José Luís Arrieta (Ag2r-La Mondiale) is one of those old-school riders who enjoys working in the trenches and is simply content to live for the bike. A dying breed, perhaps, but Arrieta is glad to still be racing his bike.
“I am privileged to earn a living doing what I enjoy,” Arrieta told his hometown paper, El Diario de Navarra, in Pamplona, Spain. “Maybe I haven’t won a lot of races, but if I am still here after 18 years, there’s a reason for it. Maybe I wasn’t as ambitious as others, but I quickly knew what my place was and what I had to do.”
At 38, Arrieta is entering his 18th season as a professional and is one of the oldest active racers in the peloton. He’s only won two races in his career — a stage in the 2006 Vuelta a España and a stage in the 2002 Vuelta a Asturias.
The rest of his career has been spent in the service of others, but he concedes the end of the road might be near.
“I decide every July of each year and I know that retirement is coming sooner than later,” he said. “The hard part is finding the motivation to train. A cyclist doesn’t have one great year then is suddenly bad. The decline is gradual. Last year was great because it was the first time that I’ve worked to defend the yellow jersey (in the Tour de France with teammate Rinaldo Nocentini). This can likely be my last year, but we’ll see.”
Arrieta served as a loyal domestique across two generations of riders, dating back to Miguel Indurain in the mid-1990s, to Alex Zülle in the late 1990s, to Alejandro Valverde and Christophe Moreau into this decade.
Of today’s riders, Arrieta says the younger generation just doesn’t have the same star power as the big riders in the past.
“Miguel (Indurain) was above all, in terms of charisma, and that’s why he’s still respected today,” he says. “That’s what’s changed the most for me. If we’re losing a lot as cyclists it’s because the leaders today aren’t like they used to be. Today the leaders don’t carry the same weight, the same charisma, and in this sport, everyone else is calling the shots and least of all the cyclists.”