Tour de France: Sky pin their podium hopes on an indestructible kid from Colombia
Rigoberto Uran has borne family tragedy and broken bones with true grit and can now do his team proud
A 24-year-old former lottery ticket seller from the Colombian town of Urrao will be at the centre of Team Sky's plans for the Tour's third week, starting with today's 162km (101-mile) hilly trek from Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Gap.
Sky's Rigoberto Uran holds a 67sec lead over the Estonian Rein Taaramae in the Best Young Rider standings, and he is adamant that he will defend the white jersey that goes with it all the way to Paris.
And for Sky, after losing Bradley Wiggins to a crash in the first week, Uran is now the team's best chance of a first-ever podium finish there.
"The Alps are similar to the mountains in Colombia, and I've always ridden very well on those big passes back home," Uran said on the Tour's rest day yesterday. "I'm not planning to attack, though – I have to ride intelligently. Follow wheels."
He added: "It was awful when we lost Bradley [Wiggins], that first week was crazy, but the good thing is that I'm in good shape because I was supposed to be the last man with Bradley on the climbs."
Uran's background could not be more different from Wiggins's, who grew up with racing culture (his father was a professional track rider) whilst the Colombian had no cycling heroes as a boy but showed lots of raw talent.
His interest was sparked by winning his first race, a 10-mile time-trial between friends, which came at the age of 14 – without a helmet, shoes or any bike clothes.
However, the death of his father the same year, when he was killed in crossfire at a paramilitary checkpoint, meant that at 14 Uran became the breadwinner, looking after his younger sister and taking over his father's job as a lottery ticket seller.
But he kept on racing in his spare time and, as he told the Spanish magazine Biciclismo, "when I heard about Europe and the chance of coming, I took it with both hands."
His adventure soon hit appalling trouble, though, when a crash in the Tour of Germany in 2007 saw him break both elbows and a wrist and left him off the bike for nearly a year.
"I couldn't move for three months, I needed help for everything from eating to getting to the toilet. I was eight months in rehabilitation. They had to rebuild my left elbow and the rehab didn't always go well – there were times when my hands didn't respond at all.
"When I got back to riding my bike, it was like starting from scratch all over again."
Having signed for Sky in 2011, Uran's luck has turned. For the first time in his career he had a trainer, Rod Ellingworth, and he is not the type to let the language barrier get in his way. "We're talking cycling, not about building a spaceship," Uran says. "At team meetings, we understand what's going on."
"It's a barrier, but Rigoberto has overcome them in the past," his team-mate and room-mate Xavier Zandio adds. "That kid – if anybody's got the willpower to get the white jersey to Paris, it's Rigoberto."
The young and fast
White jersey standings:
1. Rigoberto Uran (Col) 65h 32m 29sec
2. Rein Taaramae (Est) at 1min 7sec
3. Pierre Rolland (Fr) 1min 25sec
4. Arnold Jeannesson (Fr) at 2min 10sec
5. Rob Ruijgh (Neth) at 5min 1sec
6. Jérôme Coppel (Fr) at 5min 8sec
7. Cyril Gautier (Fr) at 18min 42sec
8. Andrey Zeits (Kaz) at 22min 56sec
9. Robert Gesink (Fr) at 27min 26sec
10. Geraint Thomas (GB) at 27min 32sec
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