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Thursday Thoughts: Sorting through the Climbians

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An attempt to rank the various Colombian climbing stars

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This week’s column is the first of a series I have planned on “sorting through” certain groups of riders. It is a bit like my attempt mid-Vuelta to settle the sprinters’ pecking order. Partly I’m doing this because it is a challenge to identify stars when there are lots of riders with broadly similar skillsets, but mostly because it makes for a fun argument as the weather (in Scotland, at least) turns colder and the nights draw in. Today, we look at the mountain goats from Colombia. Which of them will be the best in 2019, and which will be the best in five years?

To begin, let’s look at the top riders on FSA-DS points from Colombia, and work out who we’re counting as Climbians.

  • Lopez – 1980 points – Climbian
  • Uran – 1285 points – Climbian
  • Quintana – 1190 points – Climbian
  • Bernal – 1161 points – Climbian
  • Hodeg – 662 points – not a Climbian
  • Gaviria – 629 points – not a Climbian
  • Martinez – 510 points – Climbian

You get the idea. I’ll stop there because it gives us a top five Climbians for 2018, according to the only metric we care about for these purposes. It also gives us one rider “worth” restricted points, three others hitting a thousand points, and one more hitting 500.

For reference, in 2017 no Climbians justified restricted points (1600+), whilst Quintana and Uran hit 1000, and Henao (marginal, but I’ll call him a Climbian) and Lopez hit 500. Bernal was just shy of the mark. As a last bit of history, in 2010, the first year of Ted’s archival VDS records, just two riders hit 100 points. Leonardo Duque (245) and a young Rigoberto Uran (240).

My ranking for 2019

  1. Lopez
  2. Bernal
  3. Quintana
  4. Uran
  5. Chaves

Honorable mentions: Sosa, Martinez, Henao

Should he be number one?
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I can see all 8 of these guys clearing the 500 point barrier, assuming no awful injuries. Within the top five, there are obviously only a few differences from this year. Bernal leapfrogs Quintana and Uran, who swap places, whilst Chaves replaces Martinez in the fifth slot. No new entries in the top four and no change at the top.

I don’t think there’ll be much between Quintana and Uran (as was the case in 2018) but I suspect Uran’s decline is approaching more rapidly. I also think Quintana should achieve more on the back of a better programme of racing in 2019. That wasn’t a tricky decision. Moving Bernal ahead of both of them was also straightforward; he’s extraordinary.

For Bernal, the difficulty was whether to push him ahead of Lopez. As a pure climber, it might be time (and I say that fully aware that it is less than a year since I was anointing Lopez the best in the world) but as a points-scorer, we’re not quite there yet. Lopez throws points away with poor concentration and silly errors, and isn’t the chrono-man that Bernal is, but against that, he’ll have every opportunity to lead whilst Bernal’s opportunities may well be more limited. That was just enough to hold him back.

Chaves is a risk, I freely admit it, and who knows if he has another big year in him. I’m hoping and half-expecting that he can recover from his struggles of the last two years, and on his 2015 form he certainly belongs at this point, or higher. I think Sosa is a year away from truly showing us what he can do. Dropping Martinez from the list? That hurt, but I’ll come back to that.

My ranking for 2022

  1. Bernal
  2. Sosa
  3. AN Other
  4. Lopez
  5. Martinez

Honorable Mentions: Aguirre, Osorio (hipster pick!), AN Other.

Okay, so I’m cheating with AN Other. Still, we’re three and a half years out. Who could see Sosa and Bernal coming back in the autumn of 2015? Part of the point of this article is to reiterate my growing belief that cyclists are developing earlier and earlier, particularly climbers, and my faith in the fungibility of pure climbing as a skill. I don’t want to labour the point again, but I’d be astonished if there isn’t at least one elite climber from Colombia who emerges in the next few years to justify this placement on the list.

Fast climbing, in every sense
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Pushing Bernal to the top, with Sosa in second wasn’t a particularly challenging decision. Both are extraordinary talents and both are young enough that, even allowing for early development, they should be far better in a few years, which is a terrifying thought. Bernal is ahead of Sosa partly because we’ve seen a little more of him in the biggest races so he’s a more certain commodity, and partly because he’s demonstrated a broader range of skills. In particular, his ability against the watch will earn him some serious points. He’s next in line as the Sky leader, too, which is worth something.

Should Lopez still be on this list, with the likes of Aguirre, Osorio (and Other) coming through? Well, he’s certainly the oldest guy on the list, but he’ll be just 28 when the 2022 Grand Tours roll around. That puts him at Quintana and Chaves’ current age, and I think he’ll still be able to ride with the best of them by then. I can’t bring myself to write off a guy with two grand tour podiums in his 24-year-old season. He still belongs.

I can’t put it off any longer - Danny boy, the pipes are calling.

Oh, Senor Martinez. When I had the idea for this column, my first thought was “I can put DFM top of the 2022 list, really show my faith in him as a GC threat.” My second thought was “I can push him right up the 2019 list, show that I think he’ll make the leap.” Reader, I’ve tried to put aside my biases here. Throwing him out of the 2019 list altogether and only adding him onto the 2022 list right at the bottom was difficult for me but it is my best guess at what’s to come. He’s a great climber and no slouch in a time trial, he’s expeirenced but only 22, he’s progressing nicely and he’ll have opportunities, either at EF-Vaughters or wherever he goes next. I really rate him and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he reached a Grand Tour podium by 2022.

All that, and he only just belongs on the top five list. The Colombian hegemony is coming. Get ready.

Only fifth? Blame the hegemony!
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