There haven’t been a lot of opportunities for Esteban Chaves to throw his hands up in victory in recent seasons but he has started 2023 with a win he’ll carry a reminder of through the whole year, as on Sunday the 33-year old claimed the jersey of the Colombian national road champion.
The EF Education-EasyPost rider will swap his distinctive pink kit for the tricolour of the National Championships road race victor after attacking in the final eight kilometres to come over the line in Bucaramanga to the cheers of an appreciative crowd thickly lining the barriers at the finish of the 237 kilometre race.
“Wearing the national colors for a year is something I will never forget,” Chaves said after rolling across the line solo with a beaming smile. “Winning here in Bucaramanga was spectacular, the people were crazy. I think today was the day most people shouted my name that I saw, that gave me that warmth that made me push until the very end.”
Chaves came over the line 32 seconds ahead of Daniel Martínez (Ineos Grenadiers) and Nairo Quintana while EF Education-EasyPost teammate Diego Camargo, who played a support role for Chaves, came ninth. “The team was incredible,” said Chaves. “This is a dream.”
The victory is his first since joining EF Education-EasyPost at the start of 2022 after spending eight seasons with the Australian GreenEdge outfit, now known as Jayco-AlUla. It was there that he launched his WorldTour career, coming back from a horrific accident while racing in Italy when he was 22 which required complex surgery.
“There are many people who made this possible: my family, my wife. Today somebody special came too, Dr. Sandoval, who, without his help, this wouldn’t have been possible. He saved my career,” said Chaves, referring to the surgery he had after that crash in 2013.
Through his career Chaves has had his ups and downs, with victory at Il Lombardia, and podium places on the overall of both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España in 2016, plus five stage wins across the two Grand Tours from 2015 to 2019. However after being diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus and chronic sinusitis in 2018, the four seasons running up to 2023 have been relatively lean ones with just two victories.
When EF Education-EasyPost signed him for 2022 the team said it felt that with his health issues now behind him Chaves would turn his consistency into wins. He started out by coming close with second at the 2022 Colombia National Championships time trial and third in the road race – and also came second at the Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge in June – but has now begun his second year at the squad with that much sought after victory.
“Even an old, crusty, grumpy, and jaded guy like me can’t help but get a little choked up by this one,” EF Education-EasyPost CEO Jonathan Vaughters said in a post on Twitter.
It’s a start to 2023 that bodes well for Chaves and his team as it clocks up yet another early season victory after a 2022 of having to prioritise chasing points instead to maintain its WorldTour position. However, while Chaves may be able to revel in the ideal start to his 2023 campaign given one big goal has been achieved, there are many more to come.
“This is a day to enjoy and now we have to continue working, keep our feet on the ground,” said Chaves. “The season has just started and now we have to start from zero.”