Talent and sacrifice, the cornerstones of Arlenis Sierra
BY RAÚL ALEJANDRO DEL PINO SALFRÁN, PHOTOS: JOSÉ (TITO) MERIÑO
Arlenis Sierra entered the collective memory of Cuban sports in one fell swoop and through the big door. A few weeks shy of her 19th birthday, her name was engraved forever in the relentless Caribbean passion when she starred in one of the feats of the Guadalajara Pan American Games.
On October 22, 2011, the introverted girl from the eastern province of Granma could not believe what she had done and her face, a mixture of astonishment and tears, reflected that to the TV cameras.
She had just won an unexpected gold By Raúl Alejandro del Pino Salfrán Photos: José (Tito) Meriño medal in road cycling, to take a historic podium, exclusively for Cuba, together with her compatriots Yumari González and Yudelmis Domínguez.
Almost a decade has passed since that moment which marked a before and after for her life. Today another Arlenis rides the most demanding roads of the world and Cuban cycling sees her name as the highest reference and main hope for the future.
Perhaps a few lines are enough to write about it, but the road was much longer and tortuous. Through sheer strength and talent, Sierra entered a world that was practically unknown to her until she became a figurehead of the Italian team A. R. Monex, one of the organizers of the Women’s World Tour of the International Cycling Union (UCI).
More than four years of experience with that formation, formerly called Astana, allowed her to grow and mature in a panorama that not only requires skills on a bicycle to succeed, but also a lot of sacrifice.
In an interview for the renowned Procycling magazine, Sierra recalled that 2016 was the pivotal year that changed everything. In the summer she attended a development base at the UCI World Centre in Switzerland, which gave her a “new approach” to cycling. Her work there soon enabled her to win two stages and the general classification of the Tour de Bretagne (France), and a few weeks later to finish 28th in the difficult road race at the Rio Olympics.
It didn’t take long for professional teams to start knocking on the door of the Cuban Cycling Federation. Finally, the Cuban signed with the then Astana, since the other interested parties were U.S. teams for which she could not sign.
The first months were very hard, according to Arlenis herself. However, starting from scratch and with her raw talent as a launching pad, the trust placed in her began to be repaid with results.
2017 would be a prolific year, with a debut in the Giro d’Italia, one of the three major competitions in the world, in addition to her first individual wins. Victories in the Tour of Guangxi in China and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Australian classic would follow, putting her on the map. She also added stages in the Tour of California.
Arlenis’ career had taken off and never stopped, and her name began to climb the world rankings. However, her dreams go beyond success at the club level. The also Pan American champion of road cycling in Lima 2019 longs to celebrate a world title for her country, as did other Cubans such as Yoanka González, Yumari González and Lisandra Guerra with track cycling.
Her incursion into roads has prevented her from devoting all the effort she would like to that specialty, although she neither forgets nor discards it. Her present is more than promising just as she approaches her 30th birthday, and there is no goal that seems impossible if she sets her mind to it.
Arlenis Sierra, the same innocent and detached woman who touched her first bicycle in her native Manzanillo when she was 12 years old, stands today at the forefront of Cuban women’s sports in the third decade of the 21st century. Rubbing shoulders with the best in the world has not changed her one bit and her example inspires new generations who want to make their way in the new and complex landscape of world athletics.