Until February 25th, Ãscar Eduardo SÃ¡nchez GuarÃn will be wearing the UCI America Tour leaderâs white jersey. In the past he may have dreamt of red polka dots to add to his jersey, like his Colombian seniors who ignited the Tour de France in the 1980s.
For a long time he was heralded as being their heir. In 2007 he won the Tour of Colombia in the U23 category and then took part in the highly selective Ronde de lâIsard. On the last day of the race he managed to take the lead in the Pyrenean passes and won the stage in a sprint finish in front of Irishman Dan Martin, who later became a professional cyclist with Garmin-Sharp. Fans nicknamed Ãscar SÃ¡nchez âGafasâ (âspectaclesâ) because of his dark and ringed eyes. He was then a member of Colombia es PasiÃ³n, a Continental team supposed to pave the way for Colombian climbers to the Tour de France.
Since then five seasons have come and gone, without much glory or major success abroad. Without any injury or known tragedy either. Ãscar SÃ¡nchez simply stopped winning, for such a long time that a large chunk of his fan base turned away from him.
One can sense pride and relief on the photographs where he poses today wearing his UCI America Tour Jersey, at the foot of a Christmas Tree. More than a Christmas present, it is a small reconquest, at 27 years of age.
Ãscar SÃ¡nchez began his come-back at the end of 2012, winning two non-UCI events at home. Then he was victorious in the Vuelta a Costa Rica, which propelled him to the first rank of the Continental table.
After 12 stages and 1431 kilometres, Ãscar SÃ¡nchez prevailed in front of two 22 year-old Costa Rican riders: Roman Villalobos and Fabricio Quiros, who was once a trainee at the World Cycling Centre (WCC).
A top-level rider in the 1980s and native of the same area as Ãscar SÃ¡nchez, Herman Loaiza is appreciative of this victory. âItâs very hard for Colombians to win abroad because they meet local athletes who are very well preparedâ, he remarks.
Deliverance began by a sprint finish victory in the fifth stage. But Ãscar SÃ¡nchez took the lead in the overall standings two days later, in a time-trial near the PoÃ¡s Volcano. The volcanoes are somewhat his realm since he was born at the foot of the Nevado del Ruiz, at an altitude of 2160 metres. Although he now resides in Medellin, whose altitude is lower by a third, âGafasâ has retained his climbing skills.
In the UCI America Tour rankings, he is followed by Brazilâs Magno Prato Nazaret and Venezuelaâs Yeisson Delgado, who are respectively winners of the Tour do Brasil CiclÃstica de SÃ£o Paulo-Internacional and the Vuelta al Tachira en Bicicleta.
If he no longer competed in UCI events, Ãscar SÃ¡nchez would quickly lose his overall first place. But his triumph in Costa Rica has rekindled his appetite. When a wave of peloton riders threw him off his bike during the last stage, three kilometres from the finish line, he painfully got back on it and thought back to the difficult years, to his recovered determination, to his work which had begun to bear result once more. He stepped onto the podium at San JosÃ© and then set off to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a broken collarbone.
Photo: Oscar Sanchez (left) and his team mates on the final podium of the Vuelta a Costa Rica. Courtesy: www.nuestrociclismo.com