Joseba Beloki, in the Col de Peyresourde

Joseba Beloki, in the Col de Peyresourde (Photo: French Saint. Public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

It was hard for you to get to the elite level. You had to overcome a lot of adversities. Does having to overcome problems at a young age help shaping the character to be a great champion?

I don’t consider myself a great champion, just someone who was fortunate to reach the elite of the sport he loves. It is true that it was difficult for me to get there and my career was full of adversities, but overcoming all that helped me become a much stronger person and to value what I achieved even more.

Did you ever go to the Tour believing that you could beat Lance Armstrong or did you always think that for that to happen you had to be at your best and he had to fail?

I have no doubt that both Armstrong and Ullrich were better cyclists than I was physiologically speaking, so I always worked very hard to get as close as possible to them and reach the key stages in better shape. After the surprise of the year 2000 my confidence grew and I planned the Tour better and better each year, until I reached my best form in 2003, but luck also counts and it was not in my side that year.

You were never the same again after your fall in the Tour de France 2003. Did you ever recover completely from the injuries in your hip and elbow?

No, never, and even today I feel a lack of strength in my right leg. I still do a lot of sport but I can’t get the same sensations I used to have. It was a bad injury and I am proud of how I fought during my rehabilitation to try to minimize the problem and finish my sports career at a respectable level.

How were those longs months of recovery, were they harder at a physical or at a mental level?

Those were moths of a lot of psychological strain, I was torturing myself, wanting to work more and more. My character changed and I became very demanding with myself; being able to do something I used to do without effort was a real success but nothing was enough. I spent the day thinking about my leg, the gym, physiotherapy, swimming pool, bike, everything well planned by Itxaso Sanchez, the psysiotherapist that guided me throughout and the witness of all my efforts.

What kind of scientific support did you have in the teams you raced for?

All or most of the professional teams have nowadays the scientific means to get the best performance out of each cyclist. When I raced for the team ONCE we had the highest level of scientifc support and we followed a training phylosophy with which I agreed completely. Laboratory tests, field tests, altitude camps, etc. Nothing was enough to get the most out of us and get us closer to the top.

What is your take on the changes that have taken place in the world of cycling the past ten years?

Cycling has changed in almost every possible way. A lot of people may think, based on what they hear in the media day after day that doping control has been the main change. I would suggest that they analyze racing speeds now and then, the racing tactics of the riders, but most importantly how training has improved. Powermeters, gas analizers, telemetries, laboratory work, etc., have made cycling much more controlled and professional than it used to be.

It is said that professional road cycling is a team sport with individual classification. What is your take on that?

I refer to the samples: a leader with a team may lose a race, but a leader without a team will never win it. There is nothing else to say.

You have taken part in some marathon races. ¿Are the efforts of a marathon and that of a great tour comparable?

I want to make it clear that my marathon running level does not go beyond the popular or recreational level. I have trained hard, but without the discipline I had as a professional cyclist. The feelings in a marathon are comparable to a long time trial, you feel that you are physically coming down and your pace drops and there is nothing you can do about it. A mountain stage or a windy stage at maximal intensity make your lungs and legs explode, but a marathon “kills you slowly but surely”. I have noticed that recovery from marathon running is much slower due to the trauma. To summarize, I would say that I think the bike is harder during the effort, but easier to recover from.

After professional cycling and marathon, do you have any other sport challenge?

I want to give duathlon and triathlon a go. The problem for the latter is swimming: I am a bit afraid of the sea. I intend to race a duathlon in February, then I will see what’s next.

What do you think of triathlon? Do you like the sport and/or usually follow triathlon news?

I love triathlon and I value very much the anonimous effort of triathletes. Many hours of training, very often alone, and very few big days in the year where everything is on the line. I am fortunate to know a few triathletes: Eneko Llanos is not only a friend to me, but a real idol. I know about his effort and everything he has quietly achieved, without selling air. He deserves all recognition.

Besides you, Vitoria-Gasteiz has given other big champions in endurane sports, such as the González de Galdeano brothers, the Llanos brothers, Martin Fiz, Juanito Oiarzabal. Is there anything in particular about the city that facilitates this type of ativity?

Vitoria-Gasteiz is a city that uses sport to show itself internationally. Many boys and girls from this city have achieved international results that have put the city under the spotlight. Vitoria-Gasteiz must take advantage of that inertia and we all must work to help our boys and girls reach their dreams and bring the name of the city beyond our borders.

We have seen your children riding bikes almost from birth. Would you like them to become cyclists?

I want Aintzane and Markel to do sports. Our job at home is to inculcate sport upon them and make them assimilate the values of sport. They are fortunate to seat around the dinner table with people like Martin Fiz, Eneko Llanos and Ruth Brito, Koldo Fernández de Larrea, etc., athletes that can become a reference to them. Would I like them to become cyclists? Of course I would, but I see them more as athletes.

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