The Colombian neo-pro looks back at his childhood, his first years in the sport, joining Quick-Step Floors and the story of his ancestors, straight out of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel.
Colombia, our farm and horses
My name is Álvaro José Hodeg Chagüi. I grew up in Monteria, where also my father was born, a city located in the northern part of Colombia near the coast and a few hours' drive south-west of the bigger coastline cities of Cartagena and Barranquilla.
My father used to be a cattle farmer, breeding and selling cattle from our farm at the country side, where I created many beautiful memories, the best probably from the time I spent with my horses, the first big love of my life whom I went to competition with all the way to Medellin.
Everything was about sports
Before cycling I did all kinds of sport, I couldn't pick just one thing, I liked them all too much and was quite good too. I was playing table tennis, volleyball, tennis and football, and was named sportsman of the year twice at my school.
I couldn't sit still for many minutes at a time but my mom made sure I didn't neglect the books by setting up certain rules. For every 20 minutes of focused homework I was allowed to do four minutes of sport, which was just enough time to play a quick match of ping pong against my cousins in the garage.
My godfather introduced me to cycling, taking me to see a team time trial in Monteria. As far as I remember, they did around 36 km/h average on a 20km circuit, six riders changing pulls, and they were absolutely the best, smashing the second-placed team by several minutes. Looking back at it now, it makes me laugh because I was so stoked, it was an unbelievable performance to be able to ride that fast.
Immediately after, I went home to my father to tell him I wanted a road race bike. "You are too spoiled and the bike will just collect dust in a few months", he argued, but there was no doubt: this was my new passion, and after a few weeks of persistent persuasion we finally went out to get by my first road racer, a beautiful orange Specialized bike, which I had for four years!
At that time, I knew nothing about bikes or what Specialized was, but it was a special one, on which I quickly learned how to do a wheelie with only one hand on the handlebar, practicing for hours and hours even before I started competing in road races.
From Monteria over Medellin to Europe: Following a passion and meeting Tom Boonen
After two months in Monteria, I started winning the races in my local area but I never thought I could turn pro, I just liked the competition. Even when I decided to pack my stuff and move to Medellin alone at a quite young age to get better surroundings for riding my bike, I did it for the love and passion of cycling alone.
I started to train in the afternoon on the track, where I learned how to ride a track bike and quickly developed a powerful speed, which helped me to win a medal at the Pan-American Championship and several national championships.
At the World Championship in Richmond, I got my first breakthrough on the road bike, when I was asked to fill in for Fernando Gaviria, who was forced out in the very last moment due to an injury, and in 2016 I met the Quick-Step Floors team for the first time when I was invited for the winter training camp in Denia.
At that camp, I had one of the best experiences in my life, meeting Tom Boonen, my biggest idol, when he gave me some of his warm clothes during a very cold training. I didn't have proper European winter outfit and he noticed when everybody stopped to add on extra layers. After the training, when I wanted to wash the clothes and give it back, he said it was a gift as memory of my first camp and then he gave me a hug. I will never forget that, I was crying! Today, I always travel around with the gloves he gave me that day.
Part of Quick-Step Floors Cycling Team, part of #TheWolfpack
Unfortunately, I never got the chance to race with Boonen, but I am part of the team he created history with for 15 years. I am racing with and for the greatest team in the world with the best, most heroic teammates you can imagine. I have pinched myself in the arm many times to make sure it's real.
Since I announced my contract with the team last year, from the day after where I won a stage at Tour de l'Avenir until today, racing my first races for the team, everything has been one big adventure with many beautiful stops; one of the best moments was rolling out with #TheWolfpack in my home country Colombia for the first edition of Oro y Paz. I have never seen something like that before and I will be the first in the line to sign up for the next edition to experience those crazy crowds again.
The secret story
I promised to tell you a small secret. The secret is related to my name: H-O-D-G-E. Yes, you read it correct. About four years ago, I realized my name had been changed. Not my first name, Álvaro, but my surname, Hodge. Somehow and suddenly my identity papers said Hodeg and not Hodge, like it used to and like my family name is spelled.
I never got to do anything about it, so now everybody knows me as Hodeg, even my website is called Alvarohodeg.com, but the correct spelling and pronunciation is actually Hodge – which to be fair, nobody in Colombia really understood how to pronounce. I inherited it from my great-grandfather, who was Scottish but left his country during the war with the hope of finding a place to settle down with better life opportunities. He came by boat, believing he was in the United States, but in fact he had arrived in Cartagena, Colombia. I am glad he did!
Now you know me a little better and I cannot wait to see you on the road, cheering for our great Quick-Step Floors Cycling Team!
Thanks again for all the support!
Photo: ©Tim De Waele/ Getty Images