This is the story of Luis Ocaña, the champion cyclist whose entire career constantly veered between heroism and tragedy, always missing out the middle way. Born into abject poverty during Spain’s ‘years of hunger’ and brought up in France, throughout his adult life he suffered from the effects of his childhood malnutrition and the perpetual question of self-identity – the common lot of the exile – Spanish or French or neither one nor the other? Enigmatic and contradictory, Ocaña was driven by a fierce pride, and an all-or-nothing scorn for caution and careful calculation which made him one of the most dramatically exciting riders ever.
This is a biography that has been a long time in the making. Carlos Arribas, cycling correspondent of the newspaper El País, and Spain’s foremost cycling author, has spent years compiling the material and admits that, even as a child, he was affected by Ocaña’s repeated misfortunes.
What he has written is more than a conventional biography. He defines it as a ‘fictionalised life story’, or a ‘biographical novel’. All the duly documented facts are there, but to that solid skeleton has been added the flesh and blood of imagined (but totally plausible) conversations, meetings and encounters. These are are not mere decoration; they serve perfectly to recreate the emotions and recollections of those who knew him, encountered him, loved him, or coped with him. They also provide a compelling entry into exploring the complex personality of Ocaña himself.
‘If I was going to write just one story about cycling it would have to be that of Ocaña. He was the cyclist who made us fall in love with cycling, who made us sense the truth of this sport: love, happiness and tragedy.’