Thursday, May 29, 2014

Cycling in Colombia: The Roots of Colombia's New Wave of Cyclists

In early 2008, after finishing my Ribbon Of Road cycling tour through the Americas I landed in Bogota, Colombia to photograph a travel piece for the now defunct National Geographic Adventure Magazine. Along the way, I stumbled into Ignacio Velez, also know as @ElCoach. He talked to me about his dream to organize a Colombian cycling squad with a carefully monitored training plan, strong anti-doping position, and an end goal of cultivating a new generation of cyclists to join the ranks of the pros in Europe. The team was called Colombia es Pasión. Over the following 10 months, I pitched the story to every cycling publication I could find, but the idea was rejected by all of them except VeloNews, who commissioned the piece on spec.

The following year I packed my bags and hopped a bird to Bogota to embed with Velez's team.  For the next two months I joined their training rides over the Andes, chilled out in their homes, and traveled with them as they fought through what I consider to be the toughest stage race in the world: La Vuelta Colombia. It was an experience that somehow led to a 7 year fascination with Colombia, new base camp in Bogota, and my Visual Storytelling and Film Agency start-up based in Bogota, WhereNext?.

When I returned to the States to check-in with VeloNews, I was crushed to learn that they decided to kill the article. I begged and pleaded to get it published. In the end they told me to put together a 250 word photo essay, but I found it impossible to condense my experience into a single paragraph. I stayed up for 24 hours straight and wrote 4,000 words. VeloNews decided to run the piece nearly in its entirety and it became my first ever published long-form feature.  The bummer was that in the rush to get it to the printer, my editor changed the title and made a glaring typo along the way: running the story as El Pasión instead of La Pasión. He also misspelled Colombia (Columbia) on several occasions--which is probably one most insulting things you can do to a Colombian. During the following month I received several phone calls and a flurry of emails from the Spanish speaking world ridiculing me for the typos.  I was so embarrassed that I buried the clip deep in my digital archive.  

Over the past few years it's been such a pleasure to watch this group of cyclists--Duarte, Quintana and many more--grow from the singular dream and hard work of Ignacio Velez to their current state of success at the Giro d'Italia.  I think the story of the inception of the team and my time on the ground with the country's "escarabajos" might be of interest to cycling fans keen on understanding where and how this phenomenon we're witnessing at the Giro d'Italia came about.

With that said, I've dug it the piece out from the depths of my backup drive--you can download the link to the original article here:

Download the Original Article

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