Richard Carapaz went into the Giro in the shadow of Movistar team leader Mikel Landa. He ended it by making history for Ecuador, becoming their greatest sports star ever. It was a performance of controlled aggression and calm, tactical lucidity. As others’ challenges fell away, Carapaz unfussily rode to a victory he could finally celebrate in the extraordinary setting of the Verona Arena.
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There is a photograph of me standing on the stage in Verona. I am bent over my bike almost as if I were praying. I’ll tell you what was going through my mind. I was a child again, pleading with my mother to let me ride my bike to school. She was saying no because I was still too small and the bike too big. Then I was 15 again and it was the day Juan Carlos Rosero came to school and invited the pupils to join his cycling club – and we did, all 60 of us. Then it was the day I won my first race, and then the day they called me to say that Juan Carlos was no more, and I thought it was a joke because he’d only dropped me off an hour and a half before. I went quickly to the hospital, hoping there was some mistake, and he had simply passed out after our run together that morning, but it was true, and I learned at that moment that nothing in life is certain. It can change in the blink of an eye. That is how long it took all those thoughts to pass through my head as I bowed over my bike like a question mark in the pose made permanent in that photograph. And here I was, the winner of the Giro d’Italia, in the blink of an eye.
I come from a country with a culture of losing, where people are plagued by doubt to the point that they are unable to take decisions. When I was wearing the maglia rosa, everyone thought I would crash, or something would happen, because it was impossible for an Ecuadorian to win.
I knew I had a great opportunity to show that my fourth place and stage win the previous year were not down to luck, so I prepared as if the team would be working for me. Then Mikel Landa crashed and his calendar was rejigged so that he would go to the Giro before riding the Tour. I’ve always had to work for a leader – I’ve never been the leader or shared leadership with another rider, especially not one of Mikel’s status. I took it as a learning opportunity. Even so, I prepared as if I was going to be riding for myself. No offence, Mikel. In any case, at the pre-race press conference, no one had any questions for me.
Ecuadorians don’t win, they say back home…
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