By Cycling Weekly published
Carlos Betancur, signed by Ag2r La Mondiale for this season, was something of a surprise. After all, the French team isn't famous for its Spanish-speaking riders and Betancur, a Colombian, didn't bring any other riders with him.
But Betancur - like the other 'big name' arrival at the team, Domenico Pozzovivo - had a healthy collection of points which helped the team maintain its World Tour status. All of which goes a long way in explaining the presence of the lone Colombian on the team.
Betancur has produced some decent results for his new team as well - riding strongly in the Tour of the Basque Country (finishing a fighting eighth overall) and his third place in the Flèche Wallonne, where he was only overhauled 50 metres from the line, are not a bad return for the team's investment.
Betancur's third place was the team's best-ever result in a Classic (even if the spine of the team is the old 'Casino' outfit, but we needn't recall Bo Hamburger's Flèche rides). The team also needed a rider who could finish in the top 10 in bigger stage races, with Jean-Christophe Peraud and John Gadret not getting any younger and youngster Romain Bardet still a few years off his peak.
Betancur, who is only 23, rode for Aqua & Sapone in 2012, but "I wanted to move to a team that would enable me to ride races like Liege-Bastogne-Liege and move up to the next level. It was a tough decision because I liked the team and (manager) Vincent Lavenu made me a good offer. I'm getting on well with the whole team, from staff to riders, plus there are quite a few Italian riders in the team, I feel at home."
Betancur feels "at home" with the Italian riders in a French team because he is based in Italy when he is not back home in Colombia and his coach is none other than Liege-Bastogne-Liege (and Classics) specialist, Michele Bartoli.
"It was my old Aqua & Sapone manager Franco Ghini who put us in touch," explained Betancur, "Franco asked Michele if he would be interested in coaching me just over a year ago and he has made a huge difference to my training - he's my secret weapon! Before I was riding for hours and hours and not thinking too much about it, now my training is very specific, much more focused and he seems to know what I need to progress."
And, if all of this sounds too good to be true - after all Betancur is only one of several Colombian riders to break through in the last couple of years - what was his explanation?
"I think the anti-doping is better and also, especially, the biological passport has made a big difference." So, with raging good form, sky-high morale, a team prepared to back him and a former Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner training him, might we see a Colombian on the podium in Liege this Sunday? It really wouldn't be a surprise if there was, not anymore.
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Spring Classics 2013 coverage index
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