Bahamontes: We need to deal with coronavirus before thinking about 2020 Tour de France dates
Oldest surviving Tour winner says beating pandemic main priority
1959 Tour de France (opens in new tab) winner, Federico Bahamontes, says that debates on how and when the Tour can take place make little sense until the coronavirus pandemic is resolved.
"Health is what matters the most. If you're not healthy, you're stuffed," Bahamontes, with his usual direct style, told Cyclingnews.
"So right now better stay healthy and indoors, than be out there having a beer or whisky or whatever."
"They've got rid of the Olympics and now the Tour is up in the air. It's a very tough situation and we'll have to see what happens first."
Born in 1928, Bahamontes lived through Spain's Civil War in 1936-39 as a child and there are plenty of militaristic comparisons right now between the coronavirus and the current situation.
"In wars there are always winners and losers - and in this one [against coronavirus], just like any one, when you're in it, you know when it started, but there's no indication of when it'll finish," he said.
"I was in that War, and I was nine years old, and we were hungry a lot of the time. In this one, people have got food, but this war is one without bullets."
Forced to work on the black market in the post-War years, shipping food into Toledo and dodging police patrols, Bahamontes went down with a kind of typhus.
"I was hiding from the Guardia Civil during one of my shipments and I hid under a drain when I got infected," he recalled to Cyclingnews.
"I ended up so ill I couldn't leave the house for two months, I had bouts of high fever that were so severe they thought I might die and when the fever came down I was so hungry I would break open the padlock my mother had put on the larder door to steal whatever I could get," Bahamontes recounted in his biography, The Eagle of Toledo.
His hair, too, fell out, and "after it came back it was much curlier."
Apart from wavy hair and an improved ability for lockpicking, as a result of his illness, Bahamontes also received a doctor's certificate which stated that he had chronic chest problems and recommended he avoid all types of physically demanding sports. As Bahamontes would delight in saying in the years to come, that obviously included cycling, a recommendation he clearly ignored.
Currently living through the lockdown in northern Spain where he has been staying with friends for the last three weeks and in good shape physically, Bahamontes is looking forward to getting back to his hometown of Toledo soon.
Tireless as ever, Bahamontes' current aim is to open a museum in Toledo dedicated to his career and plans to keep working on that idea just as soon as he gets back home.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.