The Secret Food Behind Colombia’s Cycling Success | Feed The Flame

The Secret Food Behind Colombia’s Cycling Success | Feed The Flame


This is total cycling
paradise. It’s so cool! Colombia’s known for many
things. The beautiful mountainous
landscape, the warm and welcoming people, the dedicated world-class
athletes and the food. But there are two
native foods in particular that are consumed by athletes,
farmers and people everywhere. Guava is a flavourful and
ubiquitous super fruit, and Colombians created
a natural energy snack around this staple fruit
known as bocadillo. There’s also aguapanela,
or sugar water, which is a cheap drink
that’s consumed every day. The people who rely most
on these two local dishes are Colombian cyclists. Colombian cyclists have
won some of the prestigious races in the sport, including Olympic Games
and world championships. I’m here in my home country
to hear first hand why is it that Colombia
produces some of the most dominant cyclists in the world and how their diets
contribute to their success. Juan Pablo Villegas is one
of the leading members of Manzana Postobon, a professional team that represents Colombia and is considered one of the best in the nation. Juan Pablo is an integral
part of the team’s success and popularity
across the country. He was recruited at
an early age and, according to his coaches, is Colombia’s next
international rising star. Today is his off day
and he’s agreed to talk to me about
what drives his success. – Hello.
– Hello. – How are you?
– Good, and you? My name is Elizabeth,
it’s a pleasure. My pleasure. I’m Juan Pablo. When did you start cycling? I started cycling in 2004. It’s been 12 years
of professional cycling. I grew up doing farmwork
with my family. And since I was very little
I liked cycling. My father used to tell me about the races he
heard on the radio. I think that any of us
who are in cycling want to participate in
the Tour de France once, or a Vuelta a Espana,
or a race like that. Or being at the Olympics. Exactly. It’s the most beautiful thing and what every cyclist
dreams of. I thought that after school I would have to start working, or join my father with
the field work until, in 2004, I was given
the opportunity to start pro cycling. I think nutrition has been one
of the points in my favour, even before I started cycling. I grew up in a traditional
farming family in Colombia, where the way you feed
yourself is very natural. As a sportsman,
I take advantage of what the Colombian farm
has to offer. The same fruits, the same
vegetables I had at home. Bocadillos, and the properties of the
bocadillo, are very favourable for a competition. Bocadillo is the Colombians’
best-kept secret and is consumed like
an energy bar. It’s simply the pulp of a guava
fruit processed with sugar, and it provides cyclists with
tonnes of fuel for their arduous rides. I’m here in Bogota to meet with
nutritionist Adriana Steevens to find out the physiological
benefits to bocadillo. What is it that’s happening
in the cyclist’s body when they eat the bocadillo? When one consumes the guava, which is the base of
the bocadillo, guava is the fruit with
the largest content of vitamins and minerals. Not just vitamin C. This is very important
for these events. Why? Because it enables
a better hydration and a better level of
absorption of iron. I’m going to meet the folks behind one of the largest
bocadillo producers to see just what goes
into the making of it. Today, we’re here at
Don Jose Bocadillo factory and they’re going to be
showing us around. – Hello, welcome.
– Hi, nice to meet you. It’s great to have you here. Here is your garb to enter
the plant. OK, cool, great! Guavas ripen very fast. For human consumption
in supermarkets, a green guava is used. This one ripens in
a matter of a week in the process of ripening. This guava is ready
for human consumption. We can open it. Beautiful! You won’t get it at the market
because it’s too ripe. – Can I take a bite of this?
– Of course! Delicious! Hi, Giovanni, it’s a pleasure. Hi, it’s a pleasure. I would love to learn
more about the process. Tell me what’s going on here.
How do we get the bocadillo? First, we take the guava
to a washing process. We disinfect it. We take the pulp. Cook it one hour. We mix it with the sugar
and the mixing ingredients. So the guava turns
to bocadillo. In a cold room, the guava
rests for about 24 hours to get our required texture. And then we cut the guava. Then we take it to
the operators that package. We want that all the people
in the world taste this excellent, excellent
bar of energy. I love that the exterior
is hard, with the sugar toasted, and as soon as you taste it, it’s very smooth
and it melts in your mouth, it’s very good. Here in Colombia,
we have a cultural pattern, which is the consumption
of the bocadillo. When one is abroad, having one of those products
becomes a major point as a closeness to family, as a closeness to home
and my land. One element of the Colombian
landscape is the mountain ranges, like this one, which is
the central mountain range. It’s something very particular about Colombian cyclists. We grow up
surrounded by mountains and as we pedal through
these mountains, they groom us. So we are part of these
mountains, they have given us strength and the toughness with which
we pedal with today. The Colombian cyclist has
a huge suffering capacity. Talking about hard
circumstances, you mentioned you trained
with the cycling pros like Sergio Henao. Did you see the Olympic race
where Sergio Henao competed? (OLYMPIC GAMES 2016,
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL) Yes, it was a race that was
very hard to miss. So it was a race that had all of us Colombians
very uncertain, because Sergio was very strong
and toward the end, we had a chance at a medal
with Sergio. And it was a tragic end. There’s the crash.
Sergio Henao goes down. But Sergio showed the quality
of Colombian cyclists and it’s clear to the world
he was a great candidate to win a medal in the race. Juan Pablo is one of
the many talented cyclists who happen to have grown up
in a small farming town. I met with famed bicycle
frame-maker Agustin Hincapie, known simply as Tinno. Tinno rose to prominence for his meticulous,
hand-crafted steel frames, and he’s worked with many
Olympic-level cyclists who, like Juan Pablo,
have a farming background. I always like to go back to
the beginnings of a cyclist, their first steps, when they’re
trying to get into a team. These are farm boys. They come from little towns. They see the possibility
of a better future as cyclists. Now, Colombian cyclists
are naturally good because they’re born
in high elevations. And that gives them
a high haemoglobin count. And they grew up working
the fields. They worked very hard. So they have a strong build. Think about it, they wake up
at 4am to milk the cows, they harvest the potatoes,
you know, they have to take care
of the farms. They do all of that before
their training sessions and what do they eat? An aguapanela. Aguapanela is an infusion of unrefined whole cane sugar
and water. It can be served hot or chilled and because it’s so cheap
and simple to make, it’s a staple Colombian drink. I travelled to
the Boyaca region to meet three young,
promising cyclists – the Castillo brothers
of the Wian Academy. The Wian Academy is one of the many cycling academies
in Colombia which focus on training
young cyclists to compete at
the professional level. These programmes teach
cyclists from an early age that hard work, discipline
and nutritious diets are fundamental elements
to succeed. I mean, you couldn’t fix it,
but Grandma could. “The boss” is always in charge. Hello, nice to meet you. Your grandsons are fantastic. Thanks. We’re going to be
making aguapanela with three different
types of herbs. We have lemon grass,
it’s like a mint-spearmint, and… ..chamomile. In the mid-1980s, European
cyclists reported to the press that there was a questionable
substance Colombian cyclists were consuming, giving them
an unfair advantage. These allegations were dropped once they confirmed that
the substance was instead Colombia’s national drink,
aguapanela. Oh, wow. Oh, it’s so good! How often do you drink
aguapanela? – Every day!
– Every day?! This fills the soul. It reminds me of having
aguapanela with my grandma. Something that has always been at the forefront of
national sports in Colombia is the aguapanela. It’s a home-made drink, but it
has all the isotonic properties that a high-functioning
athlete requires. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from
the hardest races? To compete against the best
riders, to learn from them. And that’s when you test your
limits and your strength. Yes, to ride for any of
those teams would be a dream come true. Every young cyclist dreams
of making it to one of Colombia’s
professional teams like the Manzana Postobon team. One of the tools that makes
this dream so tangible is this velodrome. The fact that youth, amateurs
and professional cyclists can all train here
on the same track is pretty phenomenal. – Good morning!
– Good morning, Elizabeth! – How is your morning?
– Very good! The velodrome is a great tool
we have here in Medellin. The most important thing is to have a continuous
pedalling frequency. Here, we can get to that
endurance and maintain a rhythm. How fast are you going? When we go as a group, around 50kmph, on average. Cyclists like Fernando Gaviria
have trained here, Rigoberto Uran… They were trained on all
the technical aspects here. We’re a team of
the new generation. We try to teach the cyclists
growing with us, this is why we pick up
young athletes. We teach that proper training, a technologically backed
training, and a good diet are conducive to achieving the
high performance we’re after. The newest nutrition trends are all about making
smart choices, but they still eat some
traditional foods and desserts, you know? Really works, because they
bring us closer to home. We feel right at home and we’re not competing
in other countries if we feel that closeness. So this is something
that becomes a great ally – “I imagine getting closer
to my homeland, “so I feel more obligated
to defend my own.” Upon arriving in Colombia, I could tell the cyclists here
are some of the most disciplined and skilled
athletes out there. Colombians don’t stop in
the face of the impossible. By embracing its cultural ties
to bicycles, the natural landscape and an innate tenacity, Colombian cyclists continue
to push through and win. Our cyclists have become
what they are through blood, sweat and tears. Through… Through their own will
to succeed. What moves Colombian cyclists is the hunger to win. The natural-energy foods
these cyclists are known for are deceivingly simple. Guava jelly
and spice sugar water. But these foods are a reminder
of home, family and persistence. They give Colombian athletes the power to overcome
their weakest moments, and place them among
the best in the world.