I know cycling journalists are supposed to be impartial, but this afternoon I was sitting on my sofa shouting “Rigo!” as the final metres in stage 17 of the 2022 Vuelta a España played out on my TV, and I couldn’t really help myself.
It turns out, I wasn’t the only person feeling the excitement of seeing 35-year-old Rigoberto Urán storming towards the finish line to take his first win of the season. As he doubled over his frame following his mammoth effort to outsprint Groupama FDJ’s Quinten Pacher, EF Education-EasyPost staff and soigneurs flocked towards Urán in a frenzy of elation. Twitter was ablaze with enthusiasm, even the GCN commentators couldn’t help but admit their happiness about seeing the Colombian cross the line first. It was a big, passionate, buzzing Rigo win, and that’s just what it does to people.
There are a host of reasons why Urán has been such a long standing fan favourite in the cycling world. Maybe it’s the way he takes his old nickname ‘Mick Jagger’ in his stride, given to him thanks to the rockstar hair which used to blow in the wind out of the back of his helmet, or his open and honest answers which reveal an outgoing, funny, lighthearted personality. Or the fact he did his interviews and the team presentation in a Viking helmet while holding Thor’s hammer at the Tour de France’s Grand Depart in Denmark earlier this year. Or perhaps it’s his laid-back, realistic approach to racing, “tranquilo” is likely how he’d be described in his native tongue.Image: Sprint Cycling Agency/Rafa Gomez/ASO
Urán's sense of humour and authenticity has allowed the EF Education EasyPost rider to reach lofty heights of stardom in Colombia – he’s currently got 1.5 million followers on Instagram and even launched his own shop, “Go Rigo Go” which sells everything from men’s and women’s cycling clothing to race bikes. His annual event “Giro de Rigo” has thousands of participants each year, with Chris Froome even turning up in 2018.
The Colombian’s dynamic racing style is another factor in his popularity among fans – he’s not afraid to attack with panache, not afraid to risk it all for victory and perhaps most importantly, he never gives up if he has a chance to win. He showed that in today’s stage of the Vuelta. Urán won because he found it within himself to attack one more time in a brutal, relentless finale. The pain on his face was clear, his teeth were gritted, his brow furrowed, his style strong but scrappy. He wasn’t smooth or slick in his attack, but his movements exude passion, and that translates to fans watching at home.
But there’s far more to Urán than his celebrity status or ability to charm a crowd. He’s a rider with a story and a tough background which makes his rise to success even more formidable. He was born in Urrao, a Colombian city with deep roots in the drug wars of the 1980s and 90s. Author Matt Rendell tells Uran’s story in stunning detail in his novel Colombia Es Pasión, writing about how Urán's father was murdered by a paramilitary group, leaving the EF Education-EasyPost rider as his family’s main breadwinner when he was just a teenager.
As his own cycling career has since flourished with podiums in Grand Tours and an Olympic silver medal, Urán has consistently continued to give back to Colombian cycling. He’s helped a number of South American riders who have travelled over to Europe to find contracts with teams, fuelling the resurgence of Colombian cycling which has been an integral part of the sport’s recent history.
Image: Jorge Guerrero/Getty Images
Urán's fierce loyalty to his team EF Education-Easy Post is another testament to his character, and it’s why he remains such an integral part of their make-up. When the team, then known as Cannondale-Drapac, lost its key sponsor in 2018 after Urán's best season ever – he finished second in the Tour de France and won a stage – the Colombian athlete stood by team manager Johnathan Vaughters as he sought to find a new sponsor to replenish the squad’s funding. He did so despite likely having a plethora of offers from other WorldTour outfits, and remains today as the team leader and voice of experienced reason among newer riders.
As cycling continues to be hit by the ‘youthquake’ with riders coming straight out of their teens to win Grand Tours – the current red jersey wearer of the Vuelta a España is 13 year’s Urán's junior – Rigo’s win today rolled back the clock and was a reminder of cycling’s diverse and decorated history. Urán won today for his adoring Colombian fans, or mijitos as he refers to them, with punchy, dynamic racing that he’s become known for in his career.
“[This victory] means always believing, fighting. Sometimes the results are very far away and seem unattainable, but the important thing is to wake up every day, with a good attitude, with happiness and try never to lose hope” Urán said after the stage. “It's something that I've applied in my life."
Cover image: Tim de Waele/Getty Images