Txema Gonzalez and I were hugging only a week ago, happy as ever to see each other. It was in Seville in the foyer of the hotel that Team Sky and our team were sharing for the start of the Vuelta. We only saw each other in passing these last couple of years, before that we saw each other all the time when the two of us were with Saunier Duval, and even before that we knew each other from simply striking up a friendship on the racing circuit, while he worked at Euskaltel and I was on Cofidis. Txema was that sort of guy, he transcended cycling and its fickle tribe-like behaviour, what team you were on didn't matter to him.
To see the sadness and confusion amongst the people that knew him on finishing the stage and finding out he'd died was a testament to how much he was loved. Rarely have I seen so much heartbreak.
Txema was different to almost everybody else I've ever worked with in professional cycling. He didn't seem to treat it as his whole life, it was his job and he loved it. Yet that didn't mean that he judged the people around him whose whole life it was, because if there was one thing Txema was not, it was judgmental. He was happy, always smiling, making a joke, and never EVER saying a bad word about anybody. We live in a world of gossip, intrigue and bitching, but Txema dealt in none of these things. No matter how much we tried to drag him in, he would just look at us with that knowing regard of his, smile and make some wise little remark that would defuse and change the conversation. Sagesse personified.
I met him first when he was a soigneur for Euskaltel and we hit it off immediately. He spoke English, which was lucky because I didn't speak Spanish or Basque, and he didn't really seem to fit into the world of cycling, he talked of music and riding his motorbike. He seemed to live outside of the cycling bubble, occasionally popping in when he was required, and popping back out to his life at home in Vittoria when not. His life in Vittoria I knew nothing of, he told me once that his brother was a musician, and that there was a great jazz festival, but maybe I just made that up from the few scant details we ever shared of our 'other' lives. His life outside of cycling was a blank card to me, and mine was to him. Well it was, until he joined Sky and started working with my sister.
One of the highlights of my horrific Tour de France this year was finally making it to the finish line every day and seeing my sister (Team Sky Millar) and Txema together on the finish line. It was like a little welcome home ever day, even if they were on a different team. My sister would look for the thumbs up or thumbs down sign from me so as to gauge to what degree she should worry about her brother for that evening and Txema would just give me a wink and offer a drink if I was near enough. So Txema became part of the Millar clan. And we loved having him. I have no idea what they would have talked about but I know my sister grew to treasure her time with him just as I did.
My favourite story of Txema is from when we were at Saunier Duval, I was having one of my disillusioned moments and felt very alone so went and installed myself in the bar next to the hotel, pretty sure that I'd be able to have a bit of personal time and be able to wallow in my self pity. My massage with Txema was due, so I sent him a message saying I didn't fancy one. Many soigneurs would be perfectly happy with this, but no, not Txema. Fifteen minutes later he walked into the bar and sat down next to me. He must have been looking for me all that time, but he didn't bother asking me where I was, he took it upon himself to find me. He ordered a beer and sat with me for 15 minutes and listened, then he told me to get up and come up to have my massage. He sorted me out. Not many people can do that.
Only a week ago he was telling me that he might be coming to the Worlds, the two of us were so excited, working together again, hanging out. It seems strange now he won't be there, and it's not going to be the same without him, nothing will be the same without him. I, and many of us, only knew a little of him. How his family and close friends must feel right now is unimaginable to me. As for Team Sky, it's ripped them to pieces. I'm sure they could carry on, but I don't think they see any reason to now. I feel very sorry for them. I can only say that he was loved by so many. He wasn't just the guy from Sky who died, he's Txema, and he's brilliant. He'd also have killed me if I'd got drunk because of him, so although he'd have equally disliked being written about I'm sure he'll be happy that it stopped me from commiserating him in the classic Scots style.
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