Nicky writes, Jesús Rodrigo is director of the Escuela de Ciclismo de las Mestas, a cycling school for young people in Gijón, where Chechu trained from the age of 14.
Based in the Velodromo de las Mestas, the school encourages young cyclists to learn through training and competition. Chechu is regular visitor to the training sessions, and in a recent press interview, he said that after retiring, he wanted to support youth cycling in Asturias, and in particular the school of cycling of Las Mestas.
Jesús Rodrigo knows Chechu very well. Today, he is still a mentor and friend. We spoke to him earlier this week and he told us about the school and about young Chechu.
Chechu and Dani Navarro with the boys and girl of Las Mestas cycling school
The school was established in the 1980s, I've been president and director since 1986. We don't select the children, we take every one who comes to us. We use fat, tall, small, skinny. We don’t care that they are not going to become cyclists.
Chechu, Pasamontes, Barredo, Navarro, de la Fuente and Antuńa are all professional cyclists but the school also has biologists, engineers, PE teachers, police, everything. The primary aim is to develop not just cyclists but also good people.
Our work at the school starts in November with general basic fitness, this continues until January when we start with the bike. In April, competitions start with one day each week, except the juniors who take part in three races in four days during the summer. The season ends in September and we have break until November.
In Asturias, there are lots of mountains, but the kids don't train on them. At this age, they ride very little on the mountains. Climbers are born, not made, although tough training always helps.
Chechu was a regular boy at the age of 14, he was skinny and lacked a little coordination in his legs. He was not the best of his generation, but on the bike, he showed his skills. Even at this early age, he was known for his kindness and his team spirit.
Memories of Chechu's first races? I could write a book with those, from him leaving all his cycling kit at home and starting the race with only his bike, to pumping the wheels so hard that he would explode both tyres. As I said earlier, he was not a natural-born winner, there were better riders at his age, but he started to be special. We could feel that he was a special kid.
The key race where we knew he was going to be a professional was Memorial Valenciaga in Eibar (Basque Country) in 1995.
When Johan Bruyneel called (offering him a job at US Postal), Chechu said "yes". When Johan asked why he agreed, Chechu answered that it would be a great chance to learn English.
In that moment, he decided what he would like to be as a rider. He didn't want the label of the "big boss", but he wanted to be a gregario. He was clear that a great gregario was better paid than a boss who was not an outstanding rider. He told me all of this while having coffee, and I could only agree.
I think he could have been a winner, but there's a problem. He is so good as a team-mate and too kind to win. I'm sure he would have given half of the races to his team-mates. To be competitive at elite level, you have to be very aggressive. Chechu is a kind person. And to be at the top level, you can't be kind, you have to be a little bit “evil”.
Our thanks to Jesús Rodrigo, Herminio Garcia Aller and Bruno Lopez Vizcon. You can send a message to Jesús here.