Richard Carapaz, the golden man of Ecuadorian cycling

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Richard Carapaz, winner of the 2019 Giro d’Italia wearing the colors of the Spanish Movistar team, is the leader of the British team Ineos. The one who was the first Ecuadorian rider to win a Grand Tour now dreams of a double on Italian roads from 6 to 29 May.

Verona, 2 June 2019. There, on the banks of the Adige, an Ecuadorian runner writes history, in the city that was the scene of the tragedy Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare. His name: Richard Carapaz. Never a representative of Ecuador has won a Grand Tour. The one nicknamed “La Locomota del Carchi”, Carchi’s locomotive, will finish the following year second in the Tour of Spain and third in the Tour de France in 2021.

Ecuador, not famous for cycling

The boy born in El Carmelo, in the province of Carchi, will go down in world cycling history with three podiums in the three Grand Tours. His country, bordering Peru to the south and east and Colombia to the northeast, is not famous for cycling. Before him, Ecuador had only a few famous runners. Within the country, we remember Juan Carlos Rosero, winner of his national tour in 1986, 1989 and 1992. Before his death in 2013, Rosero was still Carapaz’s mentor.

But you had to turn to Colombia to see South Americans succeed in the old continent, like Luis Herrera, aka “Lucho”, who is undoubtedly one of the best climbers cycling has ever known. Luis Herrera is still today the only rider – with Federico Bahamontes – to have won the mountain classification in the Tour de France, but also in the Giro and the Vuelta.

Since then, others have come to make their fortunes in Europe, like Nairobi Quintana, Egan Bernal, Rigoberto Uran, or even Miguel Angel Lopez. In Colombia, cycling is capable of uniting an entire country, like Brazil with football. In Ecuador, where a significant portion of the population lives below the poverty line, it’s a different story. There, Richard Carapaz, who cut his teeth on Colombian roads before arriving in Europe, represents success. The one who got up at 5am to hand milk the family’s seven cows did not think this childhood would lead to an exciting existence. And “Richie” gladly returns to recharge his batteries with his family as often as possible, and to climb the Ecuadorian passes. Parents, friends and altitude remain a priority. He takes advantage of the tranquility and rides at an altitude of 3,000 meters.

Richard Carapaz and his dream of Europe

Today, the Ineos team relies on the reigning Olympic champion away to Tokyo for the final victory of the 2022 edition of the Giro, which begins on Friday 6 May in Budapest, Hungary. “ We are all ready to win the Giro. Every “Granatier” knows that this is the goal, we all have this in common and we want to achieve it says Carapaz. Ineos has won three of the last four editions of the Giro d’Italia with Britons Chris Froome in 2018 and Tao Geoghegan Hart in 2020, then the Colombian Egan Bernal last year.

Richard Carapaz, gold medal in road race at the Tokyo Olympics, July 24, 2021. AFP – GREG BAKER

Richard Carapaz, who crushed the Pan American Championships in 2013, could have lost this magnificent career. When he moved to Colombia in 2015, where he raced for the Colombian team Strongman-Campagnolo-Wilier – he stayed with former pro Rafael Acevedo, also the stepfather of Miguel Ángel López – he became the first foreigner to win the Tour de Colombie espoirs. Hoping for a real contract, in 2016 only a small Spanish amateur team agreed to take him. He ended up attracting the attention of the Movistar team and signed a contract as an intern in 2017. The year he also became the first Ecuadorian cyclist to race the Tour of Spain. In 2018 his name began to make itself known to the general public with a stage victory and a fourth place in the overall standings.

The following year is the apotheosis on the streets of Verona with the coronation in front of the Italian star Vincenzo Nibali and Slovenian Primoz Roglic. In Quito, in the Ecuadorian capital, thousands of spectators gathered at the Estadio Olímpico Atahualpa for the public broadcast of the last stage. This enterprise will go down in history, waiting for the next one.

Carapaz, who did not race in April, reassured himself about his conditions at the Tour of Catalonia at the end of March, winning the sixth stage after a 130 km break in the river with Colombian Sergio Higuita. In his search for the second pink jersey, Carapaz will be supported in particular by Australian climber Richie Porte and Frenchman Pavel Sivakov.

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