The Tao of Rigo

If there is a Tao of Rigo, this feels like it. More bananas. Less stress.

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Rigoberto Uran loves bananas. “Bananas, I love bananas,” he says, proving the point. He’s sitting on the fold-out steps of the EF mechanic’s truck. Black sweatpants, black t-shirt, team issued. Tousled hair parted roughly to the left. He listens to questions in English and then provides answers in Spanish.

Rigoberto Uran hates stress. “No streeeeess,” he stands up and says at the dinner table sometimes, imploring stressed-out teammates with an elongated E.

If there is a Tao of Rigo, this feels like it. More bananas. Less stress.

“I don’t like to over-analyze the situation,” Uran says. The Tour start is 48 hours away and his team boss, Jonathan Vaughters, is analyzing the situation. He says Rigo’s a little bit better than last year. His team is a little bit better, too, more focused on the task at hand. And the course suits him maybe just a little bit better. Vaughters cracks a joke: “If you add that up he’s a shoo-in to win, right?”

Right.

Uran was 2nd at the Tour last year, in case you forgot. He finished 54 seconds behind Chris Froome. He started the race with mild GC ambitions and a team full of stage hunters, built around gaining maximum sponsor exposure, not defending a GC position. But then he just kept climbing, and time trialling, right there with Froome. It almost looked like an accident, though of course, it wasn’t.

This year, if he can do the same again, it won’t look like an accident. The team is his. Equal parts climber, for help across the Alps and the Pyrenees, and rouleurs, for help in the looming team time trial and through the wind and weather and cobbles of northern France. He has Sep Vanmarcke and Taylor Phinney and Tom Scully for the latter; Pierre Rolland, Daniel Martinez, Simon Clarke, and Lawson Craddock for the former. “It’s built around protecting Rigo,” Vaughters says. “Whereas last year the calculation was more who do we think can win a stage, who do you think can get in some good breakaways.”

They think he can win if everything goes right. He thinks the same. “If you’re going well, anything is possible,” he says. If he stays healthy, and sleeps well, and gets his bananas.

“They bring me bananas, and when they can’t find them, my wife comes and brings them from home,” he says. “Or I have a friend who mails me some special bananas from Colombia. We’re always on the hunt for them in the supermarkets.”

You thought we were kidding about the bananas. We were not. More bananas, less stress.

It’s something the team appreciates. There are neurotic Tour contenders and needy Tour contenders and Tour contenders crushed under the weight of expectation. There are some of each every year, in fact. But Rigo is none of these things. “He understands the limit of his physical capabilities and tries to keep his mind at ease,” says Phinney, who tries to do the same.

There is stress in bike racing. Unavoidable stress. Crashes, the tightness and speed and chaos of the bunch. The lack of control inherent in sending nearly 200 humans through tiny French towns at 50 kilometers per hour. “But there’s stuff around the race, before and after the race, where it doesn’t need to be stressful, in those environments he’s very good,” Phinney says. “He prefers to look forward but without putting pressure on us and himself.”

Things went great last year, Uran says. Perfect, almost. But, “I don’t like to get too excited about things too early,” he says. “I like to be more realistic and take things as they come.”

“Of course, to win the Tour is possible,” he adds. “That’s why we’re here.”

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