“Attack” replied soft-spoken Janier Acevedo when asked what his team would do in the final stage of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.
Everyone smiled because that’s exactly what his team, the Gobernación de Antioquia – Indeportes Antioquia out of Colombia had been doing from the beginning of the race, attacking every time the roads went up.
The 25-year old rider, who had just won the brutal stage 4, the Salt Lake City circuit race by attacking the break, added, “The race is not lost, we’re hanging in there, second, third, we’re going to give it our all to win tomorrow.”
They did exactly that. The only team to have all of its riders on the right side of the split, the squad out of Antioquia attacked and attacked again. In the end, they could not dislodge the yellow jersey from Levi Leipheimer‘s shoulders but boy did they put his Radioshack team under pressure.
Leipheimer replied with an emphatic “yes” when asked if he was surprised by strength of the team from Colomnbia.
He continued, “You could see it immediately in the prologue. He won the prologue by a lot but it makes sense. They come from altitude, higher than we are here, generally the same timezone, so there’s no jet lag, there’s no effect from the altitude. I’m surprised but at the same time, I’m not.”
Every year, it seems that riders breakthrough at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. From Alex Howes and Matthew Busche in 2009, to Ian Boswell and Lachlan Morton in 2010. This year, it was the team out of Colombia that caught everyone’s attention.
In the end, the team won three stages, the best young rider jersey and the overall team classification.
“Even though we’re a modest team, I’m very happy as a team to give to the world the name of Gobernacion di Antioquia and be recognizable. The best part was to get the opportunity to race with world class teams, that was priceless for us.” said 22-year old Cristhian Montoya who won the Best Young Rider jersey.
Not bad for a team that was invited at the last minute due to a UCI rule rule 2.1.007 bis which specifies that the 3 UCI Continental teams leading the UCI America Tour must be invited to any UCI America Tour race.
Along with the continental team, the government-sponsored institution Indeportes Antioquia has youth, U23 and track programs, with an end goal to promote sports and wellness in the region of Antioquia, Colombia.
Kaboom. The young team, in its first year as a Continental team under the direction of Santiago Botero started off strong by winning the prologue. Sergio Henao blasted the uphill course to take the yellow jersey while his teammate, Oscar Sevilla took third.
Reflecting on his first win in the U.S. and the competitive field for the race, Henao said, “It was a difficult but we have to live day by day [in the tour]. It was a big surprise not just to me, but to everyone that we won today. All the stages are difficult, but the team is very strong. We will try to stick together. Our goal is to control other teams to make sure no one else has the advantage.”
The team not only successfully defended the yellow in the first two stages but Henao and Sevilla were able to follow Leipheimer decisive attack on stage 1. After the dust had settled, it left five riders in contention for the overall, two from the Antioquia team and two from Radioshack.
Though they lost the jersey in the time trial, the Colombians did not give up. Their aggressive racing delivered another stage win stage 4 in Salt Lake City.
“I am extremely happy. It is hard to win a stage anywhere in the world but today definitely was hard. I am happy I got to race with some of the best riders in the world.” Acevedo said after winning the brutal Salt Lake City circuit race.
Though they are used to the altitude, the heat was another issue. “It’s very, very hard. We get dehydrated, we’re not used to the dry climate here. All I think about is drinking water, it’s been very hard for me.” Acevedo said quietly after his win.
The Queen stage culminated in a showdown between Henao and Leipheimer on the final climb up Snowbird.
Henao was not able to drop Leipheimer but claimed the stage win. “We found in Levi a worthy opponent, he was very strong. I was in good shape and I was doing well but I found that Levi was just as strong, Levi is a worthy winner. It was a tough race.”
As aggressive as they were every time the roads went up, the riders were soft-spoken and shy while talking to the press through a translator. Their first comment was always to say how grateful they were to be invited.
“I would like to thank the Tour of Utah organization for inviting us. The scenery was breath-taking, the people have nothing but nice, we are very happy that we got to race here with the caliber of racers that I shared this with. Everybody was nice and we had a great time. First class race.” commented Henao who finished second overall.
Henao will be racing with the Sky Cycling team next year but before that, the squad will take on the challenge of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge next week. At higher altitude and with longer climbs, the Colorado race should suit their skills even more, and to make it even more interesting another Colombian team, the EMP-UNE will be racing.
A fact that was not lost of Leipheimer. “I’m counting on the Schleck brothers and Garmin-Cervelo to help out, to help control because I can’t imagine another team like this, and we’re going to be at even higher altitude.” he said about the Colorado race. “So it’s not my responsibility to control that race, there’s going to be a much stronger field, I’m going to have to ride smart and follow because they’re going to be lightning up.”
Is this a sign of the resurgence of Colombians at the highest level of professional racing? Unknown but it is sure fun to watch them detonate the field.