Race leader Richard Carapaz has been the revelation of the 2019 Giro d’Italia, as he has sailed to two stage wins and become the worthy holder of the maglia rosa.
The Ecuadorian Movistar rider has become the rider to watch as he usurped pre-race favourite Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and became the most dangerous rider in the race.
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Up until last year, Carapaz was not a noted rider among cycling fans but could now by the man to put an end to Movistar’s Grand Tour dry spell.
Here are five things you should know about the current leader of the Giro:
Ecuadorian racing in Colombia
Ecuador is not as famed as Colombia for it’s cycling talent, with just three riders from the smaller South American nation racing the 2019 Giro d’Italia compared with seven from northern neighbour Colombia.
Instead the nation, with a population of around 16 million, is football obsessed.
Fledgling Ecuadorian talents are often forced to cross the border in search of racing opportunities.
Carapaz joined a local amateur team Panavial-Courage Carchense from his home province of Carchi in the north of the country but spent much of his time racing in Colombia.
His early successes came at the Vuelta del Retorno in Ecuador and in 2013 at the Pan-American Championships in Mexico, when he won the under 23 road race.
Then two years later who won the junior Vuelta a Colombia, becoming the first and still the only non-Colombian to ever win the race.
Speaking when he joined Movistar in 2016, he said: “Going out and making it into the elite WorldTour is extremely difficult in a country like Ecuador.
“I love my country, yet it’s sadly a football-focused country – you’ll only get the help you need if you choose that sport.
“Happily, I had the chance to travel, racing in Colombia and other places in the Americas like Argentina and Mexico, where I had a talent for cycling and could make the most of it.
“I never gave up and that was the key to getting here.”
The move to Europe and Movistar
Carapaz’s performances in South America attracted the attention of one big name in European cycling, Eusebio Unzué.
The Movistar team-manager wanted Carapaz to move to a Spanish team to test himself in the European peloton, so he switched to Continental outfit Strongman-Campagnolo Willier for the first half of 2016.
Then in July he moved to Movistar as a trainee.
After officially making the move to the Spanish WorldTour outfit, he said: “I really feel at home inside this team, and for this new season I haven’t really been required anything from the management.
“We’ll try to figure out what’s my place in the roster during the year itself.
“What would be my biggest wish as a pro? Racing Grand Tours.
“My real dream? Winning a Giro d’Italia.”
Born at altitude
Carapaz is from a new generation of WorldTour rider, typically from South America, born at altitudes well above those of their European rivals.
The 26-year-old (who celebrated his birthday on Wednesday, May 29 during stage 17 of the Giro) was born in Tulcán, right near the Colombian border.
The capital of the Carchi province sits at 2,980m above sea level, which gives Carapaz and inherent advantage in the high-mountain stages of the Giro d’Italia, particularly when compared with the likes of Nibali who was born in Messina, just three metres above sea level.
Colombian talent Miguel Ángel López (Astana) was also born at altitude in Pesca in the north of the country, which sits at 2,800m.
The benefits of being born at altitude were evident at this year’s Tour Colombia, where nine of the top-10 overall were from South America, including Carapaz who finished ninth.
Breakthrough in 2018
The clear breakthrough season for Carapaz came in 2018, when he took his first overall win and his first Grand Tour stage victory.
After settling in with Movistar in 2017, picking up no notable results though coming close on a few occasions, Carapaz began to find his legs in the opening half of 2018.
The first step came at the Vuelta a Asturias in April, when Carapaz took his first victory on stage two and won the overall – his first two professional victories.
A month later, his career continued its upward trajectory when he took victory on stage eight of the Giro d’Italia, beating world class climbers Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) on a tough uphill finish at Montevergine di Mercogliano.
That win put firmly in the history books as the first Ecuadorian to ever win a Grand Tour stage.
Carapaz finished fourth overall at that Giro, setting himself up as a serious three-week contender in the process.
He opened 2019 almost identical fashion, winning a stage and the overall at the Vuelta a Asturias once again, before lining up at the Giro.
The first Grand Tour of the season was another glory moment for Carapaz as he won stage four in an unpredictable uphill finish, beating sprinter Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) with a solo attack.
But Carapaz’s overall ambitions returned once more on stage 14, when he soloed to an emphatic victory at Courmayeur and took the pink jersey from the waiting hands of Roglič.
Could a move to Team Ineos be on the cards?
Carapaz’s Movistar contract comes to an end this season, with his Giro d’Italia 2019 performances setting up him as a superstar rider in the eyes of interested teams.
Rumours have started to circulate that he may have already signed deal with Movistar’s great Grand Tour rivals Team Ineos, as reported by Italian newspaper La Gazzetta Dello Sport.
Ineos, formerly Team Sky, have earned a reputation for signing South American talent, and Carapaz would join the likes of compatriot Jhonatan Narvaez and Colombian prospects Egan Bernal and Ivan Sosa.
Movistar will be disappointed to lose Carapaz if the rumours are true, as he may finally helped deliver the results promised by the multi-leader approach the team have adopted in recent Grand Tours.