It took 14 years, but Jose Antonio Hermida finally got to experience the joy of winning the Elite men's cross country world championship last weekend at Mont-Sainte-Anne in Canada. He also brought Spain its first Elite men's world championship cross country gold medal.
"I've been waiting for this for so long," he said. "I really wanted to win Worlds."
The always humorous Hermida joked that he would have five months to recover from his effort, something he thought of while out on course to motivate himself to give it his all. This year, the world championships are the final major event of the season unlike in other previous years, when one or more World Cups followed the Worlds.
At the press conference that followed his victory, the Spaniard, who was so emotional that he could barely talk, was wearing his rainbow jersey and a special tie, a present from a friend. "He thought I would win Worlds last year in Canberra, but instead I got fourth and he gave it to me after I won today."
Mont-Sainte-Anne has long been a favourite venue for Hermida. "I was completely focused on Worlds this year. I knew the course was perfect for me. Racing here was like a dream with a small crash in the beginning. After that, it was like being at Disneyland."
"Every time I travel to this circuit, I feel good, I love the track. I have raced here a lot of times, coming in second a few of them, but never winning."
Hermida started out the season well with a spring-time win at the Houffalize World Cup. Then he struggled mid-season at the European Championships. "In June, I struggled to stay with the guys at the front. Last month, I was suffering a lot, but I knew I could use all that suffering here. Last week, I started to feel good in my legs, and the team relay leading up to the cross country helped me feel comfortable."
As the championship race neared its end, Hermida battled Czech Jaroslav Kulhavy, who was fresh off his World Cup win at Windham. "Jaroslav is really strong, and on the final laps, I was wondering 'Is he saving energy or playing with me?'. I was looking around, but keeping my speed up. Then what I did was not really an attack. I took good lines and was faster. It was hard. I pushed it on the gravel climb. I had one second, then two seconds. I knew if I got 10 seconds, they wouldn't catch me."
Hermida's achievement capped off a stellar year for sports in Spain. "Spain is in crisis otherwise, but we're doing well in sports," said Hermida, citing accomplishments in football (soccer), the MotoGP motorbike race series and of course, the Tour de France won by Alberto Contador.
"Right now in mountain biking, it's a good time for Spain. Other nations, like France and Switzerland have had their turns. Maybe next, it'll be South Africa or Czech?" he said with a nod to the other podium finishers Burry Stander and Kulhavy.
"It's a great feeling to be part of the top of the sport and part of my country's success."
With no World Cups left this season at which Hermida could show off his jersey, he will go on a different sort of tour, joining teammate Ralph Näf at the Merida Bike Festival in Seoul, South Korea, and then the Merida Bike Festival in Taiwan. Hermida rides for the Multivan Merida Mountain Bike Team.