Richard Carapaz: A New Chapter
As the most anticipated race on the calendar looms large, EF Education–EasyPost’s biggest signing of the off season sat down with Rapha to introduce himself.
29 June 2023
Hailing from Ecuador, Richard Carapaz is a leading figure in a roster of riders making a name for their country. Honed in the high mountains of the Ecuadorian Andes, Carapaz and his contemporaries possess a cycling prowess more commonly associated with their Colombian counterparts – but with almost none of the accolades. Yet with an Olympic gold medal and the first (and only) Ecuadorian Grand Tour win to his name, Carapaz has gone a long way to establishing the nation’s place in the history books of the sport.
As the most anticipated race on the calendar looms large, EF Education–EasyPost’s biggest signing of the off-season sat down with Rapha to introduce himself. From accidental athlete, to winning one of cycling’s most prestigious races, to establishing his own youth cycling club, this is Carapaz’s journey from Ecuador to the Tour and beyond.
What was it that inspired you to pursue a career as a cyclist?
Well, my start in cycling was a bit – how can I say? – not typical. I always liked riding my bike, ever since I was little, but at a young age I didn’t know about cycling as a professional sport. I used the bike as a means of transport and then to play as a child. And that was it.
And then when I was 16 I met Ecuadorian ex-pro Juan Carlos Rosero. He was one of the Ecuadorian people who had gone the furthest up to that point, riding for Pepsi Cola Fanini in Italy. Ultimately, he ended up being my mentor and shared knowledge on how to enter the world of professional cycling, and then, how to be a bike racer. It began for fun, and then I ended up turning professional.
Did you face any barriers turning professional?
I first came to Europe in 2013, and rode in France for a while. I also rode with the Ecuadorian national team to take part in various races as part of the calendar in our country. It was a good start, but I didn’t have the fortune of finding a proper team here in Europe. So, a year or so later, I had to return to race in South America – and I raced a lot. This is when I gained more perspective on what I could really achieve, and that I could make it onto a European team. I think it’s true that in Latin America we don’t have the big races to act as a showcase, but by winning an important stage of a race in Colombia, I showed what I could do, and that served me well to have the opportunity to end up at a second division Spanish team.
What’s the relationship like between you and your fellow Latin American riders?
When I came to EF, it was something very special. I’ve actually known [Alexander] Cepeda since I was 8 or 9, and he has had almost the same journey as me – we have shared almost all of our lives on the bike together. Above all, we started out with the same dream and we can share it and live it together. It means a lot to me. I’ve also known [Jonathan] Caicedo for many years, from training together right at the start.
To have teammates like that is really good fun, because ultimately they are people you know well, you’ve spent a load of time together, and you speak the same language.
Riding in the WorldTour requires a great deal of sacrifice – from nutrition to travel and training. In your opinion, what’s the biggest sacrifice faced by pros?
The things you mention aren’t really sacrifices because you do them for a reason, you know? For me, the biggest sacrifice is being far away from family. When I’m away, you might miss a birthday or an anniversary. These things are the real sacrifices because it is time that you’re not getting back. When you come here, you spend a load of time in Europe, and your family is back in Ecuador, in my case. But this is something that motivates me. If I’m doing this, it’s got to really be worth it. This really is worth it because I’m putting in a big effort for everything I am losing. I think about the sacrifices and it motivates me to keep going.
How do you balance being far away from your family? Do you have some kind of ritual, like calling home every day?
Well it depends where we are in the season. The majority of the time I’m preparing for a Grand Tour or something, I’m away from them. Normally we talk everyday, I call my wife every day, and the kids too. These days it’s easy to communicate with your family every day. It’s not like you’re here and are completely isolated from everything. It’s true that you’re not there in person, but we’re in touch constantly. And when I’m riding a Grand Tour, normally my family will come out for the last week, or we try to get them out here for the summer when the kids aren’t at school. They come here, spend the whole summer here and then go home, it’s time shared together. But yeah, overall, you lose a lot, but there are things you need to do to get the results.
After your Olympic win, Ecuador seemed to wake up to cycling. Whilst many other victories had great importance, this victory seemed to make a real difference.
I think after the Olympics in 2021, there was a big change in the country. Sure, we had achieved pretty big victories before, but the Olympics are the Olympics, you know? It wasn’t just watched by cycling fans, but all sports fans. It meant a lot for the country, and lots of young people were all of a sudden hoping to become cyclists.
Ecuador isn’t known for its cycling history. Is that something you hope to change?
We don’t have much cycling tradition – it’s something very, very new. We want to bring to Ecuador a bit of the cycling tradition of Colombia, the renowned riders we have, those of us here in the WorldTour, we are the first that Ecuador has had. It’s not something that has been realised over decades, or something that comes from a cycling tradition.
I’ve always wanted to pass on what I’ve learned from cycling to kids who are interested in being part of the cycling world. Ultimately, we’re trying to show people a different path, ultimately cycling is a way of life. I’m trying to show this to my country in a certain way, I have the cycling club which carries my name. Through cycling, we want to change the lives of many children, this is important for us.
When I retire, I’ll be dedicating more time to this, trying to share more knowledge with the club, trying to get new kids, new talents. If I have the luck to find a new talent, I’ll try to give them a hand and hopefully bring them good times, not just on the bike but in life. That for me is very important.
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