Carapaz, from Ecuador with love

“Kids! Thank you for the support you give us. It fills us with energy to travel to Europe!”

As the spring arrives, it’s time for Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) to leave his beloved Ecuador, where he’s spent most of his winter training in the countryside and on the mountains, and return to Europe. His first race of the season will be the 100th edition of the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya (22-28 March) with his main goal of the year, the Tour de France, already in the back of his mind, and in the minds of every one of his fans.

Last Saturday, “Richie” proudly announced the news of his trip to Europe on social media, thanking his young fans, after sharing insights of his training rides in the past months, including riding at 4,800m of altitude on a volcano. With his regular updates, he’s talking to his community of hundreds of thousands of ‘mijines’, in the same fashion Rigoberto Urán cares for his ‘mijitos’ (an affectionate term for kids).

Carapaz, also known as ‘la locomotora del Carchi’ (‘the locomotive from Carchi’ a province in the North of Ecuador), is very familiar with Colombian ways. He comes from an area where regional culture can transcend borders. He went to Colombia himself to grow as a cyclist, before joining European teams (Lizarte and Movistar Team in Spain, and now the British outfit Ineos Grenadiers).

But he’s always proud to return to Ecuador’s countryside. That’s the environment he grew up in, as a farmer’s son. And it remains a part of his new life:  the star always seems to carry a part of Ecuador with him as he cycles on the roads around the world.

The last time we saw Carapaz compete in a race was last November. Ecuador did not appear far away when he finished 2nd in La Vuelta Ciclista a España and waved a yellow, blue and red flag in front of dozens of fans chanting his name on the streets of Madrid.

The boy from El Carmelo couldn’t overthrow Primož Roglič from the Spanish throne, but he was the first Ecuadorian rider to climb on the podium of the Spanish Grand Tour, some 18 months after he became the first Ecuadorian rider to win the Giro d’Italia.

On his bike, Carapaz has reached unprecedented heights for an athlete coming from Ecuador, a country on the Pacific coast with 17 million inhabitants. He’s also opening doors for his compatriots to enjoy cycling as a sport, as a hobby and as a means of transportation.

From Madrid, he announced he would enjoy his off-season to attend the Vuelta a Ecuador. We’ve also seen him hand out bottles on the side of the roads at the Tour de la Juventud Tierra de Campeones, a youth race organised by his friend Jonathan Caicedo (EF Education-Nippo), who will also participate in the coming Volta Ciclista a Catalunya.

Also hailing from the Carchi province, Caicedo won a stage of the 2020 Giro d’Italia, a year after Carapaz found glory on the Corsa Rosa, and their compatriot Jhonatan Narvaez (Ineos Grenadiers) raised his arms too on the last edition of the Italian Grand Tour! Italy is also the new form of another Ecuadorian rider: Jefferson Alexander Cepeda has been riding for Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec since 2020 and will participate in his first Monument, Milano-Sanremo, this weekend, while his cousin Jefferson Alveira Cepeda participated in the 2020 La Vuelta with Caja Rural - Seguros RGA.

Carapaz’ achievements have been met with more successes for Ecuador, although he was looking at things from a different angle when he returned to Quito to celebrate his pink victory. “The best gift Ecuador can give me is to respect the cyclists on the road,” he told the crowds. “That’s how the public will encourage new riders to take to the road.”

As for himself, he’s about to ride on more Spanish roads, first with the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, and then with the Itzulia Basque Country (5-10 April), two races returning to the UCI WorldTour calendar following their cancellation in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Donostia San Sebastian Klasikoa (31st July) is the other Spanish event on the cards, while only the Vuelta was maintained last year.

Carapaz will turn his attention to French races, riding the Critérium du Dauphiné (30 May - 6 June) before he tackles the Tour de France. This July, Carapaz will be tasked alongside Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart to claim back the yellow jersey for Ineos Grenadiers, whose team management strongly believes in the Ecuadorian’s ability to turn a race upside down with brutal attacks in the mountains.

Then, he could well represent his country at the Olympic Games, on a route that should suit his climbing abilities. Only then will he likely return to his beloved Ecuador.