In a sport where half a dozen years with the same team is a remarkable achievement given the way that form, sponsors and fortune come and go, José Vicente García Acosta’s record of 17 years with the same outfit is quite extraordinary. After a spell as a stagiaire with Banesto in the latter half of 1994, he signed with the team for 1995 and has been with it ever since as it evolved into ibanesto.com, Illes Balears, Caisse d’Epargne and then, this year, Movistar.
During that period, the Spaniard made a staggering 27 Grand Tour appearances, 15 in the Vuelta a España and 12 in the Tour de France, and established himself as one of the most dependable domestiques in the sport.
Persuaded by teammates and Movistar’s management at the end of 2010 to do one more year in the bunch, the rider known simply as ‘Chente’ finally bowed out this season at the age of 39, making his final appearance at the Vuelta, where, unfortunately, he crashed out on stage five and failed to achieve his final ambition of ending his career in Madrid.
"I enjoyed this season a lot more because I knew it was going to be my last one. And then I had the fall in the Vuelta. It wasn’t the best possible finish, but it’s another good reason for not changing my mind and for confirming that this is my goodbye to cycling," he told Meta2Mil.
When he joined the team in 1995, it was very much built around Miguel Indurain, but even then it had an international flavour. "We had riders from lots of different countries but the calendar was very different as we only used to race in France and Spain. In addition, the team was built around Miguel Indurain and often it didn’t take any wins at all until May. That would be unthinkable nowadays, but it was very different then. Everything was focused on the Tour because we had a rider in Miguel who didn’t let us down," he recalled.
He admitted that one of his regrets was not being able to spend more time racing with Indurain, who retired in 1996. But he added that he’d been lucky to work for some other great champions. "I would also pick out [Alejandro] Valverde. He hasn’t got five Tour wins to his credit, but he’s a rider who you can count on winning almost any race on the calendar. Not many riders have that all-round ability. I would also pick out [Abraham] Olano, who was a rider who always showed a lot of faith in me, and was also very methodical in his approach, whether it was to training or to nutrition."
García Acosta acknowledged that, despite stage wins in the Tour and Vuelta, he had never expected to be anything other than a domestique when he turned pro. "My job has always been that of a worker. That was my role as an amateur and I soon realised as a professional that I could make a niche for myself by working for others. I looked a lot towards guys like Marino Alonso, José Ramón Uriarte, Ramonchu [González Arrieta] and then José Luis Arrieta. When you want to learn and work for others, it’s easy. In my first year it took me a lot of effort to get into the right rhythm, but once I did I began to see where I could give the best of myself."
Another regret, though, is that his service for others, particularly in the grand tours, meant that he could never give his full attention to the Classics. "I think I could have done very well in those races. Thanks to my physique, the cobbled Classics could have brought me a good deal of glory, but in 12 consecutive seasons I did both the Tour and the Vuelta. With that kind of calendar it’s impossible to think of the Classics. I used to go to them and try to do the best possible, but it’s not the same as the riders from northern Europe who live for those races and focus all their attention on just one month," he said, adding, though, that one of his favourite memories was of leading Paris-Roubaix coming out of the Arenberg Forest. "No one will take that moment of satisfaction from me."
Having already gained the qualifications to become a directeur sportif, García Acosta may well be back with Movistar in a new role before too much more time has passed. Prior to that, though, he is looking forward to some time off. However, old habits clearly die hard. Having been given the OK this week to start exercising again after recovering from the fractures that forced him out of the Vuelta, his first impulse was to get back on his bike.
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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