The lie of the land is rather different as the Tour Colombia returns to the calendar on Tuesday after a four-year absence. The passion for the sport in this corner of the world is as fervent as ever – witness the joyous multitudes in Duitama at last weekend’s national championships – but the skies are not quite as serene as they were in the spring of 2020.
Back then, just before the coronavirus pandemic took hold, Colombian cycling was at the zenith. Egan Bernal was the reigning Tour de France champion, and Nairo Quintana was beginning an apparent renaissance at Arkéa. Miguel Ángel López was the coming man of the mountains, and WorldTour teams were scrambling to identify and recruit emerging Colombian talent. Indeed, twelve months previously, before striking a deal with Ineos, Dave Brailsford had travelled to the country to investigate the prospect of securing a sponsor to replace Sky.
By last winter, the mood music had changed considerably, and sombre newspaper headlines spoke gravely of the end of Colombian cycling’s years of plenty. WorldTour squads’ growing preference for recruiting directly from the junior ranks in Europe and North America, allied to the demise of Manzana Postobón, had complicated the pathway for young Colombian talent, while some established stars were enduring travails of their own.
Bernal’s future was uncertain as he fought his way back from career-threatening injury. Quintana looked to be on the brink of retirement after testing positive for Tramadol on the 2022 Tour de France and failing to secure a contract. López was banished from the WorldTour due to his implication in Operation Ilex. Other members of the golden generation, meanwhile, were inching towards the end of their careers.
The absence of the Tour Colombia from the calendar only exacerbated the sense of drift. The race was cancelled in 2021 due to the pandemic, and shortfalls in funding prevented the Colombian Cycling Federation from resurrecting it in the years that followed. Its return in 2024 was confirmed too late to convince the bulk of the WorldTour squads to change their early-season programmes, but the organisation will hope that this year’s event will at least provide a foothold for future editions.
Most importantly, they have secured the presence of the most bankable stars of Colombian cycling. Nairo Quintana begins his second act at Movistar at the Tour Colombia, while Rigoberto Urán and Esteban Chaves line out in an EF Education-EasyPost…