Less than a year ago, people wondered who Tatiana Calderon would be in her final season with the Discovery Tour de France, especially in light of her collapsing near the end of her first Tour of Spain. Some suggested she might give up cycling, not wanting to risk an accident or another long layoff in her bid to defend her world championship (she won the 2011 world title by one second in Obergurgl, Switzerland).
Then her coach, Yael Conlan of the Santa Fe Academy’s at White River, Colo., made the team choices and decided Calderon would stay on. “She was the most motivated, the most driven. She didn’t even ask me what she could do,” Conlan says.
On Wednesday, Calderon became the first female rider to win a stage of the Tour de France — she got her 25th career tour stage win in Stage 3 on Wednesday (she also won a stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico), four months after holding on to beat an 11-rider group in the USA Pro Challenge to cross the finish line first.
The fact that Calderon used her last few months on the world’s greatest stage race to prove doubters wrong is fitting, considering that she won this race by tucking her bike into the truck hitch at an age when most racers won’t even be living in their parents’ basement before their third year. Calderon, 31, was a teenager when the Maòna vita program she attended in Texas started, where each kid stays with a host family who coaches the girls on their cycling and track and field training. Not only did the program start in 1991 with four girls and a teacher, it turned out to be so successful that they started a program just for boys, a junior girls’ team and, by 1991, the boys had become the regulars at the cycling circuits.
“They are programmed to succeed,” says David Ogden, who started the program when he was 12 and stayed involved through high school and college. Ogden says he now feels bad that he was able to help four different cyclists win the world championship in a year in which only one won (but added that Calderon’s win is certainly a big reason). “We’ve always been committed to developing the next generation of world-class cyclists,” he says.
Yet even the coleslaw-eating cowboy one ran into at Santa Fe Academy was stunned by Calderon’s accomplishment. “It’s a great thing. She’s young and has a lot of upside,” says Conlan, who, incidentally, heard about the TV rating and Facebook response when Calderon was also named ESPN’s WMT of the Year in April. “I couldn’t believe how many people were interested in it.”
At least it won’t matter how many road-races her competitors lap around the track in Hopkinton. She’s ready.