Tributes paid to Tondo, cycling loses true enthusiast
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Monday, May 23, 2011

Tributes paid to Tondo, cycling loses true enthusiast

by Shane Stokes at 5:46 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
 
Spanish pro had huge passion for the sport

Xavier TondoTwo weeks after the death of Wouter Weylandt (Leopard Trek) in the Giro d’Italia, the sport finds itself coming to terms with today’s tragic news that Team Movistar rider Xavier Tondo has been killed in a freak accident.

The likeable Spaniard was staying at a ski resort in southern Spain and was about to go training with team-mate Benat Intxausti. They were in Tondo’s car and leaving the resort when the rider exited the vehicle and became trapped between it and the garage door.

The 32 year old was well liked in the sport, and a large number of professional riders have paid tribute to him today. Current Giro d’Italia leader Alberto Contador expressed his condolences in a statement earlier today, and his Saxo Bank SunGard team cancelled today’s press conference as a mark of respect.

Former Cervélo Test Team team-mate Carlos Sastre also paid tribute from the Italian race, saying that he found it difficult to believe what had happened. “We share a hotel with the Movistar team and they have conveyed the news,” he said. “It was a blow, one more at this Giro, and the truth is that we are all shocked.

“I had the opportunity to race with him last year and saw his human and sporting qualities.. We have not got over the death of Weylandt and this news has now reached us. Circumstances such as the death of Tondo hurt a lot,” he said.

Gerard Vroomen was one of the owners of the Cervélo Test Team, with which Tondo competed last year. He posted a tribute on his website this morning and, like many, was very moved by what had happened.

“I met him only a half dozen times, but he was special. I never saw him upset or angry, he was always smiling, always friendly, not a bad bone in his body,” he wrote. “For years and years he tried to break into the big league, but he was somehow always overlooked. Whatever the reason, it hadn’t seemed to affect him. He just loved cycling – anywhere, in any race and with anyone – and was simply happy that in 2010, he finally got his chance and he took it.”

The former Tour of Portugal winner had a strong season with the team, winning a stage of Paris-Nice and taking second overall in the Volta a Catalunya. When the Cervélo Test Team folded he signed a deal to race with Team Movistar, and won the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon with it this year. He also took a stage in the Tour de San Luis, and was fifth in the Tour of the Basque Country. He was building up for the Tour de France, where he would have been one of the team’s protected riders.

Earlier this year, Tondo helped police smash a doping ring. He passed on information after he was offered banned products. That action plus his friendly, optimistic demeanour makes today’s news even more tragic.

Passion shining through:

VeloNation spoke to Tondo for the first time last autumn, and found him to be a very friendly, enthusiastic person who clearly enjoyed what he was doing. He had bucket-loads of enthusiasm for the sport, which came across in three areas of conversation.

The first was when he was asked which races he would target in 2011. “I don’t know…it doesn’t matter,” he responded, smiling. “For me, one dream is to race in the Tour of Flanders. Since I was young, I was dreaming of racing that one. It’s certainly a good race, but in Cervélo it was impossible because we had a super team for the Classics.”

So why did he feel so strongly about the race? “It is part of the history of cycling, as is Roubaix,” he answered. “I have the dream to race there one day, but maybe I need to go step by step. I know that it is really complicated for me to do a good race, but I can only try. And why not? I can also enjoy a nice day there,” he smiled, making it clear that the experience would be more important than the result.

His passion for the sport came out in another way, namely his love for velodrome competition. “I will go to the Six Days of Amsterdam to see my friend Theo Bos…he has invited me to go there,” he said. “I really like track races also – one of the things I want to do in the future is some track racing.

“I know that not too many Spanish riders go to Six Days or ride the Classics. But I really like track. I saw the track world championships two times – in Bordeaux in 2006, and in Mallorca 2007. It was amazing!”

Tondo said that with all the enthusiasm of a fan, not like a rider of 31 years of age. His love for the sport bubbled to the surface regularly during the conversation. When asked what he did away from the cycling, he essentially said that he didn’t have any other interests. That wasn’t down to being one dimensional, but rather from being so passionate about his sport.

“The problem is that I really like cycling!” he explained. “My hobbies all rotate around cycling. My friend, for example, bought a new frame…he wanted to put the parts on it. He called me, asking ‘can I come to your home?’ and I said yes, come on. And I changed all the stuff for him.

“Another example is that I changed the hubs and put in the spoke into my training wheels. I also change my mountain bike around… I really like that. In the winter, I meet my friends to go mountain biking. I really enjoy it, it is my life.”

Given the amount of time spent training and racing, many pros come to see cycling as a job to be done and something changes. The enthusiasm they had as a young rider is less obvious; they may be focussed and ambitious, but the sense of getting a buzz from what they do is absent.

With Tondo, things were different. “If there is a race on TV, I watch it like a fan. It doesn’t matter if I am not there, I’m interested. Some friends say to me, ‘but you are a pro rider, and yet you still enjoy it when you see some races?’ But what can I do? It is my passion,” he said, smiling again, meaning every word.

Rest in peace, Xavier Tondo; you left way too soon.

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