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Book Extract: The Eagle of Toledo

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The Eagle of Tolendo: Federico Bahamontes

The Eagle of Tolendo: Federico Bahamontes
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The 'Angel of the Mountains' - Charly Gaul leads Spanish rider Federico Bahamontes during the 17th stage of the 1959 Tour de France between Saint-Etienne and Grenoble, which Gaul won.

The 'Angel of the Mountains' - Charly Gaul leads Spanish rider Federico Bahamontes during the 17th stage of the 1959 Tour de France between Saint-Etienne and Grenoble, which Gaul won.
(Image credit: AFP Photo)

The winner of the 1959 Tour and six times the winner of the race's King of the Mountains, Spain's Federico Martín Bahamontes, aka 'The Eagle of Toledo', is widely considered to be the best climber cycling has ever known. Yet his relation with his home race, the Vuelta was far more tumultuous. In 1957, as this extract explains, he lost the Vuelta as a result of a mass attack forged by his arch-rivals Bernardo Ruiz and Jesus Loroño and, apparently, his director Luis Puig . Yet Bahamontes, to this day, remains convinced that the race slipped out of his hands for political, not sporting, reasons. Now read on...

‘I whispered in Loroño’s ear, “Come with me”,’ is how Ruiz explains the start of the mass attack in which Bahamontes lost twenty-one minutes and the yellow jersey to his arch-rival.

Somewhere in Bahamontes’ office, amid all the rows of photo - graph albums and collections of newspaper cuttings, lurks a piece of paper that allegedly explains why he did not win the Vuelta in 1957. Given that at one point Bahamontes had an advantage of nearly sixteen minutes over Loroño it seems almost more difficult for Bahamontes to have lost the race than to have won it. However, that was what happened.