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“It makes me proud to wear the Colombian jersey all around the world, it's a big thing for me since I'm representing my country, the one I love, the one that has given me everything."

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Photo: Colombiacyclingpro.com
12.12.2016 @ 10:00 Posted by Joseph Doherty

Edwin Avila is one of the best track riders in Colombia, with two World Tiles in the Points Race, winning in 2011 in Apeldoorn, Holland at just 21 and again in 2014 in front of home crowds in Cali, Colombia.

 

However, his road racing career has been much less glamorous, with various high points, but many low points. At the end of 2015, Team Colombia, Avila’s employers, began defaulting on rider salaries and the guys went months without a wage. Claudio Corti then announced his team would be closing its doors at the seasons end and Avila looked jobless.

 

However, in the USA, Airgas-Safeway had picked up 2013 Vuelta winner Chris Horner and were seeking entry to the USA’s top races at the same time as Corti was defaulting on paying his riders. Some organisers opted not to select Horner and his new team for races, aside from Tour of Gila and Tour of Utah, where he always excelled. The team performed well , but decided to take their future in a new, unique direction.

 

Opting to leave both Airgas and Safeway behind, Team Illuminate was born with the goal of creating a team that will be around for decades rather than just a few seasons. They lost Horner, but added the talented Scotston brothers from Australia, as well as two track riders: Scott Sunderland from Australia and Colombia’s own Edwin Avila.

 

Avila was now employed, but his battle was far from over. He is not your traditional pure Colobian climber. His track speed gives him a vicious finish at the end of hard days but naturally, as a Colombian, hills are not so difficult either. His real issue would be could he adapt to the new language and new style of racing Stateside?

 

“I've always been able to represent Colombia both in the road and in the track. I raced for three years with an Italian based team, but I was still representing Colombia, I was living in Italy too. The American, Italian and Colombian cultures are completely different. Team Illuminate welcomed me in a great way, I've always felt great in it, with my teammates, the manager, the team's mood is always great. That's why I decided to stay with them, because I really am happy with everyone,” Avila exclusively told CyclingQuotes after it was confirmed he would be staying with Team Illuminate for 2017.

 

So how has 2016 been? Avila only raced the Reading 120, Winston Salem Cycling Classic and Philly Cycling Classic as pro races in the USA, with most of his racing being done in Asia and Eastern Europe.

 

“Well, this season has been quite good, I've won the national champs both in the road and in the track, it's the first time I do that even if I had been racing track all my life I had never won a national championship before. This plus my results and podiums in the road show how much I've grown as a rider and how much my body is getting more used to all the professional racing.”

 

Indeed, Avila had plenty of top tens and was selected to support Fernando Gaviria at the Worlds this year. But despite all of this, the former finisher of both the Giro and Milano-Sanremo is most famous for upsetting all odds by winning his national road race championships.

 

On a lumpy course that consisted of two 87.7km laps and a finish on a hill, Avila, racing for his new team, was hardly a favourite, facing off against the likes of Nairo Quintana, Sergio Henao, Winner Anacona, Heiner Parra and defending champion Robinson Chalapud. All had the same, if not more European experience than Availa, the trackie. So just how did he do it?

 

“The start of the race was quite fast, everyone wanted to get into the break, mainly the ones who knew that they wouldn't be able to do much in such a tough finish because everyone knew it was a tough climb mainly for fast climbers or finisseurs. Fortunately with about 3 laps to go I was feeling great and the break was about 4:30 away and I realized I had to chase it or else I would have finished all my chances staying in the group. I was racing to give it all, to take all the chances I could, without keeping anything to myself, so I attacked and reached the break, then I attacked again and I finally reached the finish alone.”

 

Avila had just three seconds on Henao and a further one second on another former European pro affected by Colobia shutting down, Jose Saremiento at the finish line. But he had enough. He was National Road Race Champion. So what did he have that Quintana and Henao didn’t? Avila displayed great tactical nous than can only be produced on the boards of a velodrome. Colobians are famously patriotic, so what is it like doing all of the road races in his national jersey.

 

“It makes me so proud to be able to wear the Colombian champion jersey all around the world, it's a big thing for me since I'm representing my country, the one I love, the one that has given me everything and where I've grown as a cyclist. The only exception is when you're not feeling well during the races, everyone sees you and starts cheering and calling you up "go Colombia!", so it makes you feel like you're not up to the responsibility of having this jersey, like if you weren't representing Colombia like you really should.”

 

Avila was denied a win in his jersey twice on the line, with Will Clarke denying him a win in Taiwan and Derk Beckeringh doing the same in Iran. Nonetheless, he has enjoyed his beautiful jersey, which looks even better without sponsor logos restricting it, something Team Illuminate don’t believe in as sponsors change regularly and the team hopes to keep continuity and the same name for all the time they exist.

 

“For me it's a great idea, to be able to have the Colombian flag on my chest shown cleanly, without any publicity or anything that could cover the flag, it makes me feel even prouder and happier. I agree with the team's idea because it's not only about the sponsors and the cyclists, but the cyclists and their story, the reason why we decided cycling as our life, why we love cycling. It takes some pressure off without the jersey covered with logos, it feels less like an obligation, you're more free to be yourself, be more natural, like you can do things calmly and feel more confident.”

 

Having his first season under his belt, Avila is now in a good position to make a judgment not only about the main differences in competing against WorldTour riders and Continental riders, but in European and US/Asian racing too.

 

“I remember that when I was in the Team Colombia the European races we raced with all the WT teams, it's completely different, the first hour is usually fast, later it turns very slow while the break is defined and has a good gap, that's when the group retakes a good speed until it catches the break again, and from that moment on it's all on the riders that can keep up. While in the US everything's more aggressive, from beginning to end it's always fast, everyone is always attacking, you have to always be alert, it's difficult to know exactly in which part of the group you should stay, to know on who's wheel you should be, and all of this because of all the aggressiveness compared to the European races.”

 

Attention is now turned to his 2017 season, where his team has just scored another major coup by adding former WorldTour pro Simon Pellaud to the roster, and what big races he can set his goals on. With the team being dependant on invites, Avila isn’t able to set goals for any specific races. But he has one rendezvous he knows for sure he will attend: his national title defence.

 

“My main goals next year: first the national championships to defend my current title and why not wear the Colombian jersey again, and the other goals depend on the race calendar we'll be doing, try to do my best to be able to win more than once, all I want is to keep on growing as a rider and be able to keep my level both in the track and in the road.”

 

 

 

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