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Esteban Chaves scored his first victory in two years as he soloed to the Colombian national road race title.
The 33-year-old EF Education-EasyPost rider bested Ineos Grenadiers’ Daniel Martinez and Nairo Quintana, who competed as a privateer as he continues his search for a pro team.
Quintana, who is scrambling to save his career after he was ditched by Arkéa-Samsic following a positive for tramadol at last year’s Tour de France, broke down in tears on the podium.
Chaves was equally as emotional atop the rostrum and his win in Colombia is one of his biggest in recent years after several lean seasons in the WorldTour and a challenging 2022 season.
“Wearing the national colors for a year is something I will never forget,” he said. “Winning here in Bucaramanga was spectacular, the people were crazy. I think today was the day most people shouted my name that I saw, that gave me that warmth that made me push until the very end.
“There are many people who made this possible: my family, my wife. Today somebody special came too, Dr [Julio] Sandoval, who, without his help, this wouldn’t have been possible. He saved my career.”
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Sandoval was the doctor that helped to rehabilitate Chaves after a horrible crash at the Trofeo Laigueglia in February 2013 that left him with a litany of broken bones that almost ended his cycling career.
It would be a year before he started racing again after he was snapped up by the GreenEdge franchise.
In the early part of his career, Chaves was considered one of the most promising grand tour riders in the peloton. Podium finishes at the 2016 Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España delivered on that expectation, but he has struggled to find the same mark since that high water-mark year.
The death of a close friend in 2017 had a big impact on him and he struggled through his debut Tour de France that year.
The following season, he looked to be on great form at the Giro d’Italia after winning a stage in the opening week and going into the first rest day in second overall.
His GC hopes would come crashing down around him when the race resumed two days later and he’d finish the race in 72nd. He would later be diagnosed with Epstein Barr syndrome ahead of the Tour de France, though the news would not be released until shortly before the Vuelta a España.
Since then, Chaves has been picking off the odd victory here and there and has shown flashes of his former self with the Giro d’Italia his most successful hunting ground.
His solo effort in Bucaramanga in front of adoring crowds was his first one-day victory since he took the 2016 Il Lombardia and his first-ever national title, giving him the chance to spend the season in his national colors.
“People just take the bus for 10 hours 100 percent just to see us, so this is pretty special,” Chaves said. “Competing for the jersey is a dream for everyone growing up, dreaming of wearing the Colombian jersey during the Tour de France for example or during the Giro d’Italia. The whole season with the Colombian jersey, that is like man, I am the man, I am the boss. It is like, ‘Look at me. I am from Colombia.’”
While the win is a big moment for Chaves, a season is not made on one victory and there is plenty more racing to go in 2023, but it’s a promising start for a rider that has had his fair share of setbacks throughout his career.
“This is a day to enjoy and now we have to continue working, keep our feet on the ground. The season has just started and now we have to start from zero,” he said.