Every time a reporter visited Federico Martín Bahamontes at his club room and office in Toledo after he retired in 1965, certain elements of the interview would never vary.
Seated behind his huge desk with a full-size bust of an eagle on one side in honour of his nickname, Bahamontes would launch into lengthy accounts, asked or unasked for, about how he became the first Spaniard to win the Tour de France and the first rider ever to capture the Tour’s King of the Mountains classification six times.
A cardboard poster with a full list of his achievements would be silently passed over the table during his speeches – his name emblazoned at the top, then the multiple Tour de France podiums and stages in all three Grand Tours, the countless wins in week-long events and hill-climbs. Postcards of Bahamontes doing a victory lap of Paris’ Parc des Princes circuit in the 1959 Tour would follow, and perhaps a t-shirt from Bahamontes peña (fan club) or a poster from the Vuelta a Toledo, the now sadly defunct amateur bike race Bahamontes organised for 51 years – far easier said than done – after retiring.
A few shots of Bahamontes with his spare bike from the 1959 Tour – the winning model has long been gathering dust in an unopened museum – would be almost unavoidable afterwards. However, requests for Fede’ to don his original yellow jersey from the ‘59 Tour would be met with directions to where his maillot jaune has hung for the last 64 years, in Toledo cathedral, and where, after two days of official mourning, it paid silent testament this week at Bahamontes’ funeral.
All of this lengthy presentation of Bahamontes’ life and times, starring the key protagonist himself, would be delivered at his non-stop, firecracker style of talking, of living and, in his time, of racing. In much later years, in fact, a Bahamontes interview would conclude with a lightning trip to his monument in Toledo’s town centre, invariably garnished with sarcastic comments about the town council’s inexplicable delay in erecting it until 2018. At which point the last sight of Bahamontes for the by-now exhausted reporter would usually be Fede’ bounding away off up one of Toledo’s many cobbled climbs, off on his next errand at his invariably breakneck speed.
But if Bahamontes, right up until his last illness a few years ago, was an unstoppable whirlwind of a personality – so much so, it is hard to believe that even at 95, he is no longer with us – his place…