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Team Colombia preparing for debut at 2013 Giro d’Italia

MILAN (VN) — Team Colombia is racing toward its debut in the Giro d’Italia this May. After receiving the nod to participate in all of RCS Sports’ other prestigious races last year, it will attend the big three-week event.

“I had faith in our selection,” general manager Claudio Corti told VeloNews Monday. “When the news arrived, the first thing I did was to call the minister of sport, Andres Botero. It was a big party for them back home and it received a lot of media coverage.”

Corti was busy going through documents at Italy’s Questura, or the immigration office.

“It’s all in order,” he said after signing the last documents.

The Colombians, including former Cofidis rider Leonardo Duque, are at the team’s base near Lago Iseo and Bergamo. Besides the legal paperwork, they’ve received their new kit and Wilier bikes. They travel to Arco near Lago Garda next week for a short team camp. The big goal on the horizon is the Giro.

“It’s the second year and everything goes easier now, for example at the Questura,” Corti said. “Now they have the experience of one season behind them.”

RCS Sport invited Colombia over several top teams, including Katusha, Novo Nordisk and NetApp-Endura. The second-division team was one of four teams invited as a wild card — along with Vini Fantini-Selle Italia, Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox and Androni Giocattoli — to race with the 18 first-division teams.

In its debut season last year, the Colombian squad raced RCS Sport’s Tirreno-Adriatico stage race and the one-day classics Milan-San Remo and Giro di Lombardia.

National support

Corti has the help of the Colombian government, with funding approved by Botero, the minister of sport and a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) board. The government would like to see something similar to the country’s golden years, when Luis Herrera won on L’Alpe d’Huez in the Tour de France and Café de Colombia raced in Europe. To make it happen, the team has a budget of nearly 4 million euro annually for three years.

Corti managed teams Saeco and Barloworld. In the 2007 Tour, he helped Colombian Mauricio Soler win the stage from Val-d’Isère to Briançon and take the mountains classification. He shares his experiences with the younger riders.

Last year, John Atapuma won the Passo Pordoi stage in the Giro del Trentino and placed second to Robert Gesink in the Amgen Tour of California’s stage to Mount Baldy. The team also picked up a pair of Italian one-day classics — the GP Camaiore with Johan Chaves and Coppa Sabatini with Fabio Duarte.

They also shone in the amateur ranks. Duarte won the under 23 world championship in Varese in 2008. Chaves won the prestigious amateur stage race, Tour de l’Avenir, in 2011.

“Clearly, those three [are going to the Giro] for different reasons and their different characteristics,” Corti said. “Atapuma does well on the big climbs, Chavez still is discovering himself — he’s good on long and short climbs — and Duarte has a lot of class and the most experience of the three. We hope they are on form and spearhead the Giro team.”

Colombia succeeded in the Giro with the likes of Iván Parra and fielded Postobon-Manzana-Ryalcao in 1992. Over the years, Gianni Savio has had Colombian sponsors and riders, but nothing as pure as Corti’s team.

And Corti has other irons in the fire.

“I also want to take the team to the Tour de France, but at this point we are satisfied with the Giro,” he said. “Above all, we want to race the [Amaury Sport Organization] races like Critérium International, Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Critérium du Dauphiné.”

For now the riders are focused on the season ahead. After the camp, their first races are the GP Costa degli Etruschi in Italy and the Tour Méditerranéen in France.