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“We seek for these children to grow to be well-rounded adults, and for them to understand the meaning of human rights, and of co-existing with others in a peaceful manner. We are here to give our city and our department of Antioquia adults who will be good citizens, who will actively work toward our ultimate goal of achieving peace.”
– Angela Arteaga, President of CICLEB Club in Ciudad Bolivar, Colombia
The success of Colombian riders over the last year has prompted many to wonder just what makes them become such fierce competitors. Is it the altitude or topography of their homeland? Maybe it’s their naturally slight build, or deep hunger for success. In reality, several other countries (in South America especially) share these qualities with Colombia. But what they don’t have, is an ingrained, long-standing culture of cycling. One that is perhaps best represented by the numerous cycling academies and clubs that have spread over the Colombian landscape since 1951, the year that the first Vuelta a Colombia took place. That’s because these institutions, which normally include students as young as five years old, take an active and significant role in the lives of their members. So while teaching training, nutrition, bike-handling skills and racing strategy may at first appear to be the primary purpose of these academies, a closer look reveals a deeper commitment to children who often come from the country’s most rural areas.
Speak with those in leadership roles at these academies, and they’ll tell you about shaping a generation of athletes that can alter their nation’s future for the best, just as often as they’ll mention competing in a race, or even winning. Their goals are lofty, and extent well outside the realm of sport. Why stop at sporting success, when a group of fellow cyclists can shape an entire life, and in turn its surroundings? It’s a touching subtext, and one that they deliver on without fail. One such example is that of Rigoberto Urán, and the cycling academy that today bears his name.
Left without a father at only 14 years old, Rigoberto Urán was forced to take his father’s job, selling lottery tickets on the street, to help his mother with household expenses. Having taken up cycling shortly before his father’s passing, the local cycling academy took the young man under their collective wing. They urged him to stay in school, checked up on him and his family regularly, and rallied around a young man who was facing an unbelievably difficult situation at a young age. As the years passed, Urán moved up the ranks of regional, and national teams, eventually going to race in Italy at a young age in order to earn a living, and help his family. Eventually, the academy that helped shape Rigoberto Urán gave him the greatest honor possible. They changed their name to reflect their greatest product, and now source inspiration. The academy now bears Urán’s name.
And the admiration is mutual. Today, after his success with Team Sky and Omega Pharma Quick-Step over the past seasons, Urán continues to hold the small cycling academy in his native Urrao in high regard. And he shows it. With funds donated by Rapha from sales of its Colombian Super-Lightweight jersey, Rigoberto presented the club with five new carbon bikes for all members to use and race on. He also gave new kit and off-the-bike apparel for all members, who largely come from families of very meager means, making their sport of choice a difficult one to partake in. As he does at the end of every season, Rigoberto also emptied out his closet, giving old shoes, sunglasses, helmets, bidons and just about everything else he could pass on to a new generation of cyclists. Ones who may very well soar over Europe’s famed mountains passes, much as he has over the last few seasons as a professional. But if cycling academies all over Colombia—much like this one—have their way, these kids will achieve much more. They will not only become successful competitive cyclists, but will also become better people, and will help shape the future of their country for the better. Leaving most of us to wonder why we sometimes dream so small.