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This Past Weekend, or The Coming Colombian Hegemony

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Agence Zoom

I can't say it was a terribly active week of watching cycling for me (batteries are now at 90% recharge), so please pass along any detail you would like to add, but it was hard not to miss a certain trend happening. The biggest race of the last week was the Tour de Suisse, where young Colombian Miguel Angel Lopez achieved a breakthrough victory for his budding career, winning the general classification and looking pretty proficient in the process, climbing strongly and nudging Fabian Cancellara in the time trial (not a typo) for second on the stage, which set him up well once Warren Barguil began conceding seconds to his GC rivals moments later. Lopez had been second on the Queen Stage the day before, just behind BMC's Tejay van Garderen, which is as good as a stage race win can get without the benefit of a stage win. Even his descent of the Fluela Pass, where Lopez let himself be caught by the chasing group and cost him a potential stage win, showed impressive maturity, insofar as he was willing to let go of some glory so as not to risk his safe hold on the GC on a wet, slippery descent.

Prior to yesterday, Lopez was last seen shadowing Nairo Quintana at the Tour de San Luis. Sure, Quintana's season was just getting started, but still. Lopez also acquitted himself well at last year's Tour de Suisse (7th), as well as the Tour de Langkawi (third) and the most recent Vuelta a Burgos (4th). He won the Tour de l'Avenir in 2014, putting paid to riders like Alexander Foliforov and Teo Gheoghegan Hart.  Lopez turned 22 in April. He just extended with Astana through 2018.

Oh, and that last stage of the Tour de Suisse allegedly brought the home crowds a bit of relief, particularly after Swiss hero Cancellara didn't win the time trial, as the first rider across was clad in IAM Cycling garb, Switzerland's outgoing World Tour team. The rider was Jarlinson Pantano, of Cali, Colombia. While too old to be up-and-coming, Pantano was all over the final stages, finished fourth on GC, and will be a useful all-rounder to whomever buys up his contract for 2017.

The second-most important race of the weekend would presumably be the Route du Sud, in France, whose five days included three sprint stages, one short ITT and a day in the mountains. The latter was won by Marc Soler, just ahead of Colombia's current biggest star, Quintana, who had already won the ITT and would go on to win the general classification. His Tour hopes are as good as possible in the Froome Era, with an incredibly mountainous route upcoming. On the heels of Esteban Chaves' near-miss at the Giro d'Italia, there are a lot of grand tour points going to Colombians already.

That was it for Colombian hegemonic practices over the weekend. Ster ZLM Toer didn't feature any Colombians of note, and the Tour de Slovenie saw only one Colombian in the top ten, a teenager riding for Androni Giocattoli named Egan Arly Bernal. He took the youth classification as well, and earlier won a stage race in Romania, which is a nice start to his career. Racing for an Italian team, he also won the best young rider at the Coppi e Bartali and the Giro del Trentino. Um... that's pretty prestigious for a 19-year-old. So we shall see about that.

I can't say honestly that I have a handle on the Colombian pipeline, but it's apparent that cycling is growing there at the top levels, enough so that the influx of World Tour riders -- which has been ongoing for several years now -- is only picking up steam. Usual words of caution about getting too excited about unproven youngsters who haven't even entered a grand tour, let alone dealt with the pressure of being expected to win one, but that's a lot of talent coming from one country. Yes, I realize there's a dirty side to Colombian cycling, but I've also heard that such a thing only affects certain wayward youths, while the rest of the talent coming over is the real deal, as far as we know.

For a few more details, including Lopez' nickname, check out VN's Andy Hood, on the same subject today.

Speaking of Youth...

The Ster ZLM Toer went to Sep Vanmarcke -- do classics guys race for GC? -- who got away with a certain Wout Van Aert to win the decisive(ish) fourth stage. Van Aert, who finished ninth in the opening time trial, doesn't turn 22 until September, when you can expect to see him in his rainbow jersey and mud tires. Yes, there are a lot of reasons to get up early and watch cycling nowadays. And in another six or seven years, maybe my kids will learn to make their own breakfast so I can enjoy what's coming.

What about the Tour?

One thing about all these results: they may not tell us much of anything about the 2016 Tour de France. Lopez, for one, isn't going (though watch out Rio!), and Pantano's status is officially undetermined. IAM have been pretty mum on their Tour team so far, but surely out of that roster Pantano could be of help to Jerome Coppel or whomever they view as their leader.

Rein Taaramae is another winner over the weekend, climbing away from his rivals in Slovenia, but Katusha's Tour squad is equally skeletal at the moment, so stay tuned there.

Nairo Quintana will be the leader at Movistar, of course, with Alejandro Valverde along for... some reason, as well as fellow Colombian Winner Anacona and Spaniards and Basques from a list that includes Dani Moreno, the Izagirre brothers, and brief Giro leader Andrey Amador. Sep Vanmarcke is on LottoNL-Jumbo's long list, and has ridden the last three Tours. With Robert Gesink having sustained a concussion and Wilco Kelderman not looking too great, the team may be left chasing stages, so Vanmarcke seems like a useful guy to have around.