Colombian writer and former drug trafficker pens second biography about champion cyclist

Andrés López — who began writing while imprisoned — is putting the finishing touches on a book about Colombia’s Nairo Quintana. He previously wrote a book about another countryman, Rigo Urán, who won a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics for the road race, one of the main cycling events

Carlos Arribas
Tour Colombia 2024
Nairo Quintana, during Wednesday's stage.Maximiliano Blanco (Getty Images)

Tour Colombia — a multi-day professional cycling race — is being held after a four-year-long hiatus. And everything seems different this time around.

Climate change has arrived with force, accelerated by wildfires, altering textbooks, history and clothing. In the Colombian city of Tunja, there are modern skyscrapers, universities and private bilingual schools, equipped with magnificent computer labs. But in the wider, heavily Indigenous region of Boyacá — whose capital is Tunja — it feels like a different world. It’s as if the great Colombian cyclists of the past never existed.

German geographer Alexander von Humboldt was once highly impressed by the range of climate of Colombia. The average daily temperature in Tunja — located in the Colombian Andes — is typically defined by the altitude. The Tour Colombia reaches the chilly highlands of Boyacá, which are more than 9,000 feet from the tropical heat of Cartagena, which lies at sea level. The last stage of the tour will be in Bogotá, a slight descent from Tunja.

In the world of professional cycling, Colombia continues to be a territory of calm amidst the chaos. Although, of course, cultural change has affected the soul, history and roots of bicycling and the Tour Colombia. From 2020 until 2024 — when there was no race — everything changed. The old glory stories stopped being told; previous victors passed away.

Today — in the third decade of the 21st century — the stories of cycling are to be written by Andrés López López, a novelist who once cooked cocaine at the age of 15. A former drug trafficker and a mid-level member of the Norte del Valle Cartel, he turned himself in to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in 2001. Incarcerated for several years, he received a reduced sentence for good behavior and collaboration. In his downtime in prison, he discovered a new talent: writing. He wrote The Snitch Cartel (2008), a story based on his adventures. He became successful when his book was adapted into the Colombian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 85th Academy Awards.

“I was one of many drug traffickers who found that the best solution was surrender,” López said, in an interview in Cambio magazine, talking about the success of a soap opera based on his work. Later, he became a cyclist and triathlete, met Colombian champion Rigo Urán in Miami — where he now lives — and wrote his life story. From the book — published in January 2021 — a soap opera about Rigo was born, with daily episodes released to an eager public.

And now, López is correcting the proofs of a second biography, about another fellow countryman who is a top cyclist: Nairo Quintana.

In an Instagram post in November 2021 — when he went to Miami to speak to the author — Nairo announced that López would take charge of his biography. “Here I am with my partner, Andrés, the [champ], the best writer in our country at the moment,” Nairo smiles in the reel. He appears on a bicycle, hugging the author. “Well, we’re writing the first story about my life, the story told by me. This man is the one who will be putting my words on paper. Very soon, we’ll release the book so that you can read it.”

The writer then asks: “Do you enjoy Miami, Nairo?” The cyclist responds emphatically: “I loved Miami. I’m going to move here. No joke.”

He did indeed move there. The climate of Miami makes him feel different. He wants to continue building his career and character in Florida. “Nairo is a totally different character from Rigo,” opines Luisa Fernanda Ríos, Nairo’s agent, who expects the book to hit shelves in July of this year. She’s already in talks with Netflix and Amazon for a possible series based on it. “He’s also had a very interesting life,” she adds.

Rigo Urán is from Antioquia, the region that’s home to Medellín. He moved to the big city at the age of 16. He’s pure instinct: urban and modern, with traces of violence and poverty in his past. Nairo, on the other hand, is a more easygoing country boy. He’s from Boyacá, after all. The vulgar talk and hard partying of the paisas are sins in the cold highlands.

Nairo — who never experiences vertigo, thanks to his lifelong experience in the Andes — is on his way to the fifth stage of the Tour Colombia. The final day — stage six — will be on Sunday, February 11. While his way of speaking is old-fashioned, using more classic Spanish vocabulary, his career has pushed him into the 21st century.

His return to the Tour Colombia after nearly half-a-decade hasn’t been very fruitful. He’s been at the tail end of everyone as he pedals up the inhospitable ascents that surround Tunja. Still, fans clap for him; some lend him their iPhones so he can take selfies with them. He has made the day of those who came to absorb the competition and get their fill of cyclist stories.

Despite the fact that it’s Nairo’s terrain, he cannot keep up with Rigo, who placed third in stage three of the Tour Colombia. The man from Medellín left him in the dust, despite his Boyacá and Miami experience. But the winner of the stage was Alejandor Osorio, nicknamed “The Pony,” with his long bangs. He always wins in Tunja. In fact, just 10 days ago, he won the Colombian National Road Race Championships. The man who placed second there — Rodrigo Contreras — is the new leader of the Colombia Tour, which ends on Sunday.

Alejandor Osorio enters Tunja, victorious.
Alejandor Osorio enters Tunja, victorious. Iraia Calvo

The Colombian fans cheer regardless. Their team has defeated many of the competitors who have come from around the world. And Osorio — fired from Bahrain in 2020, due to the pandemic — and Contreras are two returnees from the Middle Eastern and European circuits. They now wear the national colors — blue, red and white — putting on the tight-fighting shirts with pride.

“Does it look good on me?” the Pony asks, confidently pushing his bangs out of his face.

His gestures are those of a man who has recovered his self-esteem, which was so badly damaged when Team Bahrain Victorious fired him over insignificant matters.

“They destroyed my career,” he shrugs, without a hint of anger. Back in Colombia, he feels that his talent is flourishing again.

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