Six years ago, we went to Colombia. We met riders and staff from the 4-72-Colombia team in both Medellín and Bogotá. They were a small continental team that focused on U23 riders, and had recently won the Tour de l’Avenir twice (once with Nairo Quintana, and once with Esteban Chaves). Since then, the team has changed sponsors, and operated as both a professional (continental) and amateur team at different times. But its structure and staff have more or less been the same throughout. Last year, the team announced a new sponsor. Manzana Postobón. A bright pink, apple-flavored soda produced by Postobón. A Colombian soft drink company founded in 1904, which sponsored a cycling team during the 1980s and early 90s. That iteration of the team (only connected to the current one by its sponsor, and thus its name) had significant wins like the 1991 Dauphiné Libéré with Lucho Herrera. They also tried to sign Stephen Roche in 1989, and a potential merger with Motorola was reported by the Colombian press.
By 1992, however, the team started to come undone. At the Tour de France, only two of the team’s riders made it to the last stage. As a result, team director Raul Mesa began to cry in the team car as they turned into the Champs-Élysées. They weren’t invited to the Tour in 1993, and the team’s budget was cut significantly. They continued to race in Colombia with mixed results. By then, Café De Colombia had folded, and with Postobon (also called Manzana Postobon and Ryalcao Postobon through the years), not racing in Europe, it’s fair to say that Colombia’s so-called “golden era” was more or less over.
In 1995, during a team camp, riders refused to train due to torrential rain. Assistant director Alfonso López became angry, questioning their commitment to the team and the sport. Three riders eventually relented. Nestor Mora, Agustino Triana and Hernán Patiño went out to train, as López shamed other riders for their lack of dedication. Not long after riding off, all three riders were struck and killed by a car. Alfonso López fell into a deep depression, blaming himself for their deaths. After months spent in his bedroom, often crying uncontrollably, his spirits began to lift. But it was then that he got the call from the team’s sponsor. They had decided to end their sponsorship, choosing to focus on soccer as a marketing vehicle instead.
“While the team ended, many remembered them fondly as part of Colombia’s rise in the sport. Which helps explain why the soft drink company’s return to the sport instantly brought back memories for so many.”
Their evolution has been impressive, especially when one considers that three years ago they were racing as an amateur team. Now, they are at the Vuelta a España, racing as underdogs. Perhaps that contributes to their charm, as does the fact that they are Colombian (with the exception of only two riders). The number of admirers holding signs and flags along the race’s route is beyond impressive. It’s easy to see that they are loved at the Vuelta.
While spending time with the team at the Vuelta, we can’t help but think back to our initial meeting six years ago. Before too long, we’ll be posting all the shots from that initial trip to Colombia. For now, enjoy this gallery. A sampling of what’s to come. Consider it an appetizer. Like a really good appetizer, one good enough that you’d consider making into your entrée. Except the entrée is still to come.