Tue, Aug 14, 2007 - Page 18 News List

Botero returns to claim Tour of Colombia victory

AP , BOGOTA

Santiago Botero returned from the doping charges that sidelined him from European competition last year to win the Tour of Colombia on Sunday.

The 34-year-old Botero won the 15-stage race across the Andean nation by 4 minutes, 45 seconds over Hernan Buenahora.

The 2002 individual time trial world champion was competing in the South American race for only the second time. He was dropped by the Phonak team last year for his involvement in a doping investigation that implicated 56 cyclists.

Although Botero was cleared by Colombia's cycling federation in November, he missed this year's Tour de France to focus on rebuilding his cycling career at home.

"It was the one crown missing from my resume and the focus of my training all year," said Botero, who won Sunday's 35km time trial through downtown Bogota by 1:31 over Israel Ochoa.

Last month, Botero won gold in the road race at the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Reaching altitudes beyond anything found in Europe's premier races, the Tour of Colombia is a dramatic test of stamina.

The toughest stage includes a 3,315m pass in which riders setting off in a tropical valley must grind their way 21km up to the oxygen-starved Andean plateau before embarking on a winding descent back into the jungle.

With a first-place prize of barely US$10,000, the race has been all but shunned by the sport's top European and US riders.

Instead, it's become a showcase for the unique brand of hardened riders known in Colombia as Los Escarabajos -- The Beetles -- for the determination with which they haul themselves up mountains.

Riding for the local UNE-Orbitel team, Botero was virtually unstoppable at this year's Tour, racking up three stage wins and holding on to the yellow jersey for all but three of the 2,261km race's 15 stages.

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