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The Best Colombian Riders of The Modern Era

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A couple of years ago we did a piece about the Colombian influence on European Cycle Sport and the best Colombian riders of the modern era, and at the end of it we mentioned a guy who we believed was going to be a ‘Big’; Senor Egan Bernal by name. Since Bernal has become the first Colombian winner of the Tour de France we thought you make like to see what we said back then…

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They’re part of the landscape now, those Colombians; Chaves, Gaviria, Quintana, Uran all rampaging across Grand Tours and Classics landscapes.

Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas (both GBR / Team INEOS). Photo©Dion Kerckhoffs

It got me to thinking about Colombians I have known and loved (most of them, that is) since I started following cycling way back in 1970.

Nairo Quintana is riding clear of his challengers. Photo©Gian Mattia D’Alberto

Varese, Italy 1971, the track Worlds and Martin Rodriguez, known as ‘Cochise’ to his fans, won the amateur 4,000 metres pursuit to general surprise but it really shouldn’t have been – Rodriguez was a prolific winner on the South American scene and had broken the amateur world hour record in 1970 with 47.553 kilometres.

I hadn’t realised that cycling was a big sport in South America until the Cycling Weekly magazine printed a picture of Cochise on the phone to the President of Colombia after his Worlds success.

Rodriguez turned pro with Felice Gimondi’s Bianchi team and partnered the great man to a win in the Baracchi two-up time trial in 1973 as well as winning two Giro stages during his time as a EuroPro.

‘Cochise’ with Gimondi.

The next big surprise to come out of Colombia was in 1980 when the man with the ‘Glasgow Hard Man’ look, Alfonso Florez defeated the cream of East European cycling to win the Tour de l’Avenir overall by three minutes.

The Bianchi-Campagnolo stars of 1973 – Marino Basso, Martin Rodriguez and Felice Gimondi.

That one jarred our eyes open, Sergei Soukhoroutchenkov @ 3:10 and Yuri Barinov @ 4:28, that was one serious result; iron man ‘Soukho’ had dominated the Olympic Road race; we realised that these Columbian guys were the real deal.

Florez, who enjoyed huge success in his native Colombia would sadly die, a murder victim in Medelin in 1992.

Colombian hard man – Alfonso Florez.

In 1984 a non-cycling friend came back from holiday in France and said to me; ‘have you heard about the Colombian boy?

In those pre-‘net days, of course I hadn’t, but the French newspapers and TV were full of the story.

The ‘Colombian Boy’ to whom he referred was 24 year-old Bogota amateur rider, Martin Ramirez who with minimal team support usurped none other than Tour winner, Bernard Hinault to win the Dauphine, the number one warm up for le Tour.

The last day was a split stage and Ramirez defended a narrow lead during the morning road stage despite physical and verbal abuse from Hinault and his team.

In the afternoon the Columbian got the better of the Frenchman in the time trial, won by Greg Lemond to win the race overall with Hinault second and Lemond third on GC.

Hinault was his usual unapologetic self;

“For me the honour of the professional class is at stake.

“It’s not right that these pseudo-professionals should be earning two million francs a month while there are numerous pros getting less than 700 francs.”

The Badger at his best.

Ramirez would go on to win the 1985 Tour de l’Avenir too.