During the racing years of Team Africa Rising’s founder, Jonathan “Jock” Boyer, in the late 70s through the late 80s, the rise of Colombian cyclists began. This rise came on the wheels of the likes of Luis Herrara, taking the first stage win for a Colombian on Alpe d’Huez in 1984. In 1988, Fabio Parra finished on the podium at the Tour de France in third place. Even up until the early 2000s with the yellow jersey worn by Victor Hugo Peña, Colombian cyclists were proving their strength in the top European races.
And then Colombia was gone from the top ranks of the sport with the 2010 Tour de France fielding not one Colombian in 27 years.
Drugs, corruption, and the rise of the guerilla military groups led to Colombia being the second-largest internally displaced peoples in the world, second only to Syria. From 1985 – 2013, 16.9% of the population were direct victims of the war.
When Egan Bernal won the 2019 Tour de France, he cemented Colombia’s place on the world stage of cycling. The 2020 season boasts 22 Colombian cyclists on World Tour teams, 10 on Pro Continental, 69 on Continental, and even one woman on a UCI Women’s World Tour Team. Colombia has 101 cyclists at the Continental level or higher (excluding the female cyclist).
Eritrea has the most with 11 (3 WT, 1 CPT, 7 CT). Rwanda fields only eight Continental cyclists, and Ethiopia has three cyclists, one cyclist in each rank with double the population of Colombia.
But Colombia is no different from Rwanda, Eritrea, and Ethiopia in terms of internal conflict, lack of resources, high altitude, and an excess of naturally gifted cyclists. Rwanda experienced a genocide in 1994 that left the country decimated for close to a decade. Ethiopia and Eritrea fought between 1998 and 2000, with a peace agreement only reached in 2018.
Why has Colombia recovered in the sport of cycling while similar athletes with similar abilities in Africa continue to struggle to reach the top ranks of the sport?
Team Africa Rising is on a mission to find the answer to this question. TAR founder, Jock Boyer, is traveling to this year’s Vuelta a Colombia to meet with clubs, teams, and the federation. The goal is to learn from the cycling producing machine Colombia is today. Rwandan, Eritrean, and Ethiopian cyclists are, for the most part, all climbers. The terrain and altitude are similar. So why is Africa not producing the number of cyclists Colombia is launching onto the world stage?
TAR hopes to engage the Colombian Federation and teams to build a collaboration to send cyclists between these countries to learn from those who are achieving their goals on the world cycling stage. Someday, there will be a Rwandan, Eritrean, or Ethiopian standing on the top podium, just like Egan Bernal, their hero.