BRESCIA, Italy (VN) – Beñat Intxausti (Movistar) believes there is no better tribute to his former teammate Xavier Tondo than riding well in this year’s Giro d’Italia.
One year ago, Intxausti was witness to a freak accident May 23 that saw Movistar captain Tondo trapped between a garage door and his car when the parking brake slipped. Intxausti, who was training in Spain’s Sierra Nevada with Tondo, could only watch in horror as his teammate and friend bled to death in his arms.
“What happened last year was very hard for me,” Intxausti quietly told VeloNews. “I am always thinking of him. It’s something that I will never forget, neither him nor the accident.”
Understandably, the 26-year-old Spaniard doesn’t like to speak publicly about Tondo’s death, but he spoke to VeloNews just days before the one-year anniversary of Tondo’s tragic passing.
Intxausti admits that much of last season was a wash in the aftermath of the horrible accident. The Basque rider, whom many in Spain herald as a new grand tour star in the making, struggled to find motivation to train. Everything associated with racing simply reminded him more of Tondo.
“That was a terrible moment; a hard blow, something you cannot imagine,” he continued. “It took me a lot to overcome it, but day-by-day, you move forward and get to a better place in the head. With the passage of time, things get better, without ever forgetting what happened.”
Movistar staff and teammates supported Intxausti and did not pressure him to return to competition. Yet when he did return to racing, bad crashes further delayed his progress. He crashed out of a debut at the Tour de France in stage 8 and then crashed again ahead of the Vuelta a España, keeping him from being his best at the Spanish tour.
Movistar sport director José Luis Jaimerena told VeloNews that Intxausti has tried to put the horror of Tondo’s death behind him by focusing on the business of racing his bike.
“What happened last year deeply affected him. You can never imagine what it must have been like to be in this situation, when there was nothing you could do,” Jaimerena told VeloNews. “And when he got back to racing, he crashed in the Tour and then he crashed before the Vuelta. It was a season very chaotic for him, but now he’s more stable. I believe he is recuperated.”
So far this year, Intxausti says he has put the accident behind him and has found solace racing his bike. And staying healthy and focusing on the Giro has helped him regain his confidence.
He won the Vuelta a Asturias before coming to the Giro and now he is quietly sitting seventh overall, 1:42 back, and is an outside threat for the final podium.
“Now things will depend more on his fitness than the external drama that marked him so much last season,” Jaimerena said. “He’s done well in his first Giro. He’s overcome these complicated finishes that are like rat mazes and now it’s a matter of strength. Up to now, he’s salvaged himself well. Now we can see where he arrives.”
So far through this Giro, things have gone very well for Intxausti. He was second at Lago Lacena in stage 8. Now seventh overall going into the final mountain stages, Intxausti isn’t discounting anything.
“I came to the Giro with good legs. I had won the Vuelta a Asturias a week before. Up to now, things are going well. Now we’re going into the hardest part of the Giro,” he said. “When I came here, the idea was to try to win a stage. I was already close, second in the first mountain stage, and now we’re well situated for the GC.”
This year’s Giro became a major goal for Intxausti in his path to becoming a real grand tour GC threat. A strong climber with an improving time trial, Intxausti first gained attention when he finished third overall behind Chris Horner at the Tour of the Basque Country in 2010.
“First I have to confirm that I can perform over three weeks,” he said. “Things have never gone well for me in a grand tour, but now I have more experience and I am stronger, so let’s see what happens and if I can hold up in the final week.”
Movistar picked him for 2011 and were honing him for a run at the Vuelta and to be one of Tondo’s helpers in the mountains at the Tour. Jaimerena said the Tondo tragedy knocked Intxausti off course last year.
“After what happened to last year, with the problems that he lived with Tondo, and the crashes that he had, it undermined this progression,” he said. “Now he is more or less tranquil, now he can resume searching for his place. This is the first time that he is playing the role as a GC captain and so far he’s doing very well. But at the same time, it’s not an obsession. There is no pressure to have to win. It’s the right time for him to step up.”
Intxausti says he’s entering the most important part of the Giro in top condition and fully motivated to see how far he can climb.
“We do not have the pressure. We are going day-by-day and hope for the best and to take advantage of any opportunity,” he said. “Up to now, I haven’t crashed, no illness, no problems. Right now we are well situated and everything is possibility. I do not know these big Italian climbs. I have always liked climbs around six-to-seven kilometers; I do not have experience riding these long climbs of 15-20km, so I have to go into it with a bit of respect.”
Intxausti will be the center of attention Wednesday, when the Giro honors Tondo’s memory. It’s something that the camera-shy Intxausti isn’t looking forward to.
“I am always thinking of him,” Intxausti said. “It’s something that I will never forget, neither him nor the accident. As I told you… it was terrible.”
With that, he rode away, hoping to leave behind the horrible memories for good.