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When Jarlison Pantano raced towards the finish line in Culoz during the 2016 Tour de France, many eyes were on his breakaway companion. Rafal Majka was the better-known rider, having previously taken three Tour stages plus one King of the Mountains title. His presence in the day’s break would put him back in the polka-dot jersey and set the stage for another classification victory, but he also wanted a stage win too.
Majka sat behind Pantano in the closing kilometre, using his experience to force the IAM Cycling rider to lead from the front. He then jumped hard, but his rival had more speed and blasted past him, hitting the line first.
The victory confirmed his stage win the previous month in the Tour de Suisse, and showed that Colombia had another star.
The triumph followed on from previous success by that country in the Grand Tours. In the 1980s Lucho Herrera and Fabio Parra blazed the trail, winning stages in the three-week races.
Herrera also won the 1987 Vuelta a España plus the mountains classification in each of the Grand Tours. Parra was second overall in the Vuelta and third in the Tour.
In the decades since then, the country’s successes continued. Oliviera Rincón, Nelson Rodríguez, Chepe González and Nelson Rodríguez all won stages at the Tour in the 1990s, while Félix Cárdenas, Santiago Botero and Mauricio Soler did the same the 2000s. Botero and Soler also won the Tour King of the Mountains prize.
More recently, riders such as Nairo Quintana and Esteban Chavez have shone in Grand Tours, keeping the Colombian tradition alive.
Now Jarlison Pantano can be added to that list.
In person, Pantano doesn’t have airs and graces. Smiling and friendly, he cut a relaxed figure at the Trek-Segafredo pre-season training camp. His hunger last season was partially explained by his need to find a new team after IAM Cycling’s decision to stop; taking stages in the Tour de Suisse and the Tour de France ensured a good contract, and the American team snapped him up.
“I am very happy because for me it is a new experience,” he smiles, talking about the scale of the squad.
Joining the likes of Alberto Contador and John Degenkolb shows how he has stepped up a level yet, despite the bigger setup, he relishes that the atmosphere is warm. “I am happy because while this is a big team, it is a nice team. It feels like a family – I like this.”
Pantano originally came to cycling thanks to his father’s passion for the sport. At 19 years of age he was a fine seventh overall in the Tour de l’Avenir, then two years later finished third in the same event.
He competed in 2011 as part of the Colombia es Pasión–Café de Colombia squad, winning a stage of the Vuelta a Colombia, then spent the next three years with the Colombia–Coldeportes team.
Taking the mountains classification in the Tour of the Mediterranean helped secure IAM Cycling’s interest and he raced in the Swiss squad’s colours for two years.
That team then moved up to the WorldTour in 2015 and had big hopes, but was unable to find a replacement sponsor. As a result it said that the 2016 season would be its last.
That decision would prove to be a big catalyst for many of its riders. The search for replacement contracts spurred them on to strong seasons, with Pantano one of those to shine.
“For me the whole year I had a strong motivation to win a race,” he explains, thinking back to 2016. “I didn’t know in what race. But all the times this year it was possible to win, I was focussing on that. After the stage win in the Tour de Suisse, I had good condition, good motivation and then I won in the Tour.”
Landing stage 15 was the biggest moment of his career and ensured he’d have a contract for 2017, but he didn’t sit back. His morale soared after joining the previous Colombian stage winners in the history books, and he kept pushing.
“After I won that stage, my condition got better and better,” he smiles, describing his state of mind. “For me it was mostly morale. After I won the stage, my morale was the best. I was happy, I was not stressed.
“Maybe because of this I was two times second on stages. I was happy with my condition in the last week of the Tour.”
Pantano was fired up on Colombian Independence Day on July 20, going on the attack again. He went clear in a group over 100 kilometres from the finish and was still there towards the end, being passed by only Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) before the line.
He was at it again three days later, pushing ahead as part of a large group on the Col de la Colombiere and then attacking with Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-Quick Step) prior to the Tour’s final climb, the Col du Joux Plane. He led over the top, but Movistar’s Ion Izagirre had joined up and was able to get away on the descent, taking the stage.
Pantano came in for second, 19 seconds back, and gathered his third two-two finish of the Tour. It was a very impressive display, and marked him out as one of the strongest riders in that final week.
His class was clear.
Pantano got the current season underway in the Santos Tour Down Under. He was a solid 23rd overall, and then went on to ride the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.
His Grand Tour schedule will be finalised a little later in the year, but he said at the team training camp that he was likely to ride the Tour rather than the Giro. Teammate Bauke Mollema will try to shine in the former, but the stakes are higher in July.
“With Contador here, it is maybe more important for me to do that,” he explains, referring to the French event. “I’m happy to work for him, to help him. He is a big rider and a good person.”
If Contador is riding as well as he believes he can, Pantano will have little opportunities for personal success. The Spaniard is determined to take another Tour win before he retires, and Trek-Segafredo is fully committed to making that happen.
That’s fine; Pantano is content to play the long game, knowing that this period serves as his apprenticeship and that he will have his own chances in later seasons.
Learning as much as possible now is valuable, and will also do much to help Trek-Segafredo’s ambitions.
Longer-term, though, he has a lot of potential. His strong final week in the Tour suggests that his best strength may well lie in three week races, with his powers of recovery in 2016 boding well for future years.
Ditto for his King of the Mountains showing. Although he wasn’t targeting that competition, focussing instead on stage wins, he ended up third overall in that classification. Compatriots such as Herrera and Botero – the latter a childhood idol – previously won that jersey, and doing likewise is something that he likes the thoughts of.
“In the future I’d maybe like to win the jersey,” he smiles when asked about the possibility. “I really like this jersey. In Colombia it is a big symbol.”
However his main focus lies elsewhere.
“For me, maybe it is possible to take a podium in a Grand Tour,” he says. “Maybe in the Giro or in the Tour. Perhaps that is possible in three or four years.”
If he does that, does he believe he could go on and do even more? At this point in time Herrera and Nairo Quintana are the only two Colombians to have won a Grand Tour.
Were Pantano to finish in the top three, would he then aim higher?
“Yes, for sure,” he answers. However he makes clear he won’t take anything for granted. “To win one Grand Tour is difficult. It is possible, maybe. I will work all the time for this.”
But, before then, a podium finish is the goal. “Maybe in three or four years I will be in the top three. I like this idea,” he says.