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When you think of a country with a competitive cycling culture, Mexico is probably one of the last names to come to mind. There are many reasons for this: politics, corruption and endemic violence, to name just a few.

The A.R. Monex Women’s Pro Cycling Team, the new acting title for what had been the Astana women’s team, is part of an ambitious new project trying to change Mexico’s cycling culture.

It was originally founded in 2014 as the A.R Efideporte mountain bike team by the brothers Luis and Alejandro Rodriguez who took over the Astana women’s team last year after its Kazakhstani funding had ended. The brothers have launched three new teams for 2021: a men’s U23 road team, a men’s mountain bike team, and a junior development team.

But it hasn’t been smooth sailing. Last fall, the junior road team was sent to Colombia to race the Vuelta Antioquia and Clasicá RCN among other races. However, documentation from the Mexican Cycling Federation was missing and, according to Luis Rodriguez, the Federation would not provide it.

“The main plan for our juniors was to launch a registered team in 2022, but our sponsors wanted to launch in 2021 instead,” Rodriguez told Cyclingnews. “So we gathered a few riders to send to Colombia to race. Because we didn’t have the team registered, the Mexican Federation found out about it, called the Colombian Federation and wouldn’t let us race. The Colombians were really nice but didn’t want any political problems with our federation, so we were forced to return home. We lost a lot of money, so thanks to that we decided we want nothing to do anymore in Mexico.”

Tour of Colombia
The team was supposed to participate in the Vuelta Antioquia race in Colombia. © Profimedia

The Mexican Cycling Federation disputed the charges, saying that no request for the team’s Colombian participation had ever been filed and stated that, “The Rodriguez Family, directors of this company, have hurt cycling.”

Whatever the truth, the brothers decided to close the team’s training base in the town of Vallee de Bravo near Mexico City and set up a new base in the tiny Republic of San Marino. That is how the brothers connected with Mauricio Fabretto of Astana who was looking for a new title sponsor for his women’s team in Italy. The project grew and the brothers announced recently they had secured the UCI Continental license, registering the women’s team in Italy with Fabretto, and the U23 men’s road team and mountain bike team in San Marino.

In 2019 and 2020, A.R. Monex Pro Cycling were awarded one million dollars of government funding through the Mexican tax administration, EFIDEPORTE, and the team secured other Mexican sponsors including the Monex financial group. Within a year, the team had earned Mexico’s first mountain bike World Cup win in Nové Město na Moravě, the Czech Republic, through the rider Gerardo Ulloa.

A.R. Monex must apply for the funds every year and the money must go to Mexican athletes only. “Even though we are registered in San Marino, it’s a Mexican team,” said Luis Rodriguez.

According to UCI rules for Continental teams, 51 per cent of the riders must be from the country where it is registered. A.R. Monex wanted to register in Italy but that would have meant having many more Italians on the team, which would have been prohibitively expensive. But if the registered country doesn’t have enough riders, the team is allowed to bring riders in from other countries.

“So we signed a contract with the Cycling Federation of San Marino and registered there,” Rodriguez explained. As a result, Mexican cycling now has its first-ever European-based program. The mountain bike team consists of seven Mexican riders. Three Mexican riders are currently signed to the women’s team with the possibility of two more added later in the season. The U23 team includes eight Mexican riders with one rider, Federico Olei, from San Marino.

The team has not yet released its race calendar but its aim is to earn an invitation to the Baby Giro in June. ¡Buena suerte!