For the first time ever, a Puerto Rican is headed to the WorldTour

by Emmanuel Márquez


Abner González made history last Wednesday by becoming the first-ever Puerto Rican cyclist to sign a contract with a professional WorldTour-level team. The 19-year-old will join Movistar next season on a three-year deal.

González is from Moca, Puerto Rico a small town 132 kilometers from the capital city of San Juan.

Born in 2000, “Speedy,” as his friends nicknamed him, did not touch the pedals until he was 14 years old, mostly after following the example of his brother Eric, a 32-year-old amateur cyclist.

In just one year, in 2015, he was already part of the Junior National Team that would go to the Caribbean Cycling Championships and return home with a bronze medal in the individual time trial. A year later, Gonzalez shocked the field and climbed to the podium of the Vuelta al Futuro in El Salvador, raising his arms as champion and warning the entire region of his potential.

That’s where the offers and his transfer to Spain arrived, a chance to develop and hone his talent in a country with true cycling culture. The Puerto Rican wasted no time advertising to local riders. He won two important races that put him on the youth map immediately, the Vuelta al Besaya and the Do Viño Albariño. The latter in particular had been a springboard for the careers of world stars such as Alberto Contador, Bob Jungels, and Luis León Sánchez, and Abner knew it.

González’s success was no accident, it came as a consequence of many sacrifices on the part of the young man whose main dream was “to be the first Puerto Rican professional cyclist in Europe,” which he achieved on Wednesday. He had to leave his school, his friends, and his family, who more than 6,000 kilometers away, juggle to finance the dream of his darling.

González, formerly with the Telco,m-On Clima-Osés team, had to put the brakes on his development process due to the coronavirus. The promising cyclist had to endure quarantine with a partner while the emergency passed, after the hotel where he was staying left him on the street. It has not been easy to face a historical challenge like this far from all his family.

As if that were not enough, in mid-April González received the news that his father, Alejandro, had tested positive for Covid-19. It was a terrifying text message, advising that his father was in severe respiratory distress and there was no ventilator available at the nearest hospital. Fortunately, Alejandro González responded favorably to the virus with some medicines and home care, and he is now out of danger. But not without first leaving a scare in his youngest son who – even if he wanted to – would not have been able to travel to Puerto Rico due to the closing of the borders and air traffic between Europe and the United States.

In Spain, González has a small support group that has led him to understand the sport of cycling from within, with passion, but objectively, with ambition, but with realism. Learning first to be a sailor to later be a captain. In front of that group is Diego Milan, a cyclist for the Dominican continental team Inteja-Imca who at one time was considered a prospect for Spanish cycling and who sees in the Puerto Rican athlete a new mold to achieve greater things than those he himself has in his impressive track record as a rider.

At the beginning of 2019, Abner could not find a team on Spanish territory and chose to try his luck on the North American circuit. There, with the SoCal Cycling team from California, the Puerto Rican was exposed to a new style of cycling with much shorter and more explosive events, including crits, a focus that is not at all in tune with his abilities as a climber and breakaway rider.

Although he participated in several major calendar events with modest success, including the Redland Classic, Tour of Gila, and the Cascade Classic, he was never able to perform to the full extent of his abilities. However, a few months later González was included in the Caribbean National Team that started in the Vuelta a la Independencia in the Dominican Republic, one of the most prestigious and toughest races in the region, and the first with a UCI classification where the Puerto Rican had participated. The success was immediate, González was the leader of the General Classification in the Under 23 category, and finally finished the lap in third position.

The demonstration was enough for his signing with the Inteja Inca Cycling Team for the second part of the 2019 season, where Milan is part of the team and manager, and the veteran soon became a mentor/manager for González.

González is the hope of the Puerto Rican cycling world, a sector that saw the light of hope for the last time four years ago when they managed to put a rider on the starting line of the Rio Olympics in 2016. Brian Babilonia was only the second Puerto Rican to achieve the feat in the history of the Caribbean island that is home to some 3.2 million people.

As Movistar said in their press release, Abner is “one of the best climbers and all-rounders in the Spanish amateur scene in recent years, with courage and a great strategic nose.”

He was one of the strongest competitors in this year’s biggest race of the category, the Memorial Valenciaga (3rd), with its new finish atop Arrate; won the Spanish Racing Series’ round of Torredonjimeno, and showed great skills all over this difficult season”.

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