Why cycling is much more than a sport in Colombia

Colombian artist Vita Osorio Sanmartín inherited a bike from her father. Like many in the country, he was a passionate cyclist.

Every year, Colombians flood the streets to cheer at the Vuelta a Colombia – one of the toughest races in cycling.

But this is more than a sporting event. In the early 1950s, two years into a bloody sectarian conflict, the tour was initiated as a sign of peace and goodwill.

Today, a new generation of Colombians again face conflicting ideas. Some like Vita hope that cycling can once more bring a sense of unity and nationhood to Colombia.

Colombia is a country of passionate cyclists. The first bike races took place in Bogota in 1894 and by 1898 it was one of the first countries to have two purpose built velodromes. In the 1950s the great Vuelta a Colombia, a tour of Colombia, was born – 35 cyclists covered an extraordinary 779 miles in 10 stages. All over the country people listened to the commentary on radios and it began to link up Colombians in a common cause.

This is more than just a sporting event. The first Tour took place just two years after the assassination in 1948 of Liberal party leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, which was the catalyst for a bloody sectarian conflict between Liberals and Conservatives, creating deep, violent divisions especially in rural areas. The first Tour was thus promoted as a sign of peace and goodwill, reconnecting the country and reaching into rural communities. Through the turbulent decades that have followed, the Tour has continued to go through parts of Colombia that rarely receive any attention.

We join the annual Vuelta a Colombia, cycling the mountains, cities and villages, to find a totally different perspective on the country. This is an event which brings Colombia to a standstill – that is unless you are on two wheels.

Listen to The Flying Colombians here.

Categories: Lifestyle

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