Switchback Publications sat down recently with Colombian cyclist, Mauricio Leyva. In an extensive interview, Mauricio talks about cycling, the city of Medellin, and Colombia.
Switchback Publications: Thanks Mauricio for taking the time to speak with us. Firstly, tell us a little about yourself.
Mauricio Leyva: I am 34 years old and I have lived in Medellin all my life. I've been married for almost a year now. I work for Banco de Bogota in private banking. I started cycling on a mountain bike. It was not easy because the bike weighed 15kg. I did my longest ride on that bike, Vuelta de Sur, at 192km. It was really hard. Then I got into road cycling. Since then, I've been doing riding a lot.
SP: Cycling in Medellin has gone through some ups and downs. It was huge in the 1980s because of Cafe de Colombia. It quietened down, but there was an explosion in cycling's popularity in the last 5-10 years.
ML: The recent explosion occurred over the last 3-4 years, and it mainly took off for amateur cyclists. Cafe de Colombia and Lucho Herrera in the 1980s was an excellent era for cycling. But, it was difficult for the Colombian cyclists because they didn't have the money like the European teams. European teams had trainers, nutritionists, team cars, and drivers. Our cyclists didn't have all of that - they didn't have trainers and they didn't know anything about nutrition. Usually, European cyclists ate at the hotel buffet, and they knew what they should and should not eat. Colombian cyclists had never seen so much food. They ate too much and paid the price the next day.
Recently, security around Medellin has improved a lot. Now we can drive to Bogota or Manizales. We can also ride our bikes without any trouble. Safety has had a big impact on cycling. And, we have a lot of people with really nice bikes.
Cycling is a secondary sport in Colombia. Football (soccer) is the principal sport. Ninety percent of the media's sports coverage is about soccer. You'll just see a small paragraph about cycling.
And lately, Cafe de Colombia - Colombia es Passion, and Team Movistar have seen a lot of potential talent around Medellin. The professionals, such as Rigoberto Uran, Santiago Botero, and Mauricio Soler, have also had a big impact on cycling in Medellin.
SP: Who were your biggest cycling heroes when you were growing up?
ML: Lucho Herrera. He was a really important figure. There were others too, such as Fabio Parra. I think Lucho Herrera was the guy who made Colombia an important place for cycling.
SP: Thousands of cyclists travel every year to Europe to ride. Very few travel to Colombia. What would it take for Colombia to become a major destination for cycling tourism?
ML: Firstly, if tourists knew about the positive security changes. Colombia is very safe now. Secondly, the roads need to be improved. Many of the roads are washed out by rain. If tourists knew about the really nice cities we have then they would come.
The weather is great. Sometimes we have rainy seasons, because of La Nina, but we have nice tropical weather for cycling.
The mountains around Medellin are great for cyclists. If you want to get out of Medellin, you have to climb a mountain. You start at 1400 meters and then you need to climb to 2300 meters just to get out.
SP: There are two cycling hubs in Colombia, Medellin and Boyaca. How are Medellin and Boyaca similar and different?
ML: If you ask me, there is just one cycling hub in Colombia - Boyaca. Cyclists from the Boyaca department are really strong climbers and they train at high altitude. And thats why they are so important. Many of the Cafe de Colombia riders were from Boyaca.
Many of the riders from Medellin are smaller, but what we have in common is that riders from Medellin and Boyaca really want to be someone.
SP: How are Colombian cyclists different than cyclists from other countries? What is unique about a Colombian cyclist?
ML: We like to compete with others and prove to ourselves that we are good at something. We enjoy riding with our friends, talking, and relaxing away from our jobs.
Have you read about MAMILs? (Middle-Aged Men in Lycra). There is a worldwide movement called the MAMIL. All of us fit in this description. We want to be healthy, we want to be strong, and we want good food. This is a common thing that Colombians share with other countries.
In Part II, Mauricio will talk about the past, present, and future of the city of Medellin. Please stay tuned.