Today, as the Vuelta a España prepares for its first summit finish at Sierra Nevada, it will be three months exactly since Xavi Tondo died in tragic circumstances during an altitude training camp at the same resort. Tondo, sixth in last year’s Vuelta, would almost certainly have been one of the riders to watch on today’s stage, and it is fitting that the Vuelta’s red leader’s jersey will be on the shoulders of his Movistar teammate Pablo Lastras as Spain’s national tour heads up the mountain that towers above Granada.
Back in late May, 32-year-old Tondo and his teammate Beñat Intxausti had just loaded their bikes and gear into a car in the underground car park at the complex in Pradallano where they were staying and were preparing to drive down for a day’s training around Granada when Tondo became trapped between the car and the automatic garage door. Intxausti went quickly to his friend’s assistance but, sadly, could do nothing to save him.
Speaking to El Diario Vasco on Monday, Intxausti looked ahead to today’s stage, which finishes just metres from where Tondo died, and admitted, “It’s going to be a very hard day. I can still remember a lot of what happened and I expect that I will remember much more tomorrow. I prefer not to remember, but it is difficult not to.”
He added: “It was the first day that we had taken the car to go down to Granada. We’d always done it on the bikes before.”
Tondo, a laidback character who was one of the most popular members of the peloton, had spent most of his career riding for smaller teams, but finally got a chance to show his ability when he joined the Cervélo TestTeam in 2010. A battling stage win at Paris-Nice marked him out as a very under-rated talent. His sixth place finish at the Vuelta confirmed the fact and helped secure his move to Movistar, who had earmarked him as their leader for this year’s Tour and Vuelta. Intxausti, another new arrival at the team, was set to be one of his key domestiques in both races.
Tondo started this season in impressive fashion, taking a stage win at the Tour de San Luis early on, then claiming the overall title at the Vuelta a Castilla y León, in what would turn out to be his last competitive appearance. A tribute on Movistar team’s homepage titled “Always With Us” lists all of his 38 days of competition this year, totalling 5,993km of racing.
Lastras and Intxausti paid their own tributes at the finish of yesterday’s stage into Totana. Stage-winner Lastras pointed to the sky as he crossed the line and then went on TV to dedicate his success to his much-missed teammate, while Intxausti also pointed to the sky as he crossed the line in the group of Vuelta favourites that came in 1-43 down on Lastras. There are sure to be more tributes today.