When adressing the topic of national sports in Latin America, one immediately thinks of soccer. Which is so true ! But it doesn’t keep people from loving, supporting and practicing other sports. We were very surprised, upon arriving in Ecuador, that many people are fond of cycling, and we had no idea how fond of it they actually are !
Every Sunday, you can see many people riding their bikes in the city’s parks, but also lots of SUVs leaving town with full bike racks hanging in the back. All going to the countryside, where there are many paths to ride. For example, in Cumbaya, the Chaquiñan ecological route is very popular, it is so croudy on weekends that it can get dangerous for pedestrians. The parking lot in the mall, with a direct access to the ecological route, is full of those SUV-with-bike-rack way before the stores start opening. People go riding in family, with their friends, or as part of a cycling club. As we are in the mountains, it makes for very physical rides, and brings some ecuadorians to an international professional level.
As a matter of fact, after the rise of the Colombians (Quintana for instance), this year has seen the rise of various ecuadorian cyclists in the three main european races : Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta de España. During the French Tour, Richard Carapaz ended as 13th in the final classification, and vice-champion « climber ». Last year, he already won the Italian Giro, but this year he prefered to focus on the spanish race, being appointed as leader of his team. And he obviously made the right choice, as he wore the red leader shirt for several days, only losing it a few days before the end of the race. In the final classification, he finished second, only twenty-four seconds behind the winner. Meanwhile in Italy, two fellow Ecuadorians, Jhonatan Narvaez and Jonathan Caicedo each won one stage victory.
As can be foreseen, such international success makes for even more bycicle fans, whether practicing it on the road, or supporting it on screen. As a matter of fact, many people acclaimed Richard Carapaz’ performance, and he was welcomed pretty much like a hero upon his arrival from Spain.
And as for me, I never figured that one day I would sit in a small ecuadorian hotel lobby at the beach, looking up at their television, and be offered to watch one of the belgian classic cycling races !