Name: José Luis Rubiera Vigíl
Born: 27 January 1973
Lives: Asturias, north Spain
Status: Married Laura, 2000
Professional since: 1995
Kelme Costa Blanca 1999-2000
US Postal Service 2001-04
Discovery Channel 2005-07
St 19, Giro d'Italia 1997
St 13, Giro d'Italia 2000
St 8, Qinghai Lake 2007
KOM,Tour of Georgia 2005
St 2, Vuelta a Murcia 2008
Grand Tour finishes: 21
Outwith cycling: Partner in tapas restaurant, Oakland
On 21 July 2003, Lance Armstrong fell on the final climb to Luz Ardiden in stage 15 of the Tour de France. Back on his bike in moments, having fixed his chain and with a bleeding elbow and knee, he started pedalling. Ahead of him, Chechu Rubiera waited for his leader to take his wheel and pace him back to the lead group.
In those heart-stopping moments on Luz Ardiden with all eyes on Armstrong, something else is happening though. Look closely and you’ll see Rubiera firmly lowering his hand, signalling to the Maillot Jaune, “It’s OK, calm yourself.”
Reading race commentaries, you’ll find that Chechu Rubiera is right there when his boss needs him. On mountains across France, on the Courcheval, la Mongie and famously, on Alpe d’Huez in 2001 when Chechu led the charge to catch and ultimately pass Ullrich, he has been a dedicated and reliable domestique. After the 2001 Tour, Armstrong reportedly said that he wanted Chechu Rubiera to stay with his team until he, Armstrong, retired, money no object!
José Luis Rubiera Vigíl was born on 27 January 1973 in Santa Eulalia in Baldornón, south east of Gijón in Asturias. It was an interesting time to grow up in Spain. The country, now a leading democracy in the European Community, emerged from 36 years of dictatorship under General Franco in 1975. Democratic and intellectual freedoms were restored during the next few years, tourism and culture flourished.
Chechu was brought up in Asturias, northern Spain and still lives not far from its largest city Gijón with his wife, Laura. He was given his nickname Chechu by his mum, she saw it on a Spanish novella, or TV soap.
Chechu is one of a group of talented professional cyclists from Asturias, including fellow ProTour riders, Benjamin Noval, Samuel Sanchez, Carlos Barredo and Daniel Navarro. He rode his first competitive race when he was 14, in Grado, Asturias. He finished in 10th place.
Chechu turned professional in 1995, joining his first team pro team Artiach, which a year later evolved into Kelme. His first stage-race victory took place on stage 19 at the 1997 Giro d’Italia. His palmarés grew over the next three years, culminating in a second Giro stage win in 2000. He moved to US Postal at the start of the 2001 season.
Chechu’s move to US Postal was due, in part, to the economic restrictions of Kelme. He admits that USPS didn’t offer him the best financial deal, Cofidis offered more. But he told Spanish sports newspaper, Marca that he was attracted to working for the American team because it was a well organised, affluent team with a technological superiority. And he could learn English. He would be riding with his Kelme team-mate, Roberto Heras. (Heras was reportedly the second highest paid member of US Postal, with a contract worth $1.5 million.)
Chechu Rubiera continues to be a respected member of the professional peloton and a popular member of his team. Lance Armstrong described him as “an easy laugher” and having “beautifully civilised manners”. And to teammate Michael Barry, Chechu was “the most educated rider on the team”. In 2004, he graduated with a degree in electrical engineering. He brought his textbooks to races, and studied on the team bus. He spent the night “after the stages with textbook on his lap, pen in hand, figuring out wiring patterns on different machines”.
In 2005, Chechu was elected as a cyclists’ representative on the council of the UCI ProTour, deputy to CSC’s Jens Voigt.
With the disbanding of Discovery Channel Cycling Team in 2007, it seemed that Chechu would be forced into retirement a year earlier than he planned. However, old loyalties die hard and, with the intervention of Lance Armstrong, he was given a year's contract with Johan Bruyneel's new Team Astana. In fact, 2008 was one of Chechu's most successful seasons ever, with good results in California and Georgia, and a stage win in Murcia, his first since joining US Postal.
Retirement was further delayed when Armstrong announced he would return to the peloton in 2009, and he wanted Chechu by his side.
Photograph by Graham Watson, Team Astana
Chechu's relationship with Lance Armstrong seems set to continue defining his career in 2010, with rumours circulating that he will sign for Armstrong and Bruyneel's new Radio Shack team. After all, the best moments of his career, riding onto the Champs Elysees five times with the maillot jaune, were with Armstrong. And Chechu simply likes the USA. He's a regular visitor and is now a partner in a Spanish restaurant in San Francisco.
Watch this space. Chechu's story continues.
© Nicky Orr August 2009