Lima is not really a bike-friendly city. First of all, it’s an absolutely massive place – so the idea of cycling across town becomes daunting straight away. The second reason you don’t really want to ride a bike in Lima is that the traffic is murderous. Whether it’s so jammed up at rush hour that there isn’t even space to thread a pair of handlebars between two cars, or the cabs and cars are flying through junctions without stopping, with only a cursory honk of the horn to let others know they’re coming – it really is a tarmac jungle out there.
It was a total fluke that we stumbled upon a press release for the inaugural Peruvian National Track champs. We decided this campeonato could be bit of fun so, with curiosity piqued, we headed down to the national sports centre that weekend to see what was going on.
Champions and hopefuls
Peru as a cycling nation is at a crossroads. At grassroots level it is unorganised and underfunded, but it’s also on the up. For years, what is now the National Velodrome was disused – the only people who rode its concrete banks were members of the city police’s amateur cycling team.
Now though, for the first time ever, Peru has a world champion cyclist and suddenly as a sport it’s been dragged into the public eye. The world champion in question is Israel Hilario, a Paralympian and the current world champ in the C2 category. Hilario was at the championships in person, bedecked in the unmistakeable rainbow bands and schmoozing with the media like he was born to it. He is the public face of an optimistic new dawn in cycling in Peru.
There’s no doubt that Hilario has already arrived at the top of his game, but an almost-equal amount of attention is being paid to a young man called Hugo Ruiz. He has already shown significant promise on the national road racing scene – placing third in this year’s five-stage Tour of Peru. On the track, the kid does the kilo in 1:08.333 – not quite world-beating – but enough for him to become the new National Champion and to be seen as the next great hope for Peruvian cycling on a world stage.
Cometh the hour…
As well as a world champion and a hotshot youngster, Peru can now also boast an hour record-holder. While there’s no need for Sir Bradley Wiggins to hop off the couch and start training to reclaim his title just yet, the National Championships did see a certain Victor Gamarra beat another Briton’s mark. The Peruvian – known by those on the bike scene in Lima as ‘Don Victor’ – smashed the previous distance record for someone aged between 80-84 – eclipsing an effort by Sidney Shuman, of the UK, who has held the record since September 2014. Shuman is now too old to compete in this age bracket, so it remains to be seen whether Don Victor can hold onto it a little bit longer.
Depending where you live in the country, Peru is largely pre-occupied with either football or surfing. Cycling hasn’t historically been able to get a look in. But now it feels like things might be turning around. Peru has a population of more than 30 million people, many of whom live at high altitude. The possibility that there may exist somewhere in the country another Nairo Quintana or Winner Ancona is electrifying.
An extended version of this article has been published in the March issue of Conquista. Read it online or order a print copy now.
Tom Owen is a cycling writer who travels the world in search of two-wheeled adventures. He’s ridden bikes in Bali, Vietnam, Andorra, Spain, Cambodia, Thailand and the UK. This winter he’s going to South America to explore the cycling culture of Bolivia, Argentina, Colombia and many more places. Tom is going to be writing about his experiences for us, so make sure you check out our blog to keep up to date with his travels.
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