Juan Jose Cobo (Geox-TMC) was mobbed by hundreds of friends and supporters wearing horns and special 'El Bisonte' T-shirts in Madrid, and despite being crowned the winner of the 2011 Vuelta a Espana, he was struggling to understand that he had achieved.
He started the race three weeks ago in Benidorm as a domestique but emerged as Geox-TMC's best rider and went on to take the leader's red jersey by winning atop the gruelling Angliru climb. He then defended a slim 13-second lead on his home roads in the northern Cantabria region and subsequently all the way to Madrid.
Last year he was ready to quit the sport for good and return to being an electrician. Now he has been crowned the winner of the Vuelta by Prince Felipe. "I came to the Vuelta to help Carlos Sastre and Denis Menchov and three weeks later, I’m here to talk about winning the Vuelta, it’s unbelievable!" he said.
Cobo claimed that his Vuelta win did not happen by chance. "I've known that I was in a good shape since the Tour of Burgos at the beginning of August and I had two weeks after that to improve my condition," he said.
"I suffered a lot on the finish at the Sierra Nevada, I didn’t have the legs. I didn’t have the race rhythm and I was lucky that the headwind neutralized the racing. That day, I was far from imagining that I’d be the eventual winner of the Vuelta. But after that, I didn’t have any worries. But it was harder than it looked like during the two stages in Cantabria and the two stages in the Basque Country."
Fighting depression and future success
Cobo is not embarrassed to talk about his battle with depression and how racing his bike and riding the Vuelta has helped him enormously. "I suffered with depression for 18 months," he said. "The best therapy for me was to come to the Vuelta with no pressure on my shoulders and just try and do my best. I took the red jersey at the top of the Angliru. It was stressful but I also enjoyed being in the lead."
As Cobo entered the anti-doping truck, his fans chanted 'Next year we're going to Paris' and Cobo indicated he would like to test himself outside of Spain.
"I hope this success is a first step towards more consistent riding in the future," he said. "I’ve won races before but I now understand that I can win a Grand Tour if I've got good shape. This Vuelta has motivated to fight for success at the greatest races out there."