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Reckless: The Life and Times of Luis Ocana

Reckless: The Life and Times of Luis Ocana

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Reckless: The Life and Times of Luis Ocana

évaluations:
4/5 (1 évaluation)
Longueur:
358 pages
7 heures
Sortie:
May 8, 2014
ISBN:
9781408846001
Format:
Livre

Description

Luis Ocaña seemed doomed to live in the shadow of cycling's greatest ever rider, Eddy Merckx – 'The Cannibal'. Their rivalry defined Ocaña's entire career, yet he was the one rider capable of beating the all-conquering Merckx in his prime. After an impoverished upbringing he flourished at the sport he loved and in 1970 secured his biggest victory on home soil, winning the Vuelta a España, and confirming his status as a Grand Tour challenger. But it was in the 1971 Tour de France that the battle between Merckx and Ocaña reached its peak when, at the Orcières-Merlette stage, he inflicted on Merckx the worst defeat he would suffer in a major Tour, with an astonishing 120 kilometre solo breakaway through the Alps.

But then came one of most gut-wrenching crashes in Tour de France history when Ocaña fell heavily on a Pyrenean descent, losing his leader's jersey, and with it his best chance of destroying Merckx's reputation of invincibility. In the midst of a torrential downpour, with minimal visibility, rider after rider crashed into the injured rider as he lay prone. The following day Merckx refused to wear the leader's jersey out of respect.

It was only when Merckx was missing from the start-line in 1973 that Ocaña became Spain's second ever Tour de France winner. If Merckx had been present, Ocaña's chances of success would have been far slimmer. Further triumphs amassed before his swansong in 1976, but Ocaña's decline in later life reflects the immense struggle he embraced during the height of his career. An enigmatic outsider to both the Spanish and French throughout his career – never truly accepted in either country – he died in mysterious circumstances aged just 48.

A fascinating, complicated character both on and off his bike, Ocaña's fierce determination, impetuosity and – some would say – recklessness created some of the most beautiful and gripping episodes in the history of the sport. This is the first ever biography in English of 'the Spanish Merckx' who remains one of the most fascinating Tour de France champions.
Sortie:
May 8, 2014
ISBN:
9781408846001
Format:
Livre

À propos de l'auteur

Alasdair Fotheringham is a freelance journalist based in Spain. He has covered 22 Tours de France and 20 Tours of Spain, as well as numerous other major races. The Independent and the Independent on Sunday's correspondent on Spain and cycling, he is also a regular contributor to a number of leading cycling magazines and websites.

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Reckless - Alasdair Fotheringham

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1

The Hole in the Ceiling

These days, Luis Ocaña’s home village of Priego in Spain is picturesque almost to the point of caricature. It is too far from Cuenca, the capital of a hilly agricultural region of pine forests, vast hidden canyons and huge stretches of uncultivated ochreous soil, to have suffered from the rash of high-rise flats that has scarred most dormitory towns in Spain since its countryside began to empty with a vengeance in the 1960s. On one side of the village, perched over a huge gorge containing one crumbling tower – all that remains of a sixteenth-century castle – such building remains in any case, thankfully, fairly impractical.

So Priego has stayed much as it was when Ocaña and his family left it in 1951, when he was nearly seven, first for eastern Spain and then France: a huddle of sun-bleached, mostly two-storey houses and badly tarmacked winding streets around a stubby, thick-walled Renaissance church, still the tallest building in the area. Rather than the supermarket you find in almost every Spanish village, Priego has to make do with a traditional version – a shop in the central square selling everything under the sun, from fly spray and sweets in huge jars to ham cuts and Dora Explorer dolls in cellophane packages.

What catches the eye most of all, though, is the proliferation of metre-high drystone dividing walls, rather than fences, between the village houses: a reminder of the harshness of the surrounding landscape, and the fact that Ocaña and his family left Priego because his parents, Luis and Julia, agricultural workers and the children of agricultural workers, could not afford to stay there any longer. As is so often the case, the factors that make Priego such a picture postcard village today – isolation and just a few cottage industries like tiny ceramics and reed-basket workshops – made life difficult for dozens of families eking out a living at subsistence level half a century before.

‘We were all poor, but the Ocaña family were one level below the rest of us,’ recalls José Luis Romero, now a successful builder who lived with his family ‘in a house just 20 metres away from Luis’ as a child. He describes the Ocañas’ house – two storeys, close to the central square and near the village knacker’s yard – as ‘a real tumbledown affair, very small’. In their house, animals, as in others in the village, would be stabled on the ground floor and the family would live on the first.

‘I can remember they had one light bulb and one cable for the whole of it. When they’d finished at the bottom half of the house for the night, there was a hole in the first-floor ceiling so they could pull the light bulb up on a wire and that way they could see upstairs while they were going to bed.’ There was no mains water or internal sanitation, little furniture, virtually no heating, little food, only a few houses with electricity in the village. ‘There was one rich family and there was a rumour going round that the kid would get to sleep in a real cot. The rest of us weren’t sleeping in donkeys’ troughs − not quite − but almost.’

By the time Ocaña was four he had a brother and sister, Antonio and Amparo. Eventually there would be six Ocaña children, but in an era when international observers estimated that Spain had up to a 50 per cent working-class infant mortality rate, the fourth to be born, Marino, died at just two months old. Romero says that there was never actually a famine in the village – unlike in the towns after Spain’s Civil War of 1936 to 1939, rural Spain fared comparatively well in the so-called ‘Years of Hunger’ – but ‘we were never too far off being hungry’.

Just one economic rung further down, however, Ocaña recounts in his biography having to share his food with his brothers and sisters – and his stomach rumbling after each meal. Meat, he says, was a luxury they rarely enjoyed. ‘They would have lived off their working of the fields, getting firewood,’ says Romero. ‘Some of us had a pig or a donkey and some olive trees. They owned two or three hectares, where you’d plant cereals and have, above all, a vegetable garden, for cucumbers and tomatoes. Essentially we were agriculturally self-sufficient. And if you had bread, you ate it, but not many people had it.

‘It was a poor village in a poor region, and that’s despite the fact that it was the most important village in the area, with its own market, law courts and so on. Although that’s all moved to Cuenca now.’ Many of the fields outside Priego have gone back to nature again, because ‘people don’t care for them any more’.

Romero is one of the very few people left alive who recalls Luis Ocaña prior to the family following the well-trodden path of exile from Priego. ‘Luis was just one of the dozens of kids who’d be roaming round the village playing games. I can remember he was exceptionally snotty – it used to reach down to his middle at times!’ He also recalls Ocaña with ‘terrible scabs and scars on his knees, but that was just because the roads were so badly paved and whenever you fell you’d cut yourself a lot’.

Even then, he was not a person who accepted authority lightly. ‘At [primary] school, if I was someone who got into trouble, then he was one of those who’d play up to the teacher even more.’ Within two years of his starting school, though, the Ocañas had gone. ‘I can remember when they quit the village, a lorry came round for the furniture – and the donkeys.’ Ocaña’s father’s family in particular were not pleased with their son’s decision to leave for France, ‘but when Luis became a cyclist and started winning the Tour, that changed quick enough’.

Ocaña’s house itself collapsed years ago; all that now remains is empty wasteland. ‘New foundations were put down and the local cycling Federation came round’ – about 18 years ago – ‘and [1988 Tour winner] Pedro Delgado, too, so Pedro could lay the first stone of a house or building that was supposed to act as some kind of clubhouse for local cyclists there. But it’s never been built,’ Romero says sadly.

Still standing, though, is Luis Ocaña’s tower house, built for him by Romero shortly after Ocaña won the Tour in 1973. A solid stone construction that is still inhabited – to judge by the full washing lines stretching from the highest crenellation to another opposite – it stands on a promontory high above the gorge. However, Ocaña had to sell the building when he ran into tax problems in Spain after retiring, and, on top of that, he had to deal with amateur burglars. ‘He put all the furniture in store because kids were breaking in there half the time when he was away,’ Romero says. ‘He’d come back from his home [near Mont-de-Marsan] often enough, maybe two or three times a year, but they’d still get in there.’

As a builder, it was only natural that Romero should construct the now weather-worn monument, made out of local stone and iron, of Ocaña on his bike close to the village’s dilapidated central park. On it there is a roll call of his major victories, inside it an urn containing half of his ashes. (Appropriately enough for a rider with such deeply entwined French and Spanish roots, the remainder were scattered at Nogaro, Ocaña’s final French residence.) Most of the family – like Luis’ mother, who returned from France in old age – have either died or now left for Cuenca or gone further afield and Ocaña’s siblings remain in France. Only a few cousins – such as one on his mother’s side, Virginia, who runs a fruit and vegetable shop – now remain in Priego. ‘Somebody always leaves flowers there at the memorial, but nobody knows who,’ Romero adds.

There is also an Avenida Luis Ocaña, a broad avenue running almost the entire length of the more recently built upper edge of the village. In the windswept cemetery just above Priego, the name Ocaña may not be on any of the crypt doors – that would be reserved for the better-off families – but it is present in force on a cluster of gravestones in one corner, mingled with Romeros and Caballeros. The name Ocaña can also be seen on a small cross, jammed between two graves, that acts as an indication that the plots for future burials already belong to that family. Curiously enough, Pernia – Ocaña’s mother’s name – is not so well represented, even if the Pernias were equally as much of a ‘clan’ as the Ocañas in Priego.

‘There are at least five different families here all called the same,’ says Adelina, herself a Pernia and serving at the bar of that name in the centre of the village. The bar has a photograph of a besuited and grinning Ocaña standing among the olive groves outside the village. Adelina was apparently friends with the rider but that is as far as the connection goes: ‘we’re not related to him’.

The food on offer locally is substantial fare – thick vegetable soups or slabs of pork in garlic, suitable for long days in the fields but not for the faint-hearted: in one bar they offer ‘half a lamb’s head’ as a tapa (snack) with each drink. Yet if the food is robust enough, the village itself seems to be sinking: when the Ocaña family left, Priego’s population stood at 3,000, and was dropping fast. Forty years later, it continues to shrink with just under half that total remaining.

Where once there were more than three dozen potters, each with their own shop, now there are only four and the basket makers have almost all gone, too. The tourist information boards informing walkers of Priego’s three rivers within the village bounds, its numerous vultures and their nests on adjoining cliffs in the gorge, and the three religious celebrations a year that mark the village’s social highpoints are all partly destroyed, tatty affairs. A second park halfway down the valley contains swings and benches marooned in long reed grass. ‘We’ve still got 19 bars,’ one local businessman tells me, ‘though heaven knows how. Most of the young people here are unemployed. When people ask me how the village gets by economically, I ask myself the same question.’

Although claims exist to the contrary, Romero insists that the departure of Ocaña was not, as was the case for hundreds of thousands of families in Spain, precipitated by Luis’ parents having any allegiance with the losing side in the Civil War. ‘He was a Nationalist, we all were round here,’ he recalls. But supporting Franco did not in any case guarantee anyone a decent living and even if Romero recalls ‘a certain degree of dissatisfaction within the family when they left’, like so many other Spanish rural families of the time, and even today, the Ocañas had no real choice.

In 1951, Luis’ father began the first of a series of moves that would eventually see the Ocañas settle in France. A friend found him a job working as a miner in the tunnels that were being blasted for hydroelectric stations in the Aran Valley in the Spanish Pyrenees, close to the source of the River Garonne. Less than a decade before, Aran had witnessed the one serious military challenge made by the Republicans to dislodge Franco from power after losing to him in the Civil War: but it ended, once again, in absolute defeat and exile in France and beyond. Seven years later, the Ocañas were to follow the same path as the defeated Republicans back into the neighbouring country – but, according to a very close family source, for economic rather than political reasons.

First, though, the family quit Priego, when Ocaña’s father decided the mining work was stable enough for the entire family to make the 300-kilometre move north-east to the Aran Valley. Their first house, in the hamlet of Vila close to the skiing town of Vielha, was in an even worse state than the one they had left behind in Priego, but at least the family now had one stable income. And, with time, as Ocaña’s father switched from mining to building jobs, his monthly pay packet improved slightly as well: given that there was another mouth to feed when Luis’ little brother (also christened Marino) appeared, this was probably just as well.

Luis’ school problems continued, however. After falling out so badly with the teacher in Vila that one day he came home covered in bruises from the beating she had given him, the Ocañas decided to take drastic action. At seven they decided Luis was old enough to make a daily lone six-kilometre hike, on foot and across country, to a different school, run by monks this time, in nearby Vielha. The journey itself was demanding, particularly when the snowdrifts towered over his head in winter and with no money in the family to spare to buy Luis a warm coat. But occasionally Ocaña would be able to hitch a lift on the back of a lorry taking workers and building materials to the hydroelectric plants, and at least Ocaña’s education was no longer marred by conflicts with his teachers.

Perhaps understandably given his hour-long trudge to and from school, Ocaña first became captivated by the idea of cycling when travelling between Vielha and Vila. From the back of one of the works lorries, Ocaña watched a cyclist making the most of the vehicle’s wake, giving him an opportunity to witness man and machine working in unison for some time. Tellingly, given his future obsession with bike technology, as he recounts it in his autobiography, he was as much struck by the frame itself – shiny grey chrome – as by the rider’s ‘smooth cadence and elegant poise on the bike … one day I dreamed of being like him’.

Duly inspired, Ocaña’s first bike ride came a few days later when he ‘borrowed’ one left at a crossroads near his home for a quick spin. Almost immediately, and not surprisingly given his lack of riding experience, he had a spectacular crash.

‘It was this beautiful bike, with a red frame, left where we used to wait for the lorry lifts to school,’ Ocaña would later recall. ‘Every day it was there, and every day I would stare at it. One day I couldn’t resist any longer and I grabbed it and got on it. But I almost immediately crashed into somebody, we both took a good knock when we fell.’ While it would be overstating it to claim the accident was an omen for his future career, the young Ocaña’s desire to push the boat out with no regard for personal safety was certainly a foretaste of things to come.

The 15-kilometre D2 road from the bustling market town Aire-sur-l’Adour to Le Houga in south-west France is hardly a spectacular affair. A départemental, or back road, running mostly along the border of the Landes region – miles and miles of huge, somewhat eerie, silent pine forests on the flatlands south of Bordeaux and the slightly hillier Gers province a little further east – it snakes gently past well-established bungalows, broad cabbage fields and a handful of vineyards producing Armagnac. There are fields with wire fences containing small, sturdy geese sitting in sociable groups, blissfully unaware of their approaching fate as producers of the foie gras delicacy that is a staple of the local economy.

But what really catches the eye is the grassy banking, rising perhaps six or seven metres, of an oval-shaped structure on the outskirts of Aire-sur-l’Adour. Nearby, a vast green hangar that acts as a sports hall gives a clue to its purpose. The banking houses the local outdoor velodrome for Aire-sur-l’Adour’s club, the Vélo Club Aturin. And the simple words on the plaque at the tiny but sturdy-looking ticket office at the gate give away the name of the local star: Merci Luis Ocaña, they read, and, given that the D2 was the road which Ocaña rode countless times from his home in Le Houga to his first cycling club at Aire-sur-l’Adour, the velodrome’s builders could hardly have chosen a more appropriate location.

Le Houga was the final destination of the Ocaña family after leaving Priego eight years earlier. Ocaña was 15 and now had four younger brothers and sisters, with a fifth sibling still to come. In between was a three-year-spell at Magnan, a hilltop village five kilometres east of Le Houga but far smaller, with just 500 inhabitants.

While not particularly appealing these days – its most noticeable defining characteristic is an A road heaving with farm traffic that splits it into two equally unremarkable halves – Ocaña nonetheless described Magnan as ‘paradise’. His family had not come there to appreciate the views, or lack of them, though; rather, he recalled it as ‘the first place I had lived in where we could fill our stomachs to the brim with food’.

The family’s arrival in a foreign country had followed an almost identical pattern to their leaving Priego for Vielha – first Luis padre heading off alone to check out both the job and living conditions, then some six months later the rest of the family joining him. The contact this time came via one Uncle Candido, married to one of his mother’s sisters and living in France for a few years: the employment was in the headquarters of a farming collective, first as a woodcutter and later as a warehouseman.

Uncle Candido had more to offer than just a job: to Ocaña’s delight, he discovered that his cousins, Angele and Marie, and their parents had no fewer than four bikes. For Luis, bikes became a means of finding solitude, away from the constant racket and mayhem of a cramped family home filled with noisy children. ‘When I rode away in the forest and the birds sang,’ Ocaña would later say, ‘it felt as if they were singing me their best romantic song, following me down the road. This was one of the rare moments of my childhood when I actually felt happy.’

If home was noisy bedlam, school for Ocaña was no refuge. Spanish immigrants were numerous in the south of France at the time and, despite Ocaña quickly learning French, racism – in his case, in the shape of bullying and being spat at at school – was prevalent. Unlike the previous Spanish winner of the Tour de France, Federico Bahamontes, who started riding a bike purely as a way of boosting his black-market dealings by transporting goods from the countryside to Toledo, for Ocaña the bike was something that put the material world – of exile, rejection and that nagging fear of poverty – at a greater distance. At the same time, after years of being uprooted from one village to another, not to mention one country to another, when on the bike it was Ocaña who, for the first time in his life, was in control of his own destiny. His bike, in short, embodied glorious, inconsequential freedom – and that was something, throughout his life, that he was never prepared to change or sacrifice, no matter the cost.

Small wonder, then, that as soon as Ocaña started making money, albeit a pittance helping his father at carpentry and local woodcutters after he quit school at 14, one of his first purchases was a cream-coloured Automoto bike. His opportunities to use it, though, risked being increasingly limited: having learned the basics of the trade with his father, Ocaña began serving an apprenticeship with a local carpenter, Michel Ducos, in Aire-sur-l’Adour.

For all their different backgrounds and attitudes to racing, Bahamontes played an unconscious part in inspiring Ocaña to move towards stepping up his game in the sport. In the winter of 1959, Ocaña’s father took his family on their first trip back to Priego for eight years, and from there they went on to Madrid to watch Bahamontes and other great stars of the time in action at the capital’s velodrome. Ocaña, by then 14, described himself as starstruck: ‘Spain was at Bahamontes’ feet … and I myself drew a picture of Bahamontes from the photos in the program and stuck it to my bike.’

The next step in moving away from carpentry and into more serious bike racing was his obtaining, at 16, a racing licence. Ocaña did this despite opposition from his parents, who could not see the point of him wasting his time on sport, but with the full backing – bizarrely enough – of Michel Ducos, his employer. Ducos was a huge cycling fan, to the point where he cast a blind eye if Ocaña stayed out too long on one of the daily lunchtime or evening training rides that he would carry out religiously after 6 p.m. each day. In the end Ocaña faked his parents’ signature on his first racing licence – a cadet’s licence with the Aire-sur-l’Adour club after his father refused to cooperate – and after Ducos gave him five months’ pay in advance he then purchased his first racing bike.

Ocaña’s talent did not take long to shine through. Like his hero Bahamontes, who won the second race in which he took part, Ocaña missed out on his first ever race but hit the bull’s-eye at the next attempt.

As chance would have it, that victory was in Bretagne-de-Marsan, the same village where, eight years later, he would buy a plot of land in 1968 for the construction of his first family home. Ocaña had no way of knowing but, as he raised his arms in victory that day, rather than being ‘the Spaniard from Cuenca’ he had turned a definitive corner towards both a career in cycling and gaining the nickname he would have all his life: the ‘Spaniard of Mont-de-Marsan’.

2

Ocaña or Ocana?

The notebooks are all in order. Page after page, Pietro Cescutti has kept everything he used as Luis Ocaña’s trainer when he was an amateur, from 1964 to 1967. And behind him, on the middle of his brightly lit cellar wall and perfectly preserved under a plastic wrapping, hangs the yellow jersey Cescutti received at the foot of the 1973 Champs-Elysées podium when Luis Ocaña stepped down, unzipped it and handed it to him. As the greatest possible prize cycling has to offer, there can be no more powerful reminder of what a bike rider who had passed through Cescutti’s hands could then achieve, 40 years before.

Cescutti, now in his nineties, briefly touches the plastic as we walk in, not it seems particularly reverentially but, rather, out of habit. The notebooks, start lists and prize lists which act as landmarks on the pathway of Ocaña’s amateur career from 1964 to 1967 are in a bulging, shiny white folder in a cupboard underneath. Among them, in perhaps five or six dozen, neatly stapled pages of A4 paper, are all the typed-out instructions he gave Ocaña as a coach: not just the training programmes for his off-season in his final years as an amateur, but everything from a specific series of instructions on how to eliminate the ‘dead point’ – the point at each revolution of the pedals where no energy is transmitted – down to what he could or could not eat.

There, too, are sheafs of paper containing the abandoned projects for his star protégé: the joint investment and building plans for the hotel for Mont-de-Marsan, for example, and all the application forms for Ocaña to change nationality from Spanish to French. In other, smaller folders are those of other professional riders Cescutti guided through the years and up the rungs of the Stade Montois cycling club in Mont-de-Marsan. But the thickest is Ocaña’s or, as Cescutti’s version of his name on the front cover of the folder has it, Ocana, with no tilde (the ‘gn’ sound in English) over the n, making for a French version of the same name.

As for the training, in the early months of 1964, for example – when Ocaña was not yet 20 and had only started his first season with Cescutti – the intensity is anything but high: each week, from 1 January, when his training programme started, he has just 40 kilometres mid-week and another 40 on the Saturday. However, bearing in mind that he would be doing a full day of intense physical labour in the carpentry shop, as experienced British sports director and former pro rider John Herety says, ‘There is no need whatsoever for any more than that. At that age and doing that much work, you wouldn’t want any more.’ However, if the programme is fairly minimalist, the tone is not at all light-hearted: ‘Ride with an easy gear, 45x20,’ reads a terse side note, before recommending Ocaña get the ride in on a Wednesday so that ‘in case of bad weather’ it can be pushed forward to Thursday or Friday.

Up until the end of January, the number of kilometres rises by ten each week, with the gearing also becoming slightly tougher. Then, in February, Cescutti adds in another factor: sprint series every two or three kilometres on an extra 15-kilometre ride each Saturday. At this point the detail is suddenly much richer: apart from the gearing he should use, also clearly marked are the distances (100 metres each time, building up to 200 metres by the beginning of March), different circuits he should use and even how he should breathe between the sprint efforts: in through the nose and out through the mouth.

Far stricter, in Cescutti’s book at least, is diet – and the eating process from beginning to end. Some of his theories seem bizarre – as little drinking as possible during the meal (with the word ‘during’ underlined), for example, or having no milk with your coffee. But they are nothing if not thorough. ‘Watch your dental hygiene, teeth and the workings of your stomach’ is how he rather delicately puts it, after advising Ocaña to ‘eat slowly, chewing each mouthful’.

The number of foodstuffs that are strongly recommended not to be consumed takes up nearly two-thirds of a page. Everything from powdered milk to mutton, red meat, packet soups and snails is on the banned list. (‘All molluscs’ is added in again a little later, as if just to reinforce the point about the dangers of consuming a stray escargot.) This is followed by strict advice against courgettes, cucumbers, peas, sauerkraut, under-ripe fruit, overfresh bread, too cold drinks, crêpes, chocolate … ‘Do not trust fizzy drinks,’ it sternly warns. It comes almost as a relief to find that Ocaña does get the green light for a portion of rice pudding in the mornings – but only if he is racing.

Mixed in with three pages of advice on diet are ideas well ahead of their time. For example, Ocaña is barred from eating a steak for breakfast when in a race – as many riders did. Rather, the instructions tell him to eat light snacks at intervals during it, so as ‘not to tax your digestion’.

When I ask Cescutti who had helped him to build up such innovative ideas and all his other knowledge, he looks somewhat irritated at the suggestion he might have had help: ‘nobody. It all came down to experience.’ That experience was accumulated over years as the President of the Mont-de-Marsan club, ‘and just about every other job in it, too, at one point or another.

‘When I die, I have left instructions that I will send it all over to Josiane,’ Cescutti – still without an ounce of excess fat on him and still, until very recently, going on bike rides – says without looking remotely worried at the prospect.

But it is clear – from the shelves of documents on Ocaña and his racing, the palmarès of his professional career, the bike frames and the jersey taking pride of place – that, as Ocaña’s sporting ‘godfather’ in so many ways, the Spaniard still lives on inside him. It does not seem to matter that it is more than 45 years since they first met and 20 since Ocaña died. In fact, with a painting by Ocaña on the wall (and another upstairs in the living room); with those naturalisation papers in perfect order and ready to be handed over for processing by the corresponding department of 1960s French state bureaucracy; and an ancient single bed, still made up, in Cescutti’s basement for a stray Spanish rider to sleep over when necessary, it truly feels as if a small, brightly lit window back to half a century ago remains stubbornly, and perhaps painfully, wedged open.

Cescutti’s own life story could fill a book, even prior to meeting Ocaña. His parents were Italian émigrés who arrived in France in 1922 when he was just one year old. As masons, his father and many of his compatriots found plenty of work in the north of the country repairing buildings destroyed in the First World War. After his father befriended a businessman from the Landes, when the post-war construction boom finally started to diminish, Cescutti’s parents came south to see what work they could get through their business acquaintance and they ended up living in Mont-de-Marsan.

‘I can remember seeing my first Tour de France there in 1933 or 1934 when it came

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