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Favourite Shirts: Café de Colombia

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Photographs: Taz Darling & Offside/L'Equipe

The Cafés in Colombia
In July 1984, two years before Channel 4 embraced Le Tour and brought it to our living rooms on a daily basis, the institution that was ITV’s World of Sport sometimes showed minority sports, which included Tour highlights on a Saturday afternoon.
Featuring in this rare glimpse of televised cycling were 41, Pedro Delgado and Jean-René Bernaudeau, who were in a break on stage 11 from Pau to Guzet-Neige. It was a classic, which Millar won. Here were riders from the traditional European scene, but that day they had a mysterious companion – the darkly tanned, waif-like Colombian Luis Herrera, riding in the Colombian national jersey.
His simple red, blue and yellow top wasn’t the most technically advanced. Long and weighed down with pockets full of cargo (spare tubulars, a tool kit and bananas, which were no doubt Fairtrade) meant that the hem of the garment nearly touched the back wheel. No matter – I was taken with the colour scheme and the brave endeavours of this imposter from outside the heartlands of pro cycling.
“Lucho” went on to win that year on L’Alpe D’Huez ensuring that the Colombianos got invited back for 1985. By this time, they had sponsors on board – their nation’s Federación Nacional de Cafeteros, or Café de Colombia – plus Alan bike frames with Mavic groupsets and tubulars from Wolber. What a turnaround. They also sported this new striking pro-team maillot from kit kings Assos.
My wife and I journeyed to Le Tour in 1985, doing the initial stages in Brittany in a trusty Renault 4 which was transport and accommodation rolled in to one. We had developed a warm affinity for the Colombians, and although we didn’t see them at the front too much in Brittany, we had enough sightings for me to know that this was a jersey I had to have.
Herrera was untouchable in the mountains during that Tour, although he was prone to crashing out on descents, as were most of his team. But “los Colombianos” had duly arrived in the pro peloton, and I was still searching in vain for that jersey. Herrera won the King Of The Mountains competition by a huge margin from Delgado and Millar, with Hererra’s junior teammate Fabio Parra taking the prize for best young rider (ironic, as he looked the elder of the two). Yet there was no sign of this mythical maillot on the concession stands of the Tour as Assos didn’t commercialise their pro-team kit, but there were countless knock-offs of varying quality, and on my return home I bagged one mail-order.
During the next few years, the Café de Colombia jersey went through a few makeovers, becoming predominately white with the addition of the Juan Valdez logo and his mule Cochita. A particularly tasteful edition was provided by Vittore Gianni, the company which was the forerunner to Castelli. The team ceased to exist at the end of the ’80s but the Café de Colombia name was still seen at the Tour for a few more years as sponsor of the KoM competition.
As the years passed, my treasured Café de Colombia jersey was relegated to the back of a drawer. It saw the light of day once again when my teacher at Spanish evening classes turned out to be Colombian and very knowledgeable about his country’s Tour de France success in the ’80s. I had “grown out” of the jersey so I had it framed and gave it to him one Christmas.
I thought that was the end, until, to my great delight, I found commercially-available versions of the classic 1985 jersey at a store in the Colombian city of Medellin while on holiday in 2006. After all those years, salvation was again mine, which tops and tails my quest neatly.
Eso es todo, amigos.

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