All sports, no matter how skill based they are, have a big degree of luck and there are certain routines or superstitions with which an athlete can feel they can control that bit of that percentage which is luck. This can manifest itself in “rules” such as no shaving your legs on the day of the race in cycling, no shaving your face in hockey, not changing the strings in your racket in tennis, I have even heard of not changing your underwear. I really hope that last one is not true.
As I mentioned in the last podcast and in a few of my articles, Colombians are a religious bunch. It is hard to find any Colombian cyclist that doesn't cross themselves when they pass the finish line, and even fewer if they have won. In my view, Colombia runs a very very thin line in what is superstitious and what is religious. I think we are religiously superstitious. We pray to god as much as we do everything in our power to not kid ourselves. We tend to be koi and not talk ourselves up. Being considered a contender and being talked about dooms you to failure. Any change in your routine ruins you. In Colombia, we still believe that had we played that fateful match against Brazil in our home yellow jerseys instead of in the red ones, we would have won, after all we had won all our games in yellow before. As soon as the press starts talking up some athlete we get incredibly nervous. Talking about them is jinxing them. This creates an interesting dichotomy where we are insulted when the foreign press doesn't talk about our riders, but then get very stressed when they do, as they become a marked man.
There is a reason for this. In the 2012 Olympics, Colombia had a full team for the first time in many years, and not only was it full, it was capable. No one was talking about Colombia. UK, Spain, Germany were the ones gathering all the attention. I didn't dare comment too loudly that we might be in the medals… I told my dad he scoffed at the idea. Nevertheless, I woke up at 5 am after a big bike fall to watch. No one was paying attention to the Colombians, not even the Colombian press. Why would they when Wiggins the first British tour winner and Cavendish the World Champion were there? This was what allowed Uran to break free. A luxury we will probably not be afforded this year.
This brings me to this years Giro… Knowing I tend to pick ridiculous riders to win races and knowing my complete infatuation for Chaves (true story I made my parent divert their european trip into Switzerland so they would be at the Tour de Suisse just so they could see Chaves racing). It would seem only natural for me to pick Chaves as the winner. I didn’t. Logically a good decision, he was until today an untested rider in a weak mountain team facing many very very strong riders with very very strong teams. However let’s face it, no one has ever blamed me of being logical, the real reason is I didn't dare hope and with my hope jinx Chaves. Instead I jinxed Uran. Actually I didn’t, there are too many people who can take that blame, I just added to the pile of spilt salt.
Hope. This was exactly what I didn't allow myself. I have followed Chaves since before his dreadful fall in 2013. A fall he is lucky to be able to be talking about. A fall that prevented him from riding the Giro that year as a the leader of the first all Colombian team since the times of Postobon and Cafe de Colombia. His recovery has been nothing short of a miracle and since his return to the peloton I have been hoping and praying. In the Tour of Langkawi 2014 where not only did he finish, he was fourth in the queen stage. In the Tour of California 2014 where he attacked at 5km to go and won the queen stage in spectacular fashion, and then again in the Tour of Suisse that year. He might have not made a huge splash that year but he was back and killing it in the mountains. His performances this Giro and last years Vuelta have been nothing short of spectacular for someone who still can’t pick up his own mussets, and 2 years ago was told he would be lucky if he could raise his arm above his shoulder. Have you noticed he celebrates his wins by raising his arm high in the sky? That’s to show the doctors that he can.
Much has been said about Chaves and his thanking of his team over and over again. But if you were a 23 year old professional cyclist who had been sidelined for a year without knowing if you could still ride to a professional level, and a team signed you for three years you'd be thanking them at any point you were given the chance. And if you add that they have been able to help you achieve your wildest dreams, you'd be kissing their feet. I may have not dared to hope, but Chaves never stopped. He never stopped praying and working.
So superstition or no, I will be supporting Chaves always and forever now. I will be up at 5 am tomorrow to watch the stage and I will be there for him to see him accomplish his dream. To see him perform a miracle.