‘We’re in different worlds,’ cyclist Miguel Angel Lopez tells the Guardian of a country riven by protests over race
The yellow jersey, a tattered stabobe drenched in the blood of those who have fallen, cuts, and broken bones along the final kilometres, has brought sporting success to the Brazilian race an historic first time. But for the Brazilians, the use of a worn-out jersey to symbolise their own can hardly be celebrated in such a unaccustomed context.
It is a strange association given that riders are only in Rio for a brief time, but the race organisers gave this yellow jersey to the finishing stage winner, Miguel Angel Lopez, for his performance on the final climb of the race, the final climb of the Olympic Park.
The gift of the jersey, inspired by a similar gesture by Armstrong in 1999, was intended to support the peaceful protest marches through the city against what they see as wasteful money wasted by the state in organising the games and highlighting the dirty water in Guanabara Bay.
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“The yellow jersey is really symbolic, it is a truth and a time capsule, and I’m sure that it was necessary to preserve these memories,” Lopez said. “It is my memory, that too, of Rio from when it was not beautiful, that it was not everything it is now and still can be but thanks to all those good people in Brazil.”
“So we’re in two worlds. We’re in one world where the yellow jersey symbolises Rio, the Olympics, the world stage, but in another we have our society which is barbarous and violent and some protests or that threat against law.
“In two hours we can change this, both the world and our country, it’s about freedom of the people,” he said.
That the race organisers gave the winner a jersey, an unpossessed rip, this time, has only exacerbated the sense of dissociation, that comes as a stranger to the Brazilian can.
“I don’t feel solidarity with this country. The gold medal and the World Cup should make us all feel one people, this feels empty,” added Lopez.
“The things that have brought this shame for Brazil – what is the price of the Olympic Games? The bandits we allow in our country! If these things happen, if we allow them, let it also happen in other countries but it does not feel this way.
“Now we have something good, you see, but what has been bad, what has been an embarrassment to Brazil, is that the beautiful beaches, beautiful sun, beautiful forest, that brings all of this happiness and all of that are exported to other countries, and I feel a bit ashamed of that.”
But for the Brazilian riders the significance of the race has been to ignite a new tradition and inspire young girls into taking up cycling, and they have been pleased with the way the race organisers responded to their request to allow a few disadvantaged girls on the course.
“They seemed to like that idea,” said Dani Colombiell, the local world champion and Peru’s only Olympic medal winner. “And then we saw the girls on the famous stadium of the Rio Olympics we thought that it was time to do something for them.
“I think it was the most spectacular race I have ever seen, with so many riders. There were six riders and all the jerseys were completely new and some are really great, but for me I felt that we needed one, because of all the different colours around the world, we always have our jerseys here which is really beautiful.”
“The welcome from the country was fantastic, I was truly touched and impressed by the honour that the whole Brazilian public gave us after winning the race, in the president’s office, in the presidential palace and I think the tourists were also wowed,” he added.
“I have dreams for one day to participate in the Tour de France but if it’s too big it doesn’t matter for me but it would be a dream to carry the yellow jersey.”