Diego Camargo's dream
Our young Colombian wants to inspire his country like the champions who raced before him
Nations need champions.
Bike racers are especially important to Colombia's people. When Diego Camargo was a kid, working on his family’s farm high in the hills of Boyacá, he dreamt that he might one day bear his country’s flag in bike races and never have to carry another sack of potatoes. He would finish his school and farm work and head out on his old steel transport bike to train. Climbing rough concrete roads through the meadows near his farm, he could almost hear his countrymen and women cheering his name. When he was 16, a local coach spotted Diego and asked him if he wanted to join their club. As soon as he started racing, Diego’s talent and toughness shone through. Just four years after his first youth race, Diego won the most prestigious stage race in his country: the 2020 Vuelta a Colombia. He won the Vuelta de la Juventud that year as well. He was just 22.
“That was something extraordinary for me, something very beautiful that filled me with great joy,” Diego says. “My life has changed a lot since then.”
Diego’s future seemed as if it were already written. Colombia’s national story is rife with tales of bike racers who rose from the soil to become superstars. During early editions of the Vuelta a Colombia, the country’s warring factions would put down their weapons to watch the peloton race past. Bike racers showed them a better way. On their bikes, they could transcend the hard toil of life on the land and do something heroic.
Cycling became a national passion. The nation’s best riders soon conquered the world. After winning the Vuelta a Colombia four times in the 1960s, Martín Emilio ’Cochise’ Rodriguez turned pro in Europe and won two stages of the Giro. Luis "Lucho" Herrera won the Vuelta a Colombia four times in the 1980s and went on to win the Vuelta a España, the Dauphiné, a stage of the Tour de France on Alpe d’Huez, and five King of the Mountains jerseys across all three grand tours, while racing for Cafe de Colombia. The country united behind them.
"People are proud of these little Colombian climbers, because they changed how people look at our country."
Today, Colombians take great pride in their cyclists’ successes. Racers like our own Rigoberto Urán and Esteban Chaves have changed conversations about Colombia. Their feats on their bikes have inspired countless Colombians and helped them tell a much more positive story about themselves.
“Cycling came to Colombia during pretty hard times for the country,” says Esteban Chaves. “People around the globe only talked about drugs or war when they talked about Colombia, but growing up, our parents told us stories about Lucho Herrerra going to the Vuelta a España and winning and then winning the mountain jersey at the Tour de France. People are proud of these little Colombian climbers, because they changed how people look at our country in the 80s and in the 90s and even now.”
Diego Camargo wants to follow Esteban and Rigo. He hopes to inspire his people like the Colombian champions who raced before him by conquering cycling’s greatest mountains.
“What I aspire and dream to do is to teach the young people that they can get where they want to go if they are motivated,” he says. “That is the life story of our people. I believe that when you dream it, if you really want it, it can be achieved. I have always said that my own aim is to compete for the three grand tours.”
The first couple of years of Diego’s career have been tough though. He had to adjust to life in a cold European apartment away from his family, friends, and supporters.
“When I arrived in Europe, I went to live alone for the first time,” he says. “I had to become totally independent, do all the chores. I would come back from training and find no one at home.”
And then there was the racing. Esteban understands how hard the transition to the professional peloton can be.
“I remember myself,” he says. “You come from an environment that was pretty safe, where people looked after you, and the races you did were in a straight line. You didn’t have many corners, not many roundabouts. The weather was beautiful for bike racing, and then you arrive in this world full of roundabouts, aggressive guys, sprints, cobbles, cold, so the transition can be pretty tough. This is pretty challenging for riders from Colombia when they first arrive in Europe. This is the challenge for guys like Camargo and he had to learn a lot.”
Diego has been making steady progress. He is now comfortable in his own apartment in Andorra. He’s worked out how to deal with all of the little practicalities of life, like getting car insurance or a credit card, which are so much harder in a foreign country, especially one so different to where he grew up. His English is getting better, thanks to EF English Live’s courses, and his older South American teammates have been doing a lot to help him out on and off the bike. They know how talented he is.
“Diego listens and takes in a lot of ideas,” Esteban says, “though he doesn’t yet say too much because he is pretty young and shy. When you see Camargo off of the bike, he is completely different to how he is on the bike. On the bike, he is aggressive, pure strength. Off the bike he is just humble, super shy, quiet, but you can see the fire in his eyes. He’s a stage racer, a pure climber. From my point of view, he is going to be a three-weeks contender.”
Diego appreciates his teammates’ help.
“The team's love is always there,” he says. “We always try to be as close to family as possible, and then motivate each other to improve a lot every day. The idea is to keep improving. My dreams are still there, to be at the level of the best.”
First, Diego wants to become Colombian champion. This week, he will race the time trial, where he placed third last season, and then Sunday’s road race in front of the tens of thousands of Colombian fans who will travel to Bucaramanga to watch their nation’s best compete for 237 kilometres across ten laps of a hilly circuit.
“It would be an honour to win the Colombian tricolour jersey and take it to Europe and represent it in the best way,” Diego says. “I dream of being able to wear the Colombian flag jersey. For me, representing Colombia would be something very beautiful, because of the affection of the people. To win the race on Sunday and represent them would be something very great.”