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Spotlight on Paraguay

Agua Marina Espinola
Agua Marina Espinola

No cyclist from Paraguay has ever completed the road race at the UCI Road World Championships.

Agua Marina Espinola means to change that. Currently training at the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC) in Aigle, Switzerland, she is 100% focused on her preparation for the Worlds in Bergen (Norway) in September.

Seven years ago, she didn’t even realise that cycling was a competitive sport.

“I saw some people cycling and it got me interested. I asked them how I could start, they lent me a bike and two months later I did my first race.”

The 14-year-old was one of only two females in an otherwise all-male peloton. She finished the 70km route second-to-last: “It was very long and I really suffered but I enjoyed it!”

It was not long before the young athlete realised that this would be her sport, although she would never have dreamed of competing one day at the UCI World Championships.

Looking to write history for her country

“I am very excited and a little bit scared,” says the 21-year-old, who in many ways is paving the way for women cyclists in her country. She is the first Paraguayan athlete to train at the UCI WCC, hopes to become the first to finish a UCI Road World Championships and, why not, be the first cyclist from her country to compete in an Olympic Games.

“I think everything is possible,” says the young woman who tattooed “Born to ride” on her wrist after successfully completing the 2015 Tour de San Luis féminin in Argentina. “Everyone said I wouldn’t finish, but I did!”

It hasn’t been an easy road trying to make headway in a country with few women cyclists.

It’s very hard to get to a good level. You have to race with men and sometimes they don’t want you to race with them.

She adds: "So you need to go to Argentina or Brazil to race and that can be expensive.”

Her invitation to train in Aigle came after she was detected by coaches during a training camp at the WCC Satellite centre in Mar del Plata (Argentina). She has been here since March and is adding to her experience every day by training under the watchful eye of the centre’s professional coaches and racing in Europe.

“I am really happy to be here. I can improve my level and learn how to race: technique, tactics, descents, corners…. I’m getting better, I know I am improving.

“I miss home but this is what I want to do. The level in Paraguay is getting better each year and I want to show people at home that it is possible to come from Paraguay and succeed.”

Revelling in her Swiss training ground

Her progress is closely followed by the Federación Paraguaya de Ciclismo, which works hard to develop cycling not only at high-performance level but also across the entire population. Special emphasis is being put on developing the country’s younger riders, with the establishment of cycling acadamies and clubs as well as increasing collaboration with schools.

A fuller racing calendar across all disciplines and age groups, as well as more training courses for coaches and Commissaires are also among the Federation’s priorities.

“We are committed to the training and updating of people in the cycling professions,” says the President of the Federación Paraguaya de Ciclismo Kashi Cesar Garrido Cáceres. “Otherwise it is impossible to develop the sport at a national level.

“Cycling is undergoing a significant boom in Paraguay, particularly with youngsters taking up mountain bike. We can measure the growth of the sport by looking at the number of riders taking out licences: at the end of 2016, 643 riders had licences, whereas 1015 licences have been delivered so far this year.”

He hopes that Agua Marina Espinola’s appearance at this year’s UCI Road World Championships will be a catalyst for other Paraguayan athletes: “Her progress gives us hope that we can achieve a result at an international level that will give us a more prominent place in future events.”

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