple riders well-placed because it takes the pressure off us," Wegelius said. "The whole team is working well together."
He also said that there's no added pressure on van Garderen to win the overall, despite the fact that he's an American at a home race and has won the overall title before – in 2013 – and placed second to Egan Bernal (Team Sky) last year.
"It's not a surprise at all that he's doing well," Wegelius said of van Garderen, who arrived back at the bus much later, having finished the podium presentation and press conference, wearing the golden leader's jersey, and trying to push his way through Urán's fans and onto the EF team bus.
"Van Garderen has always done well in these races, and so I think we can expect the same this year. There's no external pressure on him. Tejay wants to perform well, and there's nothing unusual about that. He's a bike rider who wants to win."
As for Urán, during NBC's live streaming of stage 3, the cameramen momentarily panned across the riders involved in a crash over a cattle grid on Mt Hamilton. It initially appeared that Urán was caught up in it.
Urán's fans let out a gasp when they learned of the possibility of another accident, but their worry subsided and then turned to applause when the bus doors finally opened after the stage and out stepped Urán with his arms open wide, welcoming his guests at the Tour of California.
"I didn't crash today; I just stopped. I'm OK," he confirmed to Cyclingnews, adding that his collarbone has completely healed and that he's feeling good about his prospects at the Tour of California.
"I've recovered and am ready for this race," Urán said. "The race has only just begun, and after three days we can already see that we have a strong team here, so we'll see what happens over the next few days. But yes, we can do well here in California."
Jamie and Durley Rendon, from Medellin, Colombia, but currently living in the Morgan Hill area of California, held out their t-shirts, notebooks and flags for autographs from Urán, delighted to have the chance to see him in person.
"We're only here to see Rigo," Jamie told Cyclingnews. "We watch him on TV all the time. We're all Rigoberto Urán fans that are here right now. In Colombia, Urán is like a rock star. He's very authentic, you know? He speaks his mind, doesn't cover up his emotions; he's very fun and approachable. We're all Colombian, and we're the loudest, craziest and funnest fans in cycling."
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