Chris Kudialis, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The fifth-annual Tour do Rio cycling race started Monday (August 25th), with athletes from around the world competing in Latin America’s largest cycling event. Thirteen different teams, including seven Brazilian squads, will compete for qualification in the 2016 Olympics, as well as factor in cyclists’ individual world-rankings.
Starting in Barra da Tijuca on Monday, the race passes through twenty cities in the state of Rio de Janeiro before ending in the Quinta da Boa Vista on Sunday, August 31st. Notable Tour stages include stops in Itaguaí, Petrópolis, Teresópolis, Guapimirim and Niterói.
With a length of 997 kilometers (617 miles), this year’s Tour track is 163 kilometers (101 miles) longer than the 2013 Tour – an increase that hasn’t gone without notice among the event’s 72 scheduled participants. “We’ll have to make an adjustment, for sure” said Spaniard Oscar Sevilla, the race’s defending champion. “It’s a fair increase.”
Though Sevilla won with an individual time of 15:13:01 last year, the 37-year-old said he doesn’t expect to break eighteen hours this week. A once top-ten finisher both the Tour de France and La Vuelta de España, Sevilla says the track’s increase is enough to cause a shake-up in the field. “It adds an endurance element, more than anything“ he said.
The team champion of the last year’s Tour, Sevilla’s EPM-UNE team from Colombia is also the early favorite to repeat in 2014, according to Tour Communication Adviser Mauro Rodrigues. “They’re easily the strongest in the field,” Rodrigues said, “And one of the best in Latin America, too.”
Ranked 225th in the world according to Cycling Quotient’s comprehensive rankings, 34-year-old Gustavo Cesar of Spain finished just seven seconds behind Sevilla last year, and is expected to give his countryman a run for first place again in 2014. “But Sevilla is still the guy to beat,“ assured Rodrigues.
Other prominent race participants include EPM-UNE teammates Edwar Ortiz and Camilo Castiblanco (third and fourth place in 2013) as well as Brazilian Kléber Ramos from Team Funvic. Ramos, who finished fifth in last year’s Tour do Rio as a member of Clube DataRO, was a top-ten ranked Brazilian cyclist as recently as 2012.
At age 29, Ramos is among the younger competitors in the race, and the most accomplished among Brazilian participants. Both Ortiz and Castiblanco have been ranked amongst in the world’s top 800, according to CyclingRanking.com.
One American group, Optum Pro Cycling, was scheduled to compete, but was withdrawn as of Monday morning. A representative for Optum Pro Cycling could not be reached for comment. Official Tour do Rio events began on August 25th, with Sevilla, the World Cycling Center team from Africa and Dataro team coach Hernandes Quadri Júnior taking part in a public event on overcoming obstacles through cycling.
In comparison, the Tour de France, the most famous bicycle race, has 21 stages over 23 days and covers around 3,200 km (around 2,000 miles). It is part of the three Grand Tours, along with the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta da España.