this article originally appeared in The Roar.
“Where did it all go wrong, Carlos?” Colombian cycling fans might be asking Carlos Betancur in years to come.
The 24 year old had all that a young pro cyclist could wish for, and then some – a very decent salary, a flat in Europe, the respect of his peers and an exciting future ahead of him as both a one-day and stage race contender.
He also has it all behind him too, a very handy palmares that speaks volumes for the potential this young lad has in his legs. 2nd in the U23 Road World Champs in 2009, winner of the Baby Giro in 2010 and 9th in the Giro di Lombardia in 2011 hinted that the boy could ride, make no doubt about it.
Then over the following years things just got better. 2012 saw victories in the Trofeo Melinda, a stage in the Tour of Belgium and at the Giro di Padania, and then a very decent 4th at the Giro del Trentino, where he also took the Young Rider classification.
In 2013 he was 3rd at Le Fleche Wallone, 4th at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and 5th overall at the Giro d’Italia, claiming the Young Rider jersey once again.
This year he won the Tour de Haut Var, was first in the Points classification there also, and, most impressive of all, won Paris-Nice and 2 stages on the way to the top of the podium.
“All that,” they may be saying in 5 years, “pointed to a brilliant future. So what went wrong?”
“Uh, I just didn’t like it over there…” may come the reply.
Amazing as it seems, there is a very real possibility that Carlos Betancur may miss the Tour de France because he finds living in Europe “difficult.”
His Ag2r team manager was interviewed this week in the UK’s Cycling Weekly, telling them that because his rider missed a flight from Colombia his European visa had now expired, meaning that he may not get a new one in time for the Tour.
“It’s annoying. There’s always problems with him,” said Lavenu. “It pushes everything back. We can get an extension with the French, but if he doesn’t show up by the end of the month, we have to start everything over again in Colombia. It’s put his whole season in doubt.”
Betancur cited illness as the reason for the missed ‘plane and did pull out of the Tour of the Basque Country because of illness, but Lavenu’s anger is understandable given that his charge did not contact the team before he decided not to get on the flight, but once it was actually in the air.
A fait accompli, as I believe they say in Texas.
“We communicate a lot with him but don’t get much in return, that’s very frustrating,” Lavenu continued. “He didn’t take his [flight], he said that he didn’t feel good and wouldn’t get on the plane, but at that point, you are dealing with something that already happened. That’s not the way it should work, you should know beforehand. You just don’t not get on the plane and not tell anyone.
“Maybe he can win the Giro d’Italia one day, but it’s really difficult to work with him.”
There’s no doubt that Betancur is immensely talented, but maybe he just doesn’t like France? Or the French? He wouldn’t be the first foreign cyclist to harbor such feelings but, to actually sabotage your own chance to race in the world’s maddest bike race?
Could be that he’d find more peace on a Spanish team. Many South Americans in the past have headed to Spain to race for obvious reasons. Could also be that he is actually sick, and that he’ll even get his visa sorted out in time to get back to Europe to start the Tour.
However, Betancur’s current situation and Lavenu’s take on it all does highlight the fact that a rider can have all the talent in the world, but if his mind is not focused nor indeed strong enough to harness that ability then invariably the wheels will eventually come off.
Think about how many riders have been touted as ‘the next Eddy Merckx’ in the past, only to bellyflop with a massive splash into the kiddies pool. One rider who was hailed as the next Eddy – and by Eddy himself, no less – was Edvald Boasson Hagen.
After a promising start and some cracking wins, Edvald then kind of slid into Sky’s underbelly and more or less hasn’t moved much since. Is he an uber-domestique? Or an example of failed potential and a cracked headset? Or, indeed, was everybody wrong about him and did they simply misjudge his natural abilities in the first place?
The history of cycling is littered with riders, some who made it to the top level and countless others who didn’t, who had the legs but not the mental capabilities that make a true champion.
Some were too nice (and yes that is a crime in pro cycling), others too soft, others still too nuts for their own good. Frank Vandenbroucke is a tragic yet perfect example of the latter. FVB had talents bestowed by the cycling gods but a mind that needed proper professional help. The issue of mental illness and drug addiction are not hot topics in sports and those suffering from depression, addiction and whatever else often feel that they cannot ask for help and, more often than not, are not offered it either.
At the other ends of the scale are the riders who are not, in professional cyclist terms, actually that talented, but who were born with (or suddenly acquired) a burning desire to become a professional rider, and nothing was going to stop them from realizing that dream.
For men and women like these, it wasn’t their natural talent that got then in the top ranks but their determination and strength of character. This lot don’t get on the first plane home because they missed their mates and the banter at the local pub. No, they grind it out, they do a job for their team and they fight for every scrap they can get.
Now, if you can take that sense of determination and weld it to the kind of talent a rider like FVB had, you got yourself a thoroughbred champion.
Maybe a guy like… Lance Armstrong?
It does seem that when great sporting talent is combined with a steely resolve hardened in the furnaces of hell, the product is an athlete you would not want to have a beer with.
Or even worse, a full-blown sociopath.
I like the nice guys though. They just tend to not make very exciting bike riders.
Who knows, maybe Betancur has the right idea. Maybe better to sit it out and let the nutcases get on with it…