"...what instantly struck him as a team-mate...was that Ocana had a hugely reckless streak too."
the practice of placing something light against dark, or something quiet against loud is a common artistic ploy, tendentiously referred to as contrast, but more joyously framed by the italians as chiarascuro. either way it allows the accentuating of one against the other, frequently leaving the listener or viewer to make up their mind as to which is the more dominant factor. there have been similar moves afoot in the world of cycling, but very rarely have these been deliberate, relying more upon accidents of birth or confluence of the planets.
modern times bring to mind that of wiggins and froome, perhaps not in direct contrast with each other, but most certainly by implication. arguably the most famous of these accidental yet surprisingly common pairings are that of coppi and bartali, anquetil and the eternal second, raymond poulidor or maybe even hinault and lemond. it would be tantamount to arrogance to contest that one would hardly have been as successful or famed were it not for their anti-matter. coppi is as likely to have brought fame, fortune and disrepute upon himself were bartali to have been off fishing when the giro came to town, but that was via a different set of circumstances. as it was, application of their respective metiers surely brought out the best in both. as to anquetil and poulidor, the latter may not consider the former to have been the promoter of his finest hour(s)
almost without doubt, the greatest cyclist of all time, based purely on results alone is eddy merckx. and though he demolished all in his path, allegedly achieving a career total of 525 victories on the bike, his most famed challenger throughout the 1960s and 70s is surely personified by spaniard, luis ocana.
though merckx gained the reputation of being somewhat cold and calculating, ocana's character by contrast, is encapsulated in the title of alasdair fotheringham's superb biography, reckless. while the title may be perfectly apt in one sense, its synonym (wreckless) is also a decidedly appropriate moniker. aside from his fascination with fast cars, driving them in a manner that rarely gained favour with his passengers, he is perhaps most infamously renowned for the double-whammy of a crash in the 1971 tour de france while in the lead. crashing on the descent of the col de mente, he was hit first by agostinho then zoetemelk, and though no bones were broken, he was in too much pain to continue.
though many riders would contest that there is no such thing as luck in bicycle racing, merckx, who had fallen ahead of ocana, taking him down in the process, was able to remount and carry-on, missed by both those following riders who rendered ocana inert. the latter's career, at least on a superficial basis seemed at times to be the very definition of bad luck.
alasdair fotheringham shares many traits with his brother william when it comes to exhaustive research, and a praiseworthy ability to place each twist and turn in context. he has not only carefully traced each and every facet of ocana's life and career, from its rudimentary, rural, agrarian and poor beginnings, to his ascent through spanish cycling, and a tactical career move to france to the point where he became a credible if intransigent ying to eddy merckx's yang. despite a convincing win in the 1973 tour de france, the fact that merckx was not there (having opted for the giro and vuelta that year), debate continues to the present day as to whether he would still have worn yellow into paris had eddy taken part.
ocana's unpredictability both on and off the bike certainly makes for a fascinating and at times inspiring story, one which fotheringham is more than well qualified to relate. describing ocana's move into team directorship in later life, and making use of an interview with radioshack's dirk demol, the latter was keen to point out "What I can remember about him was that he wasn't particularly effective. That's often the case with big champions, they can't understand why bike riders aren't as good as they were and often get too easily annoyed with them." it is of great testament to alasdair's narrative skills that the researched minutiae of the spaniard's career never seems likely to overwhelm an exciting journey that sadly did not result in happy ever after.
after my recent comments regarding what i see as the commercialisation of the tour de france at the very least, it has, i believe, become ever more important to understand and learn from the sport's incredible past. in the days of the much bandied marginal gains, 'reckless is a salient reminder that it was not ever so; that swashbuckling was not invented by marco pantani.
ask anyone not of the faith to name a single cyclist and wiggins is likely to be at the top of the list. merckx is also likely to feature amongst the older generation, but dig a little deeper amongst the pelotonese, and coppi, anquetil or even bartali will receive the odd mention. i confess i'd have been unlikely to bring ocana into the conversation.
that would have been my great loss.
wednesday 28 may 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................