Racing toward peace: Colombia Oro y Paz
PALMIRA, Colombia – Indomitable national spirit, seas of cycling fans and kilometer after kilometer of unsurpassable landscape was what made the inaugural Colombia Oro y Paz (2.1) a unique and special race for the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling team. Held from February 6 to 11, it’s practically impossible to find any images from the six-day race that didn’t display the deep passion Colombians have for the sport, along with their country.
Coming off the heels of Vuelta a San Juan Internacional (2.1), a race that saw Travis McCabe sprint to third place on stage 6, the Colombian event had it all. Flat stages, circuits, and hilly parcours tested the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling team racing amongst the best teams in the world. Argentinian powerhouse Sebastian Haedo brought the team several notable results over the course of the week, finishing in the top 15 on the first two stages, and fifth on stage 3.
“I’m happy with how the team performed,” UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team Director Seba Alexandre said. “It’s still early in the season and I feel like we’re only going to get better as the season progresses. Next stop is our European block and I look forward to seeing what our guys can do.”
Stage by stage
The opening stage in Palmira, a 100 kilometer circuit race, was flat, fast and designed to be a sprinter’s delight.
Jonny Clarke placed himself in the early break with four other riders, but were caught 10kms to go because of the dominant work at the front by the Quick-Step Floors team. Colombian Fernando Gaviria (Quickstep-Floors) sprinted to the stage win.
“They have a very strong lead out train here and proved one more time taking 1st and 3rd place,” Alexandre said. “Haedo, our only fast guy here, was able to finish 11th, which is not great, but I believe he will get better toward the next stages. There are two more stages for sprinters and the mountains will begin. The last three stages are hilly with final one being the Queen stage.”
The next day, Haedo rubbed elbows at the front of the bunch gallop to the line yet again, in a race that shaped up to be almost a mirror image to the day prior. At 183 kilometers, it was a longer, more traditional day in the saddle, but the result was the same. Gaviria took his second win and Haedo claimed a respectable 12th place.
The same can be said for stage 3. Another stage for the sprinters, another win for Gaviria. However, Haedo found his legs and positioning to be in line for a stellar top 5 placing after 163 kilometers of flat roads to Buga.
“I was so close I could taste it,” Haedo said after the stage. “The guys were great, they kept me protected all day and led me to the right wheels when it came down to crunch time. I’m pleased with my result.”
The fun for the sprinters ended on the fourth stage from Buga to Alto Boquerón (El Tambo), which featured a five kilometer climb to the finish. French rider Julian Alaphilippe racked up another win for Quick-Step Floors and Janier Acevedo crossed the line in 30th place, about 33 seconds back.
“We worked very hard to get Acevedo up near the front before the final climb, and succeeded,” Alexandre said. “He is our best hope for GC and didn’t lose too much time in the large scheme of things. Tomorrow is another day.”
During the final two stages, the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling team stayed fairly quiet in the bunch. After the hilly days, finishing mostly mid pack, they were carried across the line by the fervent cheers of the Colombian cycling fans.
The team will travel to cooler climes starting their European block with the Belgian one day race, Le Samyn (1.1).