It began so well.
Carlos Betancur could barely keep himself from winning in the early part of the season. Then he stopped.
2014 might be considered a tale of two Colombians. While Movistar’s Nairo Quintana delivered on his formidable potential by winning the Giro d’Italia, Betancur’s season effectively ended in March with victory at Paris-Nice.
Now, to the surprise of many, the 25-year-old’s employers at Ag2r-La Mondiale have announced his continuance with the team in 2015, and his intended participation at the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana, making him the latest of the peloton’s A-list to declare for a Grand Tour double.
Carlos Betancur has retained the support of Ag2r-La Mondiale general manager, Vincent Lavenu, despite a troubled season in which overall victory at Paris-Nice was almost the sole highlight
A member of the first rank of Colombia’s WorldTour riders, who followed an early season victory at Haut Var with the biggest win of his career, Betancur’s 2014 campaign sank without trace amid an extended leave of absence in his Colombian homeland.
His absence from the Tour de France, a race at which he was widely expected to lead his team’s challenge, but which instead saw team-mates Jean-Christophe Péraud and Romain Bardet steal the spotlight, compounded matters and drew reports that he would leave the team at the end of the season. Home sickness and weight problems were recurring themes in a disapointing campaign.
Betancur's candidature for next season’s Italian and Spanish national tours is not a complete surprise. It was a popular path last season for his countrymen, with Winner Anacona (Lampre-Merida), Julien Arredondo (Trek), Quintana, and Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) all starting both races.
This year's Vuelta brought him little success. While Anacona had claimed stage nine, expectation had transferred in part to Betancur’s shoulders, following Quintana’s exit after a second crash in two days on stage 11. By the time of Uran’s departure after stage 16, however, Betancur was the last of the Colombian heavyweights left in the race. He finished the Vuelta second to last, more than five hours behind winner, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo). Hopes of a strong finish to the season ended with a DNF at the world road race championships.
Betancur is not the only Colombian to have suffered a difficult year – Sergio Henao’s temporary removal from Team Sky’s racing roster was followed by a season-ending crash at the Tour de Suisse – but expectations for the Paris-Nice winner were greater. Fifth at last year’s Giro indicated his Grand Tour potential and followed a strong campaign at the Ardennes Classics.
General manager, Vincent Lavenu, retains his faith in Betancur’s natural ability, but the door to leadership at the Tour has perhaps been barred by the impressive performances of Péraud and Bardet. Betancur must re-establish his credentials at the Giro and the Vuelta next year or face becoming the great unfulfilled talent of Colombian cycling. Quintana will not wait for him.