Richard Carapaz is currently building towards his seasons goals of the Tour de France and the Olympics in his home-country of Ecuador, where he is making the most of the high altitude in the Andes mountain range.
Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) put in some solid rides for his team in his debut season after joining the British squad from Movistar at the end of 2019, including in his first Tour de France, but now he is aiming for bigger goals.
"The Tour de France and the Olympic Games - they are the two biggest events and I would like to do well. Winning the Tour is very big and getting an Olympic medal for Ecuador would also be very special," Carapaz told Cycling Weekly.
"We are going to fight to win the Tour de France. The team will bring the best possible squad to win it. They trust me a lot and for me to lead the team is a great challenge that I take on with great responsibility."
In 2020, Carapaz came close to taking the mountains jersey and secured a second-place stage finish after going on a two-man break with team-mate, Michał Kwiatkowski, who Carapaz gave the stage win to. Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) took polka-dot jersey in the end along with the overall victory and the young rider classification.
The 2019 Giro d'Italia winner has been exploring some of the gigantic climbs in his home of Ecuador, including some gravelly tracks up volcanos, such as the Volcán de Cotopaxi.
"I am training well in Ecuador," he said. "There is still more than a month to start competing, but I am feeling better and better and enjoying what I do. Ecuador is a country with a lot of mountains and I love it, so we always try to climb, but I had never trained at 4,800 metres [above sea level] like in Cotopaxi."
Riding on volcanos sounds like a risky thing to do, but Carapaz prefers to think of the beauty rather than the danger: "I like to show the beauties of Ecuador to the world. I think we live in a very beautiful country and volcanoes are part of our culture. Cotopaxi is the second highest and one of the most active in the world."
He added: "Better not think about fear, because if it erupts, we would no longer be here."
The highest mountain passes in Europe used for racing are almost a thousand metres lower than where Carapaz lives, never mind the heights at which he trains.
The Ecuadorian star believe this gives him a much bigger advantage over some of the European riders.
He said: "I think it helps me a lot. In the end, in Europe almost nobody goes above 2,500 meters and I live at 3,100 meters, so I think it is an advantage. I like the altitude and I think it is something favourable for me."
Carapaz is set to start his 2021 season at the Volta a Catalunya followed by the Tour of the Basque Country, before setting out on a full Ardennes Classics campaign.
After that it is building towards the big goals with a likely ride at the Critérium du Dauphiné to get ready for the Tour de France and the Olympic Games road race in Japan.
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