Sunday, December 21, 2014

the last book I ever read (Half Man, Half Bike: The Life of Eddy Merckx, Cycling's Greatest Champion, excerpt nine)

from Half Man, Half Bike: The Life of Eddy Merckx, Cycling's Greatest Champion by William Fotheringham:

‘Merckx and I were the same age, twenty-four,’ wrote Ocaña, ‘but he had had a happy childhood and adolescence, not market at all by the same privations that I had suffered, and life continued to smile on him’ Ocaña was from the village of Viejo in Castile, where his father worked in a textile mill carding wool, but the family had trouble scratching a living in the years after the Spanish civil war. ‘Meat was a luxury, so too our sweets at Christmas,’ wrote Ocaña. They moved several times as his father sought work, ending up in the Landes of southwest France, close to the town of Mont-de-Marsan. There he began racing only at the age of sixteen, because his family could not afford a bike for him (he ‘borrowed’ his first one, without asking the owner). By 1968, after his father’s premature death, he was supporting his wife and child and his mother and four siblings. He was a near neighbor of the legendary rugby player Guy Boniface, to whom he was related by marriage. Ocaña was as much French as Spanish, and might well have had a French professional licence had he not been offered a contract with the Fagor team in 1967. These were all connections that endeared him to the French public and press.

Ocaña could climb almost as well as his fellow Spaniard José Manuel Fuente, the supreme mountain specialist of the early 1970s, but he had more all-round talent. He was a stylish cyclist when in perfect health—which was not as often as it should have been—a supreme time triallist on his day, twice a winner of the Grand Prix des Nations, the longest and toughest time trial on the calendar. He was more talented than the best cyclist Spain had produced until then, Federico Bahamontes. ‘The Eagle of Toledo’ had set the mercurial standard for Spanish cyclists with a series of spectacular mountain victories and dramatic—occasionally petulant—abandons during the 1950s and early 1960s. Both Fuente and Ocaña burned brightly but briefly. Their careers lasted seven and ten years respectively, their retirements were premature and their deaths tragically early, Fuente at fifty from kidney disease, Ocaña taking his own life at forty-nine.

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