Colombia’s Olympic men’s team could be formidable

Between Nairo Quintana, Rigoberto Urán, and three others, Colombia has an embarrassment of riches in its Rio Olympics road race team.

Photo: TDW

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A list went viral Tuesday of five names that will lead Colombia in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, but the Colombian national coach said, “not so fast.”

The Colombian daily AS confirmed with national coach Carlos Mario Jaramillo that the “Rio five” are not yet finalized, but it’s clear that Colombia will be one of the top favorites for the climb-heavy Rio course no matter who is picked to race in Brazil this summer.

Names leaked Tuesday included London 2012 silver medalist Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Sergio Henao (Sky), Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), and Esteban Chaves (Orica – GreenEdge). Jaramillo said it’s too early to name the team, but admitted that he has a wealth of talent for the Olympic road race August 6.

“It’s too soon to name the Olympic team now. Too much could happen,” Jaramillo told AS Colombia. “We are one of the favorites, and the course favors us, but we have to race smart. A lot of other nations will be watching us.”

Even if Jaramillo swaps out a few names, especially depending on injuries and illnesses, Colombia will have a unique opportunity to win the Olympic gold medal in the first Olympics held in South America.

Colombia will be capable of winning on the explosive, hilly course ideal that features two major climbs on a demanding circuit course that’s attracting the peloton’s elite. On paper, they will have one of the best teams in Rio. Plus, the escarabajos can field a full, five-man roster. But a quick glance at the names begs the question: Who will work?

Jaramillo said he realizes that he will have a delicate task on his hands, managing a team with more than one potential winner. He said he’s already been talking to would-be Rio candidates. “That’s the problem, because all the riders are good,” he said. “They all could win, but everyone has to agree that we need to take a team to represent the country, and not race as individuals, because if we do that, we won’t achieve anything. They have to be ‘friends,’ because if we commit an error, it can cost us everything.”

Even if the leaked list isn’t final, it will probably be pretty close, and Jaramillo will have a tough job ahead. First off will be Urán, who is already a Colombian superstar after taking silver in 2012, so he will be motivated to make it one better. Quintana, the first Colombian to win the Giro d’Italia and twice second at the Tour de France, also will want his shot at Olympic glory. Both have put the Olympic Games right at the top of their season goals.

Those two will certainly start with captain status, but Henao and Chaves could also prove highly effective on the Rio course. Lopez, a former Tour de l’Avenir winner who has yet to race a grand tour, is the only rider who would fit into the pure worker role, but he too can be very explosive.

Others under consideration include Sebastian Henao (Sky), Dayer Quintana (Movistar), Carlos Betancur (Movistar), Julian Arredondo (Trek — Segafredo), Darwin Atapuma (BMC Racing), and Janier Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens).

Colombia’s wealth of candidates could prove tricky to manage. The team certainly has options to medal, perhaps more than any nation on the climber-friendly course, but so much talent could keep them from working cohesively. If they miss a key move, who’s going to chase? And if one of their riders works into a move, will the others chase? Those are questions that will follow the Colombians all the way to Rio.

“If it’s up to them, one of them will have to sacrifice, they will do it,” Jaramillo said. “I’ve spoken to two or three, and I need to speak to some others. They are ready to do it.”

Whoever goes, their respective approaches to the Games will prove decisive. Urán, Chaves, and Sergio Henao are all set to race the Giro, so those three will have time to recover from the hard effort of the Italian tour, and still sharpen their form before Rio. In theory, they should be strong and fresh.

Lopez, meanwhile, is expected to race his first grand tour with the Vuelta a España, which comes after the Games, so he would be missing the fitness that comes from cycling’s longest races. That’s another reason for the 22-year-old to shelve personal ambitions, especially since he would also be the junior member of the team.

Behind Lopez, Chavez and Sergio Henao would play joker roles. That’s exactly how Urán took his chance in London, following a long-distance move that went all the way to the line to upset the favorites. And of the five Colombians, Urán has the best kick to win out of what’s likely to be a reduced group of climbers and escape artists.

That leaves Quintana, who is going to bet everything on winning the Tour de France. Twice second to Sky’s Chris Froome, who is also targeting Rio, Quintana desperately wants to win the Tour, and he will not hold anything back in his quest for the yellow jersey. Becoming Colombia’s first Tour winner would be bigger than risking everything on the one-day lottery of the Olympics. Quintana will try to win the gold medal, of course, but like others who will be coming off the Tour, such as Froome and Alberto Contador, recovery will be critical. The road race is one of the first events of the Rio Games, just two weeks after the Tour ends in Paris, so there should be time to recover, but there certainly won’t be time for anyone to chase form if they don’t have it after lapping the Champs-Élysées.

Quintana has already expressed his worry that everyone will be riding for their own chances, something Jaramillo said he is working on.

“I am in agreement with Nairo, and we have to take five riders who will help each other,” he said. “They need to work together, and create conditions so that we can win on the day, and help each other out. Like at Spain, with Valverde, Purito, and Contador, they’re all leaders, but I am sure, in the heat of the moment, if one of them has to help, they will do it.”

An Olympic gold medal could prove too tempting. Despite racing as a team, only one rider takes the glory.

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