Five years from now, I suspect there will be much to say about Colombiaâ€™s Tour prospects, as a fine young crop of Colombian professionalsâ€”thanks largely to the revitalization of the nationâ€™s once-formidable national programâ€”is beginning to hit the sportâ€™s upper echelon.
Right now though, Colombia only sends two riders to the 2011 Tour de Franceâ€”a modest number, but one that nonetheless could produce some impressive results. First off, thereâ€™s Cofidis rider Leonardo Duque, a man most likely seeking breakaway opportunities during the second and third weeks. A handy opportunist who has several top-10 finishes in various semi-classics on his resume, Duqueâ€™s best win to date was Stage 16 of the 2007 Tour of Spain. Expect to see him off the front on more than one occasion, hoping to score an impressive win for himself and his French team.
That said, the real gem of Colombiaâ€™s Tour contingent is Team Skyâ€™s Rigoberto Uran, one of the most underrated riders in the sport. Only 24-years-old, Uranâ€™s been a pro since 2006! His resume already boasts top-10 finishes in the Tour of Romandie, Tour de Suisse (twice), the Volta a Catalunya (second-place in 2008), the Tour of Lombardy, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege (fifth-place this year). Those arenâ€™t random resultsâ€”this rider is quickly developing a track record of performing well in some of the worldâ€™s toughest events. Sky was smart to sign him when they had the chance.
Uran heads to this yearâ€™s Tour as one of the men charged with keeping an eye on Bradley Wiggins when things get diceyâ€”especially in the high mountains. That said, I expect to see Uran with at least one or two chances to ride for himself, either from a breakaway, or possibly on one of the first weekâ€™s tricky, uphill finishes. I also wonâ€™t be surprised to see him finish the race somewhere at or near the top-10 overallâ€”heâ€™s that talented.
Man of the Hour: Juan Mauricio Soler won Colombia its last Tour stage back in 2007. This year, Cofidisâ€™ Leonardo Duque hopes to become the latest.
On the Hot Seat: Were it not for the unfortunate accidents suffered by Movistarâ€™s Â Xavi Tondo and Soler before this yearâ€™s Tour, itâ€™s unlikely that Costa Ricaâ€™s Andrey Amador would be racing. The youngster with a mixed-Spanish, Costa Rican, and Russian heritage won the Prologue of the 2008 Tour de lâ€™Avenir and should be an asset to his team on the flats. Then again, the Tourâ€™s pressure-cooker atmosphere is hard enough to handle when youâ€™re a seasoned pro, let alone when itâ€™s your first time.
Up-and-Comer: Skyâ€™s Rigoberto Uran is due for a major win at some pointâ€”this yearâ€™s Tour might just be his time to shine.