Club Esteban Chaves – Bogotá, Colombia
Club membership: 30 | Meetings: Velodromo Luis Carlos Galán1
Esteban Chaves was only partially aware of his father’s passion for cycling while growing up in Bogotá, Colombia’s capital city. It was a passion that his father had put aside soon after his marriage, once the need to support a family arose. As such, he knew little about how his father Jairo felt about bikes (and riding them), though he remembered going to races in order to see his father compete when he was a small boy. But by then, Jairo’s dream of becoming a professional had been put aside.
For 14-year-old Esteban Chaves, only track and field mattered, and to that end, he joined a local running club where he did well among his age group. Track and field, he thought, was his future; at least until his club chose to participate in a local biathlon in which he did far better in the cycling portion, rather than the running. It should be noted, he rode an oversized bike his father had borrowed from a friend.2 With that, Esteban Chaves fell in love with riding a bike, and soon left the track and field club in order to join the Escuala De Ciclismo Monserrate, a local cycling academy with headquarters in a nearby velodrome, its namesake the ominous peak that looks down upon Bogotá from over ten thousand feet above sea level.3
In that club, Chaves learned the basics of competitive cycling, as so many others in Colombia have. He learned how to race in the velodrome, how to stretch, how to bump shoulders with other riders without crashing, how to handle his bike. Soon enough, he began racing for the academy, and a year later, he qualified to represent the city of Bogotá at nationals. His rise was quick, but not completely uncommon. At its core, Chaves’ learning process relied heavily on Colombia’s existing model of cycling academies, which then lead young riders to city, and then state-sponsored teams (which themselves often have elite and U-23 components).
As Esteban’s rise within the sport continued, with impressive victories in Europe, Marco Tulio Ruiz (a family friend of the Chaves family and cycling coach for twenty years) started a academy. His original goal was to help his son along though quickly other neighborhood kids began to join. At some not point not much later Esteban’s father (Jairo) began to help Marco Tulio. Soon enough it was clear that Marco and Jairo (inadvertently or not) had started a club and the club needed a name—naming the club was left to the kids. Having seen their local hero, Esteban Chaves, win yellow and polka dot jerseys in Europe, the choice was easy, Club De Formacion Ciclistica Esteban Chaves was born. Though named a “club”, this academy in no way functions like a standard cycling club in the United States or much of Europe. Its purpose is revealed in the remainder of its name, Club De Formacion Ciclistica.
It’s a club to aid in the growth and development of competitive cyclists to the highest levels, and the task is taken seriously by all involved.
Today, the academy has thirty members and holds regular training sessions in the very velodrome where years earlier Esteban was taught the basics. While the academy’s namesake remains a primary driving force, Marco and Jairo's passion and guidance are invaluable, and remarkable . Speaking in his family’s apartment near Bogotá’s El Dorado airport, Jairo Chaves (a furniture maker by trade) is quick to answer when asked about his connection with cycling, the very connection he hopes to pass on to his pupils.
“Cycling moves me. I enjoy it. When I’m on a bike I feel like a different person. I feel the wind. I feel the descent, the rise. I feel that life is absolutely beautiful…I feel I can reach goals, my own goals of climbing a mountain, of going somewhere by my own means. That is what cycling makes me feel. That passion.”
Marco Tulio Ruiz is similarly passionate about cycling, splitting his time between training Paralympic athletes and the Esteban Chaves academy. His students are his focus, he works with them everyday, often working twelve-hour days, seven days a week.
The road toward becoming a highly successful cyclist, ideally a professional, is not an easy one for these young kids. It isn’t easy for those helping them get there either, but no one involved would have it any other way. At least not in Colombia.
A Partial List of Bogota’s Cycling Academies
- Fundación de Ciclismo John F. Kennedy
- Multidisciplinaria de Formación Deportiva de Kennedy
- Monserrate Orgullo Bogotano
- Grupo dinamico
- Ciclo suba
- Thunder lite
- Site of the 1995 UCI World Track Cycling World Championships. Outdoor racing surface, concrete. 333 meters in length. [↩]
- The bike was borrowed from a fixture in Bogota cycling named Oliverio Cardenas, whose nickname is “El Terrible”—the terrible one. [↩]
- Monserrate is a popular tourist destination in Bogota, since it overlooks the massive city from 10,341 feet above sea level, over 1,740 feet higher than Bogota itself. [↩]