Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Respecting Carlos.

"Do not go gentle in that goodnight"
                                                          - Dylan Thomas

Remember Carlos this way.   
Carlos Sastre last week announced his retirement.   Many cycling fans I've talked to locally in the past week barely noticed.  (Oh yeah?  Hey - who won in Montreal?)  One understated press conference in Madrid, a tip of the cap, and adios amigos.

A very recent Tour winner going so quietly into the night.  The news seemed a minor footnote in the world's cycling press.   Frankly, I've been expecting to see more follow on tributes than one quick news flash.  This just doesn't sit right with me.

It's been, dare I say, just another example of how this quiet man has been 'disrespected' - to use that newly created gauche American verb.    In fact, it seems to this biased observer that this was not just any old Champion, but a Tour de France winner (how many of those are there out there again, I forget?)  whose accomplishments, and story throughout his career received an almost appalling lack of attention in contrast to many others.   I never really understood that.   Carlos probably has too much class to express indignation.  But that's OK.  I will.

"Friends,  flahutes and cyclists:  I've come today not to 'bury' Carlos, but to praise him." 

Make no mistake about it, Carlos Sastre is a true champion on multidimensional levels:  Sporting,  Character and Philanthropic.   For that, I think he deserves more kudos than a lot of the pros who seem to regularly receive more ink the glossy cycling mags.

For this was a man who was the quintessential professional.   A pro's pro.  Perhaps not the most powerful or dominant rider of his generation, but one who prepared diligently, quietly, without fuss or fanfare and who attained the pinnacle of the sport, and remained a threat for almost a decade.   A natural climber who taught himself to Time Trial well enough to defend the maillot jaune in the final TT.

Sastre had a penchant for the 'traditional' - famously frustrating 'Riis' with his dogged insistence on old-school training in the film Overcoming below...

He was an attacker, an author of mountain exploits.  His Tour winning attack on Alpe d'Huez in 2008 defied the conventional wisdom that the man who wins on the Alpe won't also win the Tour.    On his day - which were usually the hardest days in the mountains in the final week of a major Tour - he could sprout wings and fly away, a climber in the tradition of so many in Spain.  Bahamontes, Jimenez, Fuente, Ocana, Delgado...

His final performance was trying to pull the same stunt on the Angliru this year in the Vuelta.    It may not have come off, but you've got to respect the audacity he exhibited in trying to 'break' the race wide open on the hardest day, on the hardest climb.

Sastre was Mr. Consistency for a decade in the three Grand Tours: 15 times in the top 10 out of 26 participations.   A pretty remarkable average.  

He was a humble, proud champion.  One for whom the lack of media attention as defending Tour champ rankled in 2009, swept under the tsunami of the Astana-drama fueled media frenzy.  
Victor & Carlos Sastre.  2008. 

Respect, and correctness were big with Sastre.  I especially like the story about how he matter-of-factly rode up to Lance near the end of that 09 Tour to calmly demand (and receive) an apology for not showing appropriate respect when the Texan publically said his 'comeback' was inspired by seeing that Sastre had won the Tour.   "I've always respected you... why can't you respect me?"   


But perhaps what I always liked most about Carlos Sastre was his beginnings,  his roots.  And his grounding in them.  Sastre's town of El Barraco west of Madrid had been the home to another Spanish champion: Angel Arroyo.   Arroyo was a Reynolds teammate of Pedro Delgado who 'won' the Vuelta in 1982 on the road - (only to be positive for a stimulant in a doping control and see his victory stripped awarded to Marino Lejaretta).   He was also 2nd in the 1983 Tour de France behind Laurent Fignon.

As cycling began to surge in popularity in Spain in the '80's, Carlos' father Victor was coach of the town's local cycling school - Peña Ciclista Angel Arroyo in El Barraco.  The school, now called the Fundacion Victor Sastre also produced the late Jose Maria Jimenez, and Pablo Lastras.    In a town of just 2,000 inhabitants.   Passion.  It goes a long way.

What it's all about. 
Every winter as a pro, Carlos would return home to train with the other pupils.    He could have gone to Mallorca and organized highly profitable 'Ride with Carlos camps' for affluent cicloturistas.  (I probably would have...)  But, no just a daily training and cross training soccer-match with his father the local boys.   Tranquillo.   Roots.  

Carlos also did a lot of charity work for children in need of help.  His Smilkers foundation doesn't sell wristbands, but does have a boutique that auctions and sells limited edition (very cool too!) Sastre signature equipment, with the proceeds going to help kids.   If you want something cool and unique, I might suggest your money couldn't be better spent anywhere else.    His efforts support a multitude of charities including kids with Aids, cancer and Down's syndrome.   No single Nike-LiveStrong machine behind this initiative.  Just a guy and his family doing more than most to give back to kids.   Like father, like son.

No Ferrari.  No supermodels.  No hair-boy style statements.  No bad mouthing anyone.  No tattoos.  No bragging.  No changing his residence to Monaco to avoid paying taxes.   And no lamentations about seeing his teammate fly by him on the Angliru to take away a final Vuelta exploit he probably coveted.  

No, only a departure full of thanks to two men that he credited for making his career:  Manolo Saiz, and Bjarne Riis.    Some of the more calculated might be surprised he'd publicly praise Saiz - a pariah of sorts post-Operation Puerto -  in fear of the implications and associations.   But not Carlos Sastre.  He gave credit and respect where felt it was due.   Consquences be damned.   I like that.

Carlos said at that final goodbye press conference that he didn't know what he'd be doing in the future, now that 6 hour days on the bike are not a daily requirement.

Well, I think I know.  I'll bet you a pint that he'll be working with, and for kids in need.  Apples, after all, don't fall far from the tree.

And in a sport that's had more than its share of rotten ones over the past decade, Carlos Sastre was one good Apple.

One that deserves more respect.

6 comments:

  1. Well said. I'm surprised and disappointed at the lack of recognition of Sastre's achievements -- and the way he came to them -- in the wake of his retirement. Your thoughts on his career and his charitable works are the best I've read.

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  2. New to the blog, but this was a fantastic, much-needed piece.

    Thank you,

    -Sam.

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  3. Thanks for reading Sam, glad you liked it.
    Best,
    Eddy.

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  4. Wonderful write up, my favorite memory of Sastre is him pulling on the maillot jeune after stage 17 of the '08 tour... a well deserved win :)

    New reader, discovered your blog through a link to this article... think I'll add it to my blogroll. Cheers, Allan

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  5. Nicely written but I couldn't agree less. Maybe because of the two guys he mentioned, Riis and Sainz, two (to use the words of someone else) "cancers on the sport". Even if you don't consider that, on the TV screen there was little to no excitement watching this guy race, very little entertainment value to be had. He probably is a swell guy, great family-man, as well as a good bike racer but there are a whole lot of those. To me he's got a cloudy legacy and a (other than an opportunistic TdF win) a ho-hum career...which is why you haven't read much about his retirement.

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  6. Thanks Larry/Heather. No worries, your POV and opinion always welcome here! I did think Carlos pulled off some exciting at times, but acknowlege a lot of folks see it your way.
    Stay well and keep ridin'
    Best, Eddy.

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