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In Colombia, Nairo Quintana is a man with magical powers. By entering a room, even a seemingly empty one, he causes dozens of selfie-seeking fans to materialize as if out of thin air. Crowds chant “Nairo! Nairo! Nairo!” when he appears. And also when he doesn’t appear. And other times. They mob his Movistar team bus and chase it on their bikes for miles. And when he gets to his hotel they gather and wait for another chance — to get a glimpse, to take a picture, to chant some more.
Amazingly, given the massive popularity of riders like Quintana, Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First), Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors), and of pro cycling generally, the biggest races in Colombia have only been categorized UCI 2.2. In other words, lower tier. In recent years private organizers have looked into putting on bigger races only to find that in order to have your race approved by the Colombian federation, it needs to be organized by the Colombian federation.
But the demand for a bigger race, one that would attract the biggest stars and their World Tour teams, put significant pressure on the federation to finally step up and fill in this glaring gap in the Colombian cycling scene. Enter Colombia Oro y Paz — “Gold and Peace” — a first-year UCI 2.1 event held February 6-11 that drew seemingly every major Colombian rider in professional cycling, and saw 21-year-old phenom Egan Bernal take victory over the nation’s biggest stars in his first season with Team Sky.
Now that the gap has been filled, cycling fans in Colombia and around the world can look forward to at least three more years of seeing the biggest Colombian talents go head to head on their home roads. Future editions are planned in the departments of Antioquia and Boyaca, and along the Caribbean coast. The department of Antioquia, home of the city of Medellin, is a particular hotbed of cycling in a country with no shortage of them. And Boyaca is, of course, the home of Nairo Quintana. If you listen closely, you just might be able to hear them already chanting his name.